“Look, I’m a butterfly in a cocoon!” my friend’s daughter cried as she wrapped herself in the large canvas hammock under the bright blue sky and then quickly opened it and pretended to fly away.
My kids, who were also swaying in their hammocks in the warm breeze, copied her. Just the night before, my best friend and I had dined on the upstairs porch of this hotel overlooking a lush garden and crystal turquoise pool heated to nearly 90 degrees where we had spent the afternoon swimming, relaxing on beautiful lounge chairs and drinking cucumber-infused water.
Our destination would sound almost Caribbean because it certainly felt like it. But we couldn’t have been farther away from the tropics. This was Canada and we were staying at Le Bonne Entente (check your dates for rates) in Québec.
Le Bonne Entente is a 120-acre former estate property located in a nondescript neighborhood just outside of old Québec. You will wonder pulling up to the hotel as we did how it came to be in this location. The hotel dates back to the 1930’s when a Colonel, turned wealthy Canadian industrialist, chose the spot for his country estate. In 1950, his son turned the estate into an inn and over the next half-century or so, the small inn would undergo major expansion and renovations. The name “Bonne Entente” refers to the Colonel’s cordial attitude between Franco-Americans. That same friendly demeanor resonates at the hotel today.
Before we set off on this adventure, I had one Scout camping trip with my son under my belt and two more to go for the summer. I craved some pampering and luxury. We booked a suite in Bonne Entente’s Urbania wing, built in 2005 and consisting of 28 luxurious suites with a shared private lounge. The hotel knew four children were coming, and they had arranged a huge tray of cookies and a mini candy buffet. Moving like the Tasmanian devil cartoon, I was able to hide the candy on the top shelf of the entry closet before the kids saw it. A knock at the door and the bellman was back, but this time he was delivering two welcome glasses of champagne. A blissful arrival.
The Urbania Suites are minimalist, contemporary havens. Warm khaki furnishings and dark wood contrast against the room’s clean bright white walls. As two adults with four kids, the room gave us plenty of space to spare. And these suites are designed with large families in mind, with a king and queen bed in the bedroom and a queen fold out and room for a rollaway in the living room. A large flat screen TV dominate the walls with surround sound speakers in the living room that gave our Shrek screening on a rainy afternoon a theatre-like experience. Additionally the bathroom is accessible from both rooms, thereby minimizing disruption during the night.
A word of caution on the high-end shower, however. A Masters degree in engineering and the balance of a Cirque de Soleil acrobat may not be enough to operate it. With no less than nine waterspouts that either shot out burning or freezing water, handles that won’t turn after they get wet, and a floor surface as sleek as an ice skating rink when it gets soapy, I felt like I was in a Survivor challenge.
Thankfully it also had me in tears laughing at the hilarity of trying to get the water to stop with one hand while balancing myself with the other against the glass. At one point, I ran for the bathtub thinking I would use that to rinse my hair only to realize how cold I was sitting in an immense empty tub with just a small stream of water. I ran back to the shower since I was unable to turn it off. If you’re thinking this isn’t that funny, you may be right. But there’s something so great about traveling with your best friend that makes everything funnier.
The lounge shared by the Urbania guests is worth its weight in gold. At breakfast in the morning we saw parents and children alike still dressed in their PJ’s. Children helped themselves to fruit, cereal, and hard-boiled eggs while parents, still half-asleep, all pitched in to get the Espresso machine working.
In the evening, a spread of pre-shaken cosmopolitans lined their martini bar for the taking, and a large ice bin contained several different types of wine. One of us would stay with the kids while the other grabbed our glasses of wine and plates of cheese, charcuterie, bruschetta and grilled vegetables.
The children ran around outside on the grass and threw themselves into the most amazing hammock contraptions I’ve ever encountered. These triangular metal sculptures look like modern works of art and each one suspends three hammocks surrounding a wooden table for drinks and snacks. When the kid’s energy levels would reach their breaking points in our room, these were the perfect outlet for some fun and fresh air. Modern art continues inside the hotel with an art gallery just off the hotel’s lobby.
The pool was really beyond our expectations. Surrounded by a white picket fence covered in flowering vines and rose bushes it revealed a beautiful central fountain that created pleasant white noise. Several grownups were snoozing with cocktails on their terry-covered chaises, and I felt a little self-conscious bringing the swim floaties and goggles crowd with me. Within minutes a few other families arrived and the vibe still worked for all of us. Adjacent to the pool was an exceptionally large hot tub with, what felt like, a heated stone floor. It remains open all year and is conveniently next to the spa.
The hotel has three restaurants and we dined at the MC Lounge where we had an amuse-bouche of seasoned popcorn, an incredible row of scallops, asparagus, and grilled fennel, and the perfect medium-rare steak au poivre with fresh garden vegetables. The quality of the food was outstanding.
Our view overlooking the pool and lush property was breathtaking. It was one of the most serene dinners that I have had in years. Why? Le Bonne Entente makes this all possible through its complimentary babysitting for guests eating at the hotel’s restaurants.
We dropped the kids off at the Kids’ Club downstairs, ordered them dinner, and enjoyed the next two hours to ourselves, feeling the complete freedom of a pre-child girls’ getaway. We sat in a lounge in front of its grandfather clock for a few minutes after dinner, waiting for it to strike eight o’clock, our scheduled collection of our children, with Cinderella-like drama that some magic was about to end.
We arrived hoping to find happy kids. Instead, we found kids miserable to see us. We got the “One more minute” whine from the youngest. The Kids’ Club offers toys and entertainment to occupy newborns to young teens including movies, computers, Xbox, and dolls – just enough to keep kids happy for a couple of hours while parents dine.
In addition to the Kids’ Club, the hotel offers packages throughout the year that will appeal to all ages. During the winter holiday breaks, there are organized snowball activities, visits from Santa on Christmas morning, and a family-friendly New Year’s Eve ball. During Spring break, the hotel opens up its kitchen for kid-friendly cooking classes and outside S’mores events.
For parents, there is an on-site spa and fitness room, neither of which I was fortunate enough to use but both were inviting. The hotel also has an arrangement with La Tempête Golf Club, Québec’s only championship golf course, allowing its guests access and preferential treatment in booking tee times in advance.
And for families seeking outdoor fun, the hotel is ideally situated near Base de Plein Air de Saint-Foy where you can cross-country ski, snowshoe, or sled in the winter or swim and boat in the summer. There are also three miles of hiking trails.
Off the tourist track, Le Bonne Entente is not an obvious choice for families but it was exactly what we needed after an eight-hour drive from Boston. The value for its luxury is really outstanding. It provided us a wonderful respite to relax and have some mellow family fun before we moved into Old Québec for more sightseeing. For families who choose to stay at Le Bonne Entente their entire trip, the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle every hour into Old Québec. Its location is also ideal to visit Montmorency Falls and other attractions just outside the city, as the hotel is minutes from the highway.
Our road trip and visit to Québec had been amazing, and I suffered from best friend withdrawal for a week after our return. The idea for the trip had started off with a simple phone call and a few questions: where could we go with two adults, four kids, a minivan, and 6 days after our kids’ last day of school? And the trip ended with the perfect question: when can we go back to Le Bonne Entente?
Check your dates for rates at Le Bonne Entente.