A Long Weekend (or a Short Week) in Outaouais
Journalist and photographer Léa Beauchesne discovers the region of Outaouais through its picturesque villages and incredible natural playgrounds.
Text and photos—Léa Beauchesne
In partnership with
– Day 1 –
Since a distant sixth grade trip, I had only set foot in Outaouais a few times, and always in a rush. So, in discovery mode and in as little hurry as possible, I’m en route to this region of Québec that I know too little about.
After Montréal and its environs, the traffic diminishes on Highway 50, which links the metropolis to the north shore of the Ottawa River. The almost-rural setting is slowly urbanizing near Gatineau.
In downtown Gatineau, I stop at Les Brasseurs du Temps and select the croque madame from the weekend brunch menu. The establishment sits on the edge of Brewery Creek, which turns into a skating rink during the cold season. The creek’s name recalls an important piece of history from the time of Prohibition, when Old Hull was given the nickname “Little Chicago.” The brewing museum, right in the restaurant, is a rich source of this kind of local history: Dominic, the owner, tells the story for the 1,001st time with as much enthusiasm as if it were the first.
The eye-catching Canadian Museum of History is right nearby. Designed by Indigenous architect Douglas Cardinal, this imposing structure stands on the shores of the Ottawa River, directly across from the Parliament of Canada, its natural curves defying the laws of gravity. Inside, the ceiling of the Grand Gallery is reminiscent of a huge traditional canoe. Large totem poles command my attention as I walk into the First Peoples Hall. After admiring hundreds of artifacts, I make my way to the Canadian History Hall on the third floor. Eager to present the history of Canada openly and honestly, with its highs and lows, the museum completely revised this exhibition during the country’s 150th anniversary, in 2017. A central focus has been placed on the history of Indigenous peoples, from our first records of their ancestors 15,000 years ago, through the painful days of residential schools, up until present attempts at reconciliation. The museum also boasts superbly installed international historical exhibits.
The urban part of my journey is coming to an end. To extend the evening in Gatineau, a friend from college recommended I try the Vilains Garçons menu or the delicious share plates at Soif wine bar. But I can’t wait to settle in and get off my feet at Lofts du Village, in the centre of Old Chelsea Square. I arrive as the golden hour envelops a magnificent building, which houses visitors for long or short stays. The Lofts du Village operates among large mature trees that were carefully preserved during its construction. Inside, I marvel at the uncluttered stylish environment, accented by warm materials. Everything is there to make you feel like you’re at home — only better.
– Day 2 –
The gateway to Gatineau Park, Chelsea is a small village located less than half an hour north of Gatineau, which turns into a weekend playground for city dwellers. To enjoy the calm of the place, you absolutely must go during the week! Chelsea seduces me at first sight: warm welcome, colourful wooden buildings, bike paths: I definitely feel like I’m on vacation.
I grab some snacks at Une Boulangerie dans un Village before stopping at Nomades du Parc, where the friendly guides Vincent and Jacob share their tips on how to make the most of the region by bike. This Chelsea-based entrepreneurial duo offer mountain bike rentals in addition to guided tours, a place to relax, and even a station to clean and pamper your bike. Map in hand, Vincent creates a tailor-made itinerary for my level and tastes. I set off with confidence on the trails of this 360 km2 green space. If descent calls you, go to the impressive Camp Fortune or the more rolling Mont Sainte-Marie (Vélo MSM).
After a few kilometres of dirt trail, I arrive at Pink Lake, which is a beautiful turquoise due to the algae that form there. This fragile ecosystem must be protected from any intruder, and so swimming is prohibited. On hot days, go to the Meech Lake side, to the popular O’Brien Beach, or a little further to Blanchet Beach. From there, you can put your paddleboard in the water (rental available at Paddlefit), don your espadrilles to walk the Wolf Trail, or simply take a stroll with your feet in the water.
Having completed my little bike loop, it’s time for a snack at Biscotti & cie, a local staple from the first to the last meal of the day. Order a delicious pizza baked in a wood-fired oven and enjoy it on the pretty shaded terrace or the green space just out front. I accompany this delight with a raspberry lemonade.
I feel like vegging out. Next door, Nordik Spa-Nature seems like the perfect remedy for my condition. Upon arrival, you dive into a tasteful world of relaxation in nature. Blissful silence reigns through the baths and the various spaces designed for peaceful contemplation. On the way out, meet up to chat at the panoramic swimming pool and admire the view. Make sure you add Nordik to your list of spas to visit! Take it from this girl who usually has a hard time relaxing.
The spa offers several interesting gourmet options, but I leave my comfort zone and head to Les Fougères restaurant. Voted best chef in Canada in 2019, Yannick LaSalle creates dishes where flavours from the garden harmonize perfectly with the seasons. A true sanctuary, the restaurant creates the impression of having a quiet dinner at home, in addition to an incredible meal and impeccable service. On each table rests a bouquet of flowers from the garden, arranged by Jennifer, the establishment’s co-owner. If you’re short on time for a full dinner, stop by for a drink and take a few minutes to explore the fabulous garden behind the restaurant.
At the end of the day, I decide to chase the sunset at Blanchet Beach. Perched on a paddleboard, I watch the pink hues paint the sky.
– Day 3 –
The sun enters through the glass doors of the dining room. I put my luggage away and reluctantly check out of the Lofts du Village. I fell in love with their style and comfort, as well as their little eco-friendly touches, like the shampoo bar.
I wanted to start the day in a big way, but I was stopped short at the door of the Café Palmier. A glance at their schedule would have spared me the detour; they’re closed on Mondays. It’s a great reason to come back to the region any other day of the week to try the area’s reputed best coffee!
The area around Chelsea hosts all kinds of activities. My boyfriend was hoping that I would go bungee jumping (he’d already made the Québec-Chelsea round trip for that purpose). I content myself with taking a blurry photo of the site and instead head toward the Laflèche Cave, discovered at the turn of the 19th century by a local hunter. An hour’s walk under the earth teaches me a lot about the underground universe. We learn how the site was formed over millennia, how bats behave, but also that the cave was sadly ransacked while it stood abandoned from 1973 to 1985, which explains the absence of stalactites and stalagmites. I smile, watching the small groups of children experience what appears to be the greatest expedition of their lives.
On my way to Wakefield, I stop at the Éco-Odysée labyrinth for a canoe ride. Beavers inspired the owner, Michel Leclair, to create this unique site. The twists and turns of the marshy labyrinth are home to several species of birds, small mammals, and amphibians, all living in harmony in this rich ecosystem. It is best enjoyed at dusk.
Wakefield, on the shores of the Gatineau River, is like a cheerful garland of bohemian cafés, art galleries, and boutiques. Just above the village, a covered bridge offers a nice view of the stream. Down below, a group of sunbathers warm themselves on the pebbles between dips in the water.
Near the village, there are a number of farms and market gardens, much to the delight of local restaurateurs. Every Saturday during the summer, local products can be found at the Wakefield Public Market. At the friendly Café le Hibou, each dish highlights these homegrown flavours. It’s here that I devour the best veggie burger of the decade!
Wakefield is a perfect destination to enjoy a coffee on a patio with a view of the water. Breathe in the scents of La Forêt boutique’s natural products while listening to Michel-André, one of the co-owners, tell you the story of his village. Discover Indigenous artists at Khewa. Take the time to chat with the owner, Nathalie Coutou, herself a Métis artist. Her sensitivity and energy invite us into her world and that of the artists that she showcases.
The charm of this village and its inhabitants almost makes me forget the drive home. Between its vast forests, its bodies of water, and its tourist attractions perfectly in tune with the scenery, Outaouais offers a fulfilling escape. This stay in Outaouais reminds me, once again, that Québec is full of wonderful regions waiting to be explored.
Extend your stay
Extend your stay in northern Outaouais, where the lakes multiply endlessly, with a canoe-camping trip in the Réserve faunique de Papineau-Labelle — so dreamy! There is also the essential Parc Régional du Lac 31-Milles — a perfect place to disconnect in nature. Sunsets, campfires, and hikes await, whether you choose to set up your camper on the shores or make your way there by canoe for rustic camping. The organization that administers the park makes an enormous effort to protect this exceptional site.
Léa Beauchesne prefers escaping to wide-open spaces away from walls and asphalt. Journalist and creator, Beauchesne likes to play with words and images to create timeless moments where humans and nature collide. She doesn’t like to worry, except when it comes to the environment. You’ll most often find her in the mountains at the end of a climbing rope, on her bike, or on her skis, surrounded by too many dogs and preferably just one other human.
Tourisme Outaouais is a private, not-for-profit organization with a current membership of more than 500 businesses, mostly small to medium enterprises working in the regional tourism industry and sharing a common objective: to promote the Outaouais region as a prime tourist destination!