Chateau Cartier gives itself a birthday gift

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The Chateau Cartier Hotel in Gatineau, just across the river from Ottawa, is marking its 20th anniversary in 2011, and to celebrate the milestone, the hotel is giving itself a birthday update.

The Cartier is a blend of styles —suburban, country and urban. It combines a convenient setting (about 10 kilometres from Parliament Hill) with a pastoral ambience: it’s surrounded by rolling fairways that border the Ottawa River. Now it is adding a city-chic element in dining and decor.

It is a lively, bright resort hotel with a spa, summertime tennis courts and its own golf course, which soon will turn into a family snow-sports playground. The indoor pool and fitness centre are glassed in, offering views of trees and sky. The Chateau also has an 800-guest ballroom, which handles up to 100 weddings a year and many embassy parties.

The lobby mirrors the look of a grand, formal chateau, with a large, shimmering chandelier and marble floors. Studded leather wing chairs face a stone fireplace and a baby grand piano.

What’s notable about the Chateau Cartier’s guest rooms, standard or superior, is that they all are spacious. Of about 130 accommodations, 86 are full suites with French doors separating the salon from the bedroom. As part of the 20th-anniversary makeover, the hotel has overhauled the fifth and sixth floors with sleek, modern decor. That means new beds, large flat-screen televisions and glassed-in showers. The first four floors have been refreshed, although they have the old televisions and darker, more traditional, decor. The Cartier’s best-buy rooms are the patio-level "bachelors," which open onto the golf course.

The other big news at the Cartier is its dining scene, which promises to shake up Gatineau’s style. The hotel’s Ekko de Brasil is a sexy new hot spot, a nightclub with a colourful tropical decor, servers in gaucho costumes and samba dancers on Fridays and Saturdays. The signature cocktail is a martini of vodka and cachaca, a Brazilian liqueur distilled from sugar cane and the food formula is a churrascaria, a South American grill specializing in heaping servings of lamb, beef and pork.

For most travellers, the new lobby bistro is the place to be. It has been renamed La Table Vingt, a nod to the 20-year milestone, and redecorated in stylish earth tones with streaks of sky blue. Part of the revamped look is a distinctive contemporary table setting.

But it is La Table Vingt’s food that will take centre stage. Executive chef Mathieu Bedard has introduced new menus that feature fine cuisine for gastronomes and comfort food for families and business travellers. Gourmets will love Bedard’s rich risotto with wild morels foraged in the Gatineau, grilled asparagus and goat cheese from Le Petit Vinoy in nearby Cheneville. Or perhaps the Asian-inspired duck breast flavoured with maple and soy, and served with a side of delicate rice vermicelli and bok choy in citrus broth. Ladies who lunch like the refreshing salmon encrusted with sesame seeds and green tea, served with a light, zingy orange carpaccio and cilantro dressing. And how is this for an update on an everyday sandwich -chicken and prosciutto on rosemary focaccia with brie.

Bedard has had some help boosting the sophistication quotient at La Table Vingt. One of the Cartier’s owners, Pierre Heafey, a hotelier and real-estate developer, also runs a vineyard in Niagara Peninsula. The hotel has a cabernet merlot that is great for the price:about $35 a bottle.

The Cartier is about a half kilometre from the Voyageurs’ Pathway cycling trail, which runs to Ottawa, but the hotel has grown into a self-contained resort with lots to do on site. The Spa Studio 157 has five treatment rooms and beauty and body services done with essential oils flavoured with a bouquet of green tea, mango, argon oil, lavender, citrus, peppermint and eucalyptus.

Golf season at Chateau Cartier has ended. Its venerable, scenic course opened in 1923 and has at least five holes running along the Ottawa River. In-house pro Guy Beaulieu describes it as "user-friendly for all levels. You can’t get into too much trouble; it’s the kind of course where people can find their golf balls." Soon, the fairways and rough will be covered by enough snow for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

If you go

Gatineau is a two-hour drive from Montreal. Take Highways 40 and 417 west to Ottawa, take Exit 123 and Island Park Drive through Ottawa and across the river, then go west on Aylmer Road.

Chateau Cartier: 1170 Aylmer Rd., Gatineau,, 800-807-1088. Prices include use of indoor pool, fitness centre, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing trails (on the golf course), and in summer, tennis courts. Rooms and suites, $129 to $189 for two, without meals. Buffet breakfast, $15.50. Relaxation Package —one night in a suite, massages for two people and buffet breakfast — starts at $157 per person, double occupancy. The deluxe Castle Life Package adds a four-course dinner, Champagne, flowers and chocolates, and starts at $295 per person, double occupancy, per night. Packages will be available with cross-country ski or snowshoe rentals.

In summer, the Unlimited Golf Package starts about $149 per person, double occupancy, and runs until November. It includes breakfast, golf cart, driving range with balls and unlimited golf for one day.

Spa Studio 157 at Chateau Cartier: 800-807-1088,

Gatineau information: 866-299-2002,

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