QUEBEC CITY—“This is a stylish hotel,” decreed the Captain, 4, walking hand-in-hand with me toward the ornate golden elevators at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. A front desk attendant, walking slightly behind us, couldn’t help but giggle, overhearing him.
He looked at my son with seriousness but laughter still in his eyes, nodded respectfully and said, “Thank you, young master. We’re happy you’re pleased.”
With tiny robes, a miniature swimming pool, resident canine ambassadors and specially trained staff, the Frontenac excels at catering to a particular kind of traveler: the youngest one.
Once we were checked in, the attendant emerged from behind the desk to explain the hotel’s treasure hunt, a magical addition to any young traveler’s stay. My son stood in rapt attention, despite his travel haze, even showing the clerk how he could scrawl the letter C in the space for the first clue. He pored over his map all throughout our three-day stay.
Doubtless, there is real treasure at the Frontenac. It’s the hotel itself, a grand, 611-room castle that’s reportedly the most photographed hotel in the world. “Though it’s hard to quantify,” said Maxime Aubin, the hotel’s communications manager who toured me around, “we believe that to be true.” Aubin’s detailed tour brought the hotel’s hallways to life for me, from the origins of its art to the finer points on famous guests from the past. (For $15, guests can book a similar guided tour.)
This is not a hotel where a mini sticks tournament is likely to erupt in the hallway, but it is just as Canadian. Among the blessings of the hotel are noise-buffering heavy walls and doors, where minor meltdowns of the preschooler variety can be muffled. (Abject apologies to room 7101 and suite 7124 if I’m wrong.)
We were in room 7126—which was an adventure to find—curiously out of consecutive order with the other guest quarters. This part of the hotel underwent an $75 million renovation in 2014, “to make the rooms brighter and fresher,” Aubin confirmed.
The room itself, a Fairmont standard, was on the small side, but had a cozy, classic chateau vibe and a comfortable king bed. Our climate control was a bit out of whack, with a room temp at 71.6F (22C), but the front desk was quick the next morning, sending a maintenance worker to assess, and ultimately change a filter. The room was a pleasant 68F by post-swim naptime.
Miss Elise, the Captain’s favorite wait-staffer, addressed him only as “sweet love” as he practiced his sil vous plaits and merci beau coups. At Bistro Le Sam, a smoked cheese poutine was just what he needed to be sociable again, after his long journey. My husband and I both went with the grilled beef flank steak, glazed with a luscious green peppercorn sauce that simply can’t be conjured just anywhere, coupled with a popular bottle of California pinot noir.
“Bonjour, chefs,” the Captain yelled, “merci for my poutine.” His exuberant waving to the staff working in the open kitchen brought laughter and a platter of macarons to accompany his chocolate pot, a decadent little dish of dense cake covered in chocolate fondant, drizzled in chocolate sauce and stewed blueberries, and garnished with crushed pistachios and fresh blackberries. The adults went for the clover crème brulee, made with honey from the hotel’s own famous rooftop bees.
The cake was forsaken once the macarons arrived. One bite and he closed his eyes in what might have been his first experience with food bliss. “Mamaaaaa,” he breathed through the crumbs. “What IS this??”
Brushing his teeth a little while later, smiling into the washroom mirror, he made a declaration. “Now we live in a hotel.” If that were to come true, I think he’d pick the Frontenac. “Next time, let’s stay more days.”
Breakfast brunch in Place Dufferin was a sumptuous affair: waffles, sausage, maple-sauced bacon, fresh cut bread toasted with strawberry jam, omelets, perfectly poached eggs, fruit, cheese, rich coffee—and of course, chocolate croissants. And that’s just what the Captain ate.
His meal was free. (Sorry, Frontenac, we know you lost money on him.)
We booked through the hotel directly and received a $125 (U.S.) food credit in addition to its best rate.
Another young family from Kingston, Ontario, found their booking through Hotwire, and said they were surprised to find the Frontenac in their budget.
“It’s baby’s first hotel stay,” said dad Curtis Wilson. “The hotel staff was right on it. They brought her a crib and even a tiny robe,” he said.
“She’s been more sociable than usual, too, seeing other children and happily signing ‘baby,’” said mom Elaine Wilson. “And she’s been especially delighted seeing Daphnie (the hotel’s dog-in-residence).”
The kids’ pool was another pleasant surprise: 1.5 feet deep, 15 feet or so long, just small enough to find his freedom in the water, just big enough to test his swimming skills. He enjoyed watching older guests take their laps in the larger pool, matching them stroke for stroke in the mini version.
The pool desk also offers treats for sale. Some perfectly timed gumdrops were just enough to replenish the energy he’d spent in the pool and sustain him till his next petit poutine. The attendant there gave him a refresher on the treasure hunt, and pointed out Daphnie the ambassador dog, making her rounds to greet guests. She’s a beautiful Bernese mountain dog and Labernese mix. We got to pat her and chat with her handler.
With the sun peeking in and out from the clouds, we hopped in the car for a quick sojourn to the Montmorency Falls. A refreshing sprint around the playground, a few climbs and slides later, and he was human again. We ascended to the top, which mesmerized him. “I want to do the zip line,” he declared. “Next time,” I said, thinking, ME FIRST.
Back at the hotel, the time had come. “Heading home?” the doorman asked. We said yes, preoccupied with getting our son into his car seat and organizing our gear for the journey.
“Good call on the waters,” my husband said as we pulled out of the hotel driveway. “When did you get those?”
I looked to see bottled waters sitting in our cup holders. The valet must have left them there after retrieving the car, a final act of service, another lovely touch.
As we drove down Champlain, the hotel on the hill presided over our departure—just as impressive as our first glimpse. “That’s our castle,” the Captain said as he gazed up through the sunroof.
“Yes,” I agreed. “It’s just our style.”
Shelagh Braley is a Boston-based luxury/adventure travel journalist. She and her life-listing husband, teen and preschooler share their REAL tales of finding the awesome as they travel together. It’s not all Disney trips and hidden staff … We’re trying to escape the circus, not join it. Come along with us. #mylifelist #findwhatmatters
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SIDE TRIP: Our Quebec adventure would not be complete without visiting the dear relatives of our beloved artic traveling companion Blizzy (short for Blizzard, above left). The Aquarium du Quebec website said it is home to three polar bears, Eddy, Taiga and Ganuk, but we only saw two the afternoon we were there.