ROAD TRIP: GM's mid-luxury sedan excels on whirlwind tour of high-end Quebec hotels
Big American at ease among the cocky Europeans.
Road trip: 2014 Buick LaCrosse
I?m a meat and potatoes guy. Everything I know about wine comes from what I?ve read on the box and, at our house, we delicately savour the main course the way a bear annihilates a box of hamburger patties.
But one glorious weekend recently, Tourism Quebec invited us to stay in three luxury hotels and sample some of the fine dining and activities La Belle Province has to offer.
Our main goal was to avoid looking like the Clampetts during their first trip to Beverly Hills.
Our vehicle-du-jour was Buick?s flagship LaCrosse ? an unpretentious American luxury sedan that?s been around for a few years but is still able to hold its own with the Euro and Japanese competition.
Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello was our first stop, a huge, rustic log structure built in the 1930s that has become one of Quebec?s primary luxury resorts.
Nestled in the heart of the scenic Outaouais (Ottawa) Tourist Region, the Montebello is the world?s largest log hotel. Over the years, it has hosted many Canadian prime ministers and U.S. presidents.
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After checking in, we headed for the pool to unwind, and spent some quality time in one of the two hot tubs with a view of the Outaouais River flowing by.
Quebecers take a more European approach when dining, and most upper-scale meals are served in several courses with smaller portions.
The Montebello?s Restaurant Aux Chantignoles takes this to a professional level ? our entire meal, from appetizer to dessert, lasted three hours. But it was three hours very well spent.
For the main course, Cherie opted for huge scallops (grilled to perfection), while I decided on the venison tenderloin, which are from a local red deer farm, not wild whitetails.
The Montebello is also home to the Land Rover Experience, an off-road driving school.
I was coached on how to drive a stock Ranger Rover up, over and around near-vertical rock walls, gravity-defying side hills and giant mud bogs. An awesome experience!
Next, we steered the LaCrosse through the Laurentians to the La Quintessence hotel in Mt. Tremblant, one of Quebec?s premier ski areas.
The room was gorgeous, with a Jacuzzi tub, wood-burning fireplace and a balcony overlooking Lac Tremblant.
We were asked whether we wanted to eat in the formal dining area or the wine bar ? the main difference being that the hockey game wasn?t on in the dining room. So the wine bar it was.
In top-end establishments, the waiter?s recommendations carry weight, and ours was right on.
Appetizers were caramelized tomato soup with a dash of Feta and a huge green salad. My main course was flank steak, unlike any I?ve tried before. It was tender, cooked medium-rare to perfection and came with an adequate quantity of side veggies, including multi-coloured carrots. Cherie opted for the salmon, a house specialty, and said it was sumptuous. Sorry, but we had no room for dessert.
The next morning, after a breakfast buffet, we walked around Mt. Tremblant village, which has a very European flair to it.
Even though it was closed for the season, we could imagine that it must be hopping during ski season, with all its wonderful French cafes and bistros. Our stay at La Quintessence was the highlight of the trip.
Leaving Mt. Tremblant, we headed south towards our last stop, Loews Hotel Vogue, on Rue de la Montagne in downtown Montreal.
The Loews is another premium establishment, with excellent accommodations and a staff that is capable and efficient without fawning all over you.
A short walk took us to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which was a fantastic place to spend a few hours, looking at paintings and sculptures, classical to modern.
Montreal is world-class in its number of high-end restaurants but, after two opulent dinners in a row, we were craving for some simple food, so we headed for Crescent Street, home to many great pubs.
Downtown Montreal has a totally different vibe than Toronto ? walking around, you hear half English and half French. It?s seems so vibrant and tres-Continental.
The LaCrosse was an excellent choice for our upscale weekend. It was very quiet, comfortable and had all the luxury features you?d expect, including heated and cooled leather seats, active cruise control, heated steering wheel and all-wheel drive.
The styling, fit and finish definitely wasn?t out of place among the BMWs and Audis parked at the various establishments.
And it averaged 8.8 L/100 km for the trip. Luxurious, yet frugal.
Transportation and accommodation for freelance writer Steve Bond was provided by the manufacturer and Tourism Quebec. Email: email@example.com.
2014 Buick LaCrosse
Price: $35,795 base, $52,960 as tested
Engine: 3.6-L V6
Power/torque: 304 hp/264 lb.-ft.
Fuel Consumption L/100 km: 8.6 to 9.3 combined
Competition: Cadillac ATS, BMW 3, Audi A4
What?s best: Quiet, comfortable, luxury features.
What?s worst: Confusing Nav system, non-tactile touch controls.
What?s interesting: A luxury mid-size sedan with AWD and four-wheel independent suspension.
The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca