Posts tagged ‘@TheLaurentians’

That time I took a selfie with Bambi

Last October, the US Fish and Wildlife Service rejected 25 separate petitions to award endangered species status to the Pacific walrus, the mole skink, Bicknell’s thrush and, well, 22 other threatened species that, according to scientists, are hanging on by their shrinking habitat.

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Conservationists, concerned about environmental rollbacks, are frantically writing petitions, sending fundraising letters and giving speeches to convince a pro-development government that biodiversity protects against climate change and ensures a stable food supply.

Perhaps a better tactic would be to take them to Parc Omega, a 2200-acre wildlife park in Montebello, Quebec. When you’re looking into the golf ball-sized eyeball of a wapiti or giggling from the tickling tongue of a white-tailed deer or standing less than six-feet away from a yawning wolf cub, you quickly come to realize that all of us are in this together.

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That’s why famed zoologist Serge Lussier came out of retirement to run this park where humans have life-changing encounters with three kinds of wolves, polar foxes, bears and moose.

“It’s hard to find the will to protect anything you don’t really know,” Lussier says. “Everything changes when you come here, when you have intimate interactions with the natural world. I took this job because this is how we change the world.”

At Parc Omega, you can sleep with wolves, feed carrots to elk and experience special connections with buffalo, foxes and a moose/goat duo who are BFF’s.

The view alone is worth the admission price. Sitting on the less-visited side of the Laurentian Mountains, Parc Omega offers a 7.5-mile safari through the meadows, mountains, forests, boreal and other ecosystems of Canada. And while it fits the dictionary definition of a zoo (a collection of wild animals for study, conservation of display to the public), at Parc Omega, it’s the animals who wander freely and the homo sapiens who are caged inside cars.

The most unique feature is the one-on-one’s which you’re guaranteed to get if you take Lussier’s advice to “pay admission” with half a carrot

But why stop there? Most cars make the journey with a minimum of five pounds of the ubiquitous orange veggie. The animals literally greet you in your cars, even sticking their snouts inside to fully make your acquaintance. These remarkable encounters are fun for kids and adults alike.

I’ve run into Sylvester Stallone, Nicole Kidman, Michael Douglas and other celebs in my travels, but those chance meetings pale in comparison to sharing a carrot with wild boars, muskox, Alpine ibex and caribou.

If you go from February to April, you can hike (it’s short) to the park’s cabane a sucre, an old-fashioned sugar shack. You can watch maples being tapped and sample maple taffy lollipops laid out on the snow.park omega 4

Parc Omega also has an 1847 farmstead, a First Nations Trail (wishes made while walking under the wing of the beautifully carved Thunderbird are rumored to come true), a grilled cheese and hot chocolate-style restaurant, picnic sites and tipis, prospector tents and beautifully-carved log cabins for overnighters. The House on Stilts overlooks the black bear and timber wolf enclosures and has a balcony and palm-leaf roof.

Lussier is currently unrolling corporate events and bridal parties at the wolf overlook.

But if you simply want to channel Dr. Doolittle, get up close and personal (whether you talk or not is up to you) with animals of all kinds, here are a few useful tips:

1. Along with carrots, take paper towels. Animals drool. And expect your car to get muddy.

2. Keep your windows at half mast. Baby Ibex like to climb in cars.

3. Tune into the park’s FM radio stations that provide guidance and directions in both English and French.

4. Don’t skimp on time. Approximately halfway between Montreal and Ottawa, Parc Omega makes for a great day trip, but no matter how much time you allow, you’ll inevitably wish you had more.

 

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If you’re any kind of epicurean, hurry posthaste to Mont-Tremblant in the Canadian Laurentians

So here’s the thing about ski resorts.

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The good ones, the name brand resorts, the ones your ski buddies dream about all have a ridiculously large number of impressive restaurants.

You don’t have to like schlepping around mountains with giant boards attached to your feet. You just have to like eating, to enjoy experimenting with creative cuisine.

I’m particularly fond of Mont-Tremblant, an easy-to-get-to resort that readers of Ski Magazine regularly vote #1 in eastern North America. Because it’s in Quebec and has its own airport (it looks like a ski chalet and doesn’t even bother with a luggage belt), it has a distinctive European feel.

You get the French vibe, the intriguing ski instructors named Pierre and Jacques (back home, they’d be Peter and Jack) and a food scene that rivals anything you find in a big city. Only in Mont Tremblant, with its charming rues (or Pedestrian Village, as they call the main drag), the inspiring restaurants are right there, easy to walk to, brimming with intriguing choices. You might even see a red fox or a coyote on the stroll there.

Here’s a scavenger hunt of do-not-miss-these:

1. Down an Extreme Onction at La Diable. La Diable, named after the river that runs through the nearby Mont-Tremblant National Park, is a cozy microbrewery that also happens to have a decadent menu. Think poutine, sausage with homemade sauerkraut, lamb burgers and pork ribs that fall right off the bone. The Extreme Onction, one of many devil-themed craft beers that are brewed on site, is a Belgian Trappist-style ale with 8.5 percent alcohol.

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2. Try cooked scallops wrapped in carpaccio in wasabi and avocado sauce at Gypsy. Yep, there’s loads of tapas (flank steak on caramelized onion is another fav) at this magical, Spanish-inspired eatery inside Le Westin Mont Tremblant. They also have a killer brunch and lots of vegetarian options.

3. Meet the real Catherine of Creperie Catherine. With more 60 varieties of old-fashioned crepes, this long-time favorite with long-time skiers (Mont-Tremblant has been around since 1939. It’s the second oldest ski resort in North America) even offers gluten free waffles. Catherine Schmuck who honed her skills in the Merchant Marines often comes out to greet regulars, some of who refuse to eat anywhere else (for all three meals) during their Mont-Tremblant vacation.

4. Sample a beaver tail. No, not that kind. Beaver tails are basically Canadian donuts, made with whole wheat, stretched into the shape of a beaver’s tail and topped with such yumitudes as maple butter or cinnamon and sugar. Popular throughout Canada, beaver tails Mont-Tremblant style (sold at a takeout stand near the ski hill) often feature ham and cheese or steak.

5. Enjoy temperature diversity at Fairmont Hotel’s outdoor spa pools. It doesn’t quite seem fair. The giant hot pools, open to guests of the hotel’s Moment Spa, are massive enough to need a life guard who, during the winter, is suited up in winter parka, mittens and hats and shivering under a blanket while happy spa-goers are luxuriating in the steamy pools. The spa, where I had one of the best massages of my life (Ask for Denis), has 15 treatment rooms, a beauty salon with natural light and a cosmetics boutique.

diable46. Have a spring roll of the moment at O Wok. I’ve heard of soup of the day and weekly specials. But O Wok, an Asian-inspired restaurant not far from the free, open-to-everyone gondola, is so Zen they change their spring rolls by the moment.
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So sure, Mont-Tremblant has everything a skier could want—nearly 100 downhill trails, four snow parks, more than a dozen ski lifts—but the real reason I go is for the lively patios, pubs, upscale restaurants, microbreweries and unbelievable food.