GO WILD IN CANADA; Unwind in the Great Outdoors with an Affordable Stay in the Unspoilt Lakes and Forests of Quebec Province

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIAN HANCILL

The seaplane came in from the south and made a long sweeping turn, almost skimming the tops of the pines on its approach. Trailing two glistening cascades after hitting the lake, it rounded a fir-clad promontory and coasted to a halt on the little beach below us.

Just three regular customers arriving for breakfast at the Pourvoirie du Lac Blanc... a hotel, restaurant and outdoor centre in the wild heart of Canada's Quebec province.

I was watching the scene from our hotel balcony with a steaming mug of tea. It was 7am on my first morning after a 90-minute drive from Montreal with girlfriend Flo the previous evening. Now it was time for a big breakfast and a day packed with activities.

GLISTENING First, fishing on one of the property's 10 lakes. With the help of our guide, an amusing old rascal called Stephane, two hours in an electric boat were filled with laughter as well as expert tuition. We caught four glistening trout too, which Stephane delighted in pointing out to two locals who hadn't seen a bite all morning.

Then we plunged into the woods with a Quebecois countryman called Tony who told us the history, philosophy and techniques of fur-trapping. A controversial subject, but it played a huge part in Canada's development and it was fascinating to learn more.

As well as its beautiful setting, a stay at the Pourvoirie is special because of the charm, skill and knowledge of guys like Stephane, Tony and our next guide Pierre, who is the canoeing and "First Nations" expert (the Canadian equivalent of Native American).

He took us around the beautiful bays and inlets of nearby Lac a la Perchaude in a rabaska canoe, gliding right up to a dam built by beavers. It's possible to climb out of your canoe and stand up on one of these amazing structures, but Pierre said it was too waterlogged to hold our weight (well, let's be honest... my weight).

We weren't lucky enough to spot any brown bears coming down to the lake, but there are plenty in the woods and you can book a guided bear-spotting tour.

After lunch in the hotel's cosy restaurant (lots of trout, everything fresh and perfectly cooked) we set off on a guided quad-bike trip through the Pourvoirie's 8,000 acres of woodland.

This was a superb thrill-ride up and down hills on narrow grassy tracks, until we arrived at the First Nations camp, a clearing in the woods with a huge tepee and campfire.

You can join a group and spend the night here, gathering round the fire to eat traditional Metis cuisine with fresh Amerindian banique bread while Pierre spins hair-raising stories of Nanabush, a shape-shifting spirit from local mythology. We stayed just long enough to try on a traditional First Nations headdress, which looked daft on me but suited Flo remarkably well. Back on the quads, we made our way back via the Belvedere, a vista with a meandering river disappearing into the far distance and so perfect it could have been a scene from Middle-earth in the Lord of the Rings films. Finally, we relaxed in the hotel's pine-walled Aquatic Centre, a pristine pool, sauna and jacuzzi overlooking Lac Blanc.

There's something about the Pourvoirie, part of the Mauricie region, that compels you to unwind. It helps that it's an independent business run by the charming Gaston Pellerin and his family since 1994.

You don't have to cram it all into a single day as we did on our short sampler stay, but we certainly had an appetite for that night's magnificent dinner. Activities are mostly paid extras (prices on website - see right) but there are some you can do for free.

Driving through the rolling countryside the next morning it struck me what a unique part of the world this is. The roads, the passing trucks and tiny towns all feel like rural America. …