Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cabin fervour

Cosy Quebec chalets enhance provincial park experience

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For those who long to sleep in the wintry splendour of untouched nature but balk at the idea of bunking down with a dozen stinky cross-country skiers in a refuge or freezing in a tent, a welcome alternative has arrived.

Quebec's provincial park authority, SÉPAQ, has added a new accommodation option. Cosy, attractive cabins dubbed "nature chalets" have opened this winter in four parks, bringing some of the comforts of civilization to the great outdoors.

We tried one in early January in the Parc national du Mont Orford, 90 minutes east of Montreal. Our "Catchpaw" chalet was one of five on a small cul-de-sac on the northwestern end of the large park in the Eastern Townships. Four of them were built this winter and are so new their walls and ceilings of white pine are still white, with none of the discoloration that comes with time and exposure to sunlight.

We came to our cabin after an afternoon spent exploring nearby Magog, keying in a password to open the gate to the park as dusk fell, surrounded by trees still heavily laden with the aftermath of a storm. Because it was a Sunday night, we were the only tenants, so it felt as if we had a provincial park all to ourselves.

Our cabin was the last one along the road, a cheery structure of dark-and-light-wood, with beams connected by steel plates. Our reservations, cross-country ski passes and entry code to the hut were tucked into an envelope in the mailbox outside.

Opening the door revealed a cosy, immaculate residence, thoughtfully laid out with two single beds upstairs in an open mezzanine, a double bed in a downstairs bedroom, and a full bathroom with heated shower, kitchenette and dining table. Plates, pots and pans, as well as a colander, grater and wine glasses were also included.

It was not huge, but more than enough for a family of four or friends out for a weekend. Inside was a propane fireplace and there was a firepit outside for a real fire.

The move toward more comfortable accommodations in provincial parks better known for offering a choice between tents or very rustic lodgings came after repeated requests from park guests.

"Our clients have been asking for higher-end accommodations," said Annie Beliveau, head of customer services at the park. "They wanted something more private or fancy than the communal refuges or tents."

At $165 a night (which rises to $204 when taxes and park access fees are factored in), the chalets are not cheap, but they are popular nonetheless, particularly with families or couples seeking a romantic getaway, Beliveau said. Considering other private, heated accommodation options in provincial parks -- staying in a yurt or another similar one-room tent structure -- cost $137 a night, plus taxes and fees, it's still a relatively good deal.

We awoke to a bright, cold morning, had a lazy breakfast and headed out to explore some of the park's 50 kilometres of cross-country ski trails of all difficulty levels, which started just down the road from our chalet. There were also snowshoeing and pedestrian trails.

We skied by the snow-covered beach on Lake Stukely and stopped in at Le Castor refuge, which can accommodate 20 skiers in one large room as long as they nestle two-to-a-bed in bunk beds. It made us appreciate our nature chalet all the more.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2013 D4

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