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Chic Chocs Lodge, Quebec

Posted by Richard Hammond at 11:54 on Saturday 04 March 2006

Set out from the new Chic Chocs lodge and you're more likely to come across a moose than another skier...

It was easy to predict what the outside temperature was going to be when we saw in the distance that La Chute Hélène, a 50m-high waterfall, had frozen solid. "It could be cold today," said our mountain guide as we strapped on our snowshoes. No kidding. It was already minus 20.

Happily, the upside of enduring winter temperatures that you would expect if you stuck your head out of an airplane at 20,000 ft is that snowfall can reach up to 8m a year. Cross-country skiing is to the Quebeçois what rambling is to the British, and with over 2,500 miles of trails across the province there are hundreds of ski areas and opportunities to go off-piste.

The recently extended four-star Gîte de Mont-Albert in the Gaspé national park in eastern Quebec, with 60 rooms and 25 cabins, is the centre for outdoor activities in the region - snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and ski-touring across the Chic Chocs mountain range. While the Gîte provides the main access to the park, guests at the stylish new Chic Chocs Mountain Lodge in the Matane Wildlife Reserve, just outside the park, can ski out directly from the 18-room mountain hideaway into a 60 sq km wild adventure playground. Forget crowded pistes and chairlift queues, all you're likely to come across in this reserve, if you're lucky, are glimpses of moose, caribou and white-tailed deer.

"It's an exclusive but relatively affordable place in a low-impact environment," says Jean-Philippe Chartrand of the Société des Etablissements de Plein Air (Sepaq), the government-backed organisation that manages most of Quebec's national park and wildlife reserve facilities.Over the last four years, Sepaq has spent C$62 million upgrading the trails and facilities.

Chic Chocs lodge, which is also open in summer for mountain biking and hiking, provides controlled access to the wilderness for people who love the outdoors but don't want to rough it in mountain huts. The heavily insulated lodge has been designed as an energy-saving building though it doesn't skimp on a few creature comforts. There's a log-fire lounge and large dining area, all the rooms have en suite bathrooms, and next to the changing room downstairs are a sauna and outdoor spa. Under the eye of resident host, chef and sommelier Alain Laflamme (formerly chef at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal), the dining is more country haute cuisine than bean feast.

A minibus drops you off at the visitor reception at Cap-Chat, from where it is a three-hour journey by snowcat along the forest track to the lodge. Although snowshoes are the most convenient way to explore the reserve, the more adventurous can take to alpine skis or choose a free-heel ski-shoe with in-built skins that allow you to trek uphill and ski (albeit slowly) downhill - perfect if you want to enjoy the downhill forest tracks at a gentle pace. ·

A double room at the Gîte de Mont-Albert costs C$555 for five nights' half-board, including park access fee. Chic Chocs Mountain Lodge costs C$255pp per night full-board, including transfer, ski guide, all equipment and facilities (http://www.sepaq.com/chc/en/accueil.html). Coach from Montreal to Cap Chat costs C$138 rtn (orleansexpress.com). Prices do not include local taxes. Air Canada (0871 2201111, aircanada.com) flies Heathrow-Montreal from £302 rtn. For more information on Quebec: 08705 561705, quebec4u.co.uk.

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