Sometimes you visit a place that is really truly special and gives you an experience you cling to long after its over. Hotel Sacacomie in Quebec is one of those places for me.
On my trip to Canada a few months back, Sacacomie stood out as the highlight of the itinerary. It offered pretty much everything I want from a travel destination: seclusion, scenery, spectacular food and drink and opportunities to kick back and have adventures — Canada at its best, basically.
The moment we walked through the doors into the log-lined lobby I felt at home. I loved the low-slung sofas scattered with blankets and the taxidermy.
It felt like a luxury ski chalet — except it was the middle of summer, which called for welcome cocktails on the terrace.
The lodge has been plonked in the middle of forest and wilderness, right by the side of a vast lake. The terrace bar overlooks the lake — a view that impossible to look away from.
I was later delighted to find out that my room was directly above the terrace, so enjoyed the same view, from an even higher vantage point. My luggage had been taken up ahead of me and was waiting for me when I nipped up to get changed. The room was lovely and spacious with two queen beds nestled side by side like plump white marshmallows. It was nothing fancy — Sacacomie isn’t a luxury resort, it’s a cosy wilderness retreat — but was incredibly homely. Wi-Fi is inconsistent and there are no TVs in rooms. When I’m trying to chill out on holiday this doesn’t bother me one single bit, but others might be more fussy.
Best of all of course was the balcony and the view. I could have sat out there all evening reading, but I had places to go and bears and beavers to see.
Downstairs and outside the lobby we met our guide Gaspar, a former trapper with a thick French Canadian accent and a twinkle in his eye.
Gaspar knows the Sacacomie beavers well. One of them, Charlie, he can call by name and sometimes even feed by hand. Every time he goes to se Charlie he wears the same hat and shirt so that Charlie recognises him. We jumped in the back in of an old truck and trundled off to search for Charlie.
Gaspar’s voice echoed among the trees. “Charlieeeeee, Charlooooooe!” In his hand were some of Charlie’s favourite branches to try and tempt him out of hiding. Unfortunately heavy rains across Quebec province has severely damaged the beavers’ dams, leaving them nervous. “Charlieeeeee, Charlooooooe!”Gaspar cried.
Gaspar can identify Charlie and his family members by sight and eventually Charlie appeared, swimming around, nibbling branches, but not taking Gaspar’s bait. It was fantastic to watch him plopping in and out of the water, and just as lovely to heat Gaspar talk about this beaver — his favourite; the only with which he had ever formed such a bond.
Next up were the bears. We nervously tiptoed through the forest to the hide, Gaspar’s instructions for what we were to do if we happened upon one echoing in our minds. We made it into the hide unscathed and sat in silence waiting… waiting… waiting.
I don’t know how long we waited in all but we were rewarded. Down the hill loped a bear. He had come for the sweetcorn and molasses left out for him by the guides. Black bears just love sweetcorn and molasses. The bear would reach a paw into the barrel, withdraw it and lick it off the molasses slowly, as if savouring it.
The following day: more adventure. We started off by taking boats out on one of Sacacomie’s smaller lakes and practising our fishing. I was terrible at both the driving the boat and fishing. Truly hopeless. I had a whale of a time though. I never knew how much I loved fishing. I also loved the amazing post-fishing lunch we enjoyed on the dock.
I cannot even pretend that this was my catch (or my photo — thanks Denise!)
After lunch it was time to try our hand at tomahawk throwing and archery. I was average with the tomahawks, but useless with the bows and arrows. My dream of being Katniss Everdeen right there. It did occur to me though that just because archery wasn’t my thing, I might have other skills that would help me survive a Hunger Games-like situation. I took inspiration from Peter and designed a crafty disguise out of natural materials.
Then I retired to the spa.
The food at Sacacomie was truly delicious. Breakfast was all pancakes and eggs and other delicious warm things. Dinner, on the other hand, was four courses each evening, with soup to start, followed by starters of deer carpaccio and goats cheese, mains of lamb and salmon and desserts of cheesecake and homemade sugar pie with cream. The menu was extensive, but these were my choices — the highlights being the carpaccio and the sugar pie.
Ultimately, Sacacomie is the kind of pared-back place, totally in tune with its setting that I really enjoy spending extended periods of time.
I’ve come to see recently that I love nature as much for the person it makes me into as for the breathtaking vistas. All the things I hate to see in myself — the little bits of pettiness, self-absorption and pessimism — that I watch creep into my character as a result of the urban world I live in suddenly dissipate. Instead I become this cheery, semi-feral and totally practical person who finds endless joy in the beauty of the natural world. It also provides a better context for some of my personality traits that I sometimes feel are odds with my lifestyle choices. Quietness and introspection work well in nature; what can look like broodiness or introversion, suddenly make me seem reflective and meditative.
Anyway, that’s quite enough introspection for one blog post. But just a word of warning — don’t expect to come to Sacacomie and discover bears and beavers without discovering a thing or two about yourself as well. You might learn that you are a spa person, or that you love fishing, or that you have don’t a natural aptitude for archery. All of these apply to me. I’ve also learned that it’s good for the soul to spend time at Sacacomie — or a place just like it — probably at least once a year.
Disclaimer: Hotel Sacacomie hosted me for the duration of my stay, providing meals, activities and spa access. I travelled to Canada with KLM and Air France, both of which fly regularly to Montreal, the nearest airport to Sacacomie.
For more of what I got up to on my trip to Quebec province, head over here.