Day Three: Spend the night in a cabin without power or plumbing.

Anyone seen a cabin around here?
It's got to be one of the most unusual journeys to a holiday cottage we have ever made. We headed off into the forest  on our cross-country skis with a map. Way behind us our car was parked up for the night. We followed the Phillipe Lake trail through the rugged and less-used northern part of beautiful Gatineau ParkAfter an hour and just when we were wondering if those sounds really were coyotes (they were)  we spotted our cabin.
Our home for the night. Lusk Lake Cabin.

Our luggage had been delivered ahead of us and the wood-burning stove had been lit. Heaven. We would be spending the night in a ski hut without water or electricity and really experiencing winter. These no-frills stays at Gatineau Park in the Outaouais region are not expensive and offer something you simple will not get with a standard hotel - you feel you are part of the landscape.
View from our cabin - a frozen lake
 You could really believe you are in the middle of nowhere in this stunning park - yet this is 15 minutes from the nation's capital - Ottawa.  Our trip was cancelled once when temperatures of,  wait for it,  -36C (yes that is a minus sign) were predicted. We visited the following week when it had warmed up to -12C. Average highs here are 3C in December, -6C in January and -4C in February. Remember people, those are the highs.
Absolutely no frills. I call this roughing it.
We familiarised ourselves with the outdoor toilet. I made a mental note not to drink much liquid (no alcohol allowed by the way) and we settled in for a candlelit picnic of local fare. We are in the gastronomic capital of Canada after all and our Quebec foodstuffs from nearby Gatineau included smoked salmon, pates, fresh breads and local chocolate. You can stock up at Papilles Gourmandes on Boulevard St Joseph for game, maple spread, pate and cheeses;  Miss Chocolat on Promenade du Portage is a treat while there is some great smoked fish and seafood at the nearby Chelsea Smokehouse.

Plenty of routes to choose from.
I have stayed in some remote cottages in my time but this place seemed to redefine solitude. We knew no-one was likely to come out here and we were in the only accommodation we had seen for miles. The sound-proofing effect of the snow makes you feel even more isolated. Our view outside was of the frozen Lusk Lake and as I stared out I kept expecting to see a wolf pack in the snow. I had been nervous about being too cold but these cabins are so well insulted you can actually feel too warm. We kept the wood-burning stove going all night - out of fear mainly. In the end although I was in an isolated cabin in the middle of a winter landscape I was actually too hot to sleep.

Gatineau Park from a ski trail.
Week days are probably the best time to visit when you feel you have the park to yourself - 224 square miles of snow-covered hills, lakes and forests are laced with groomed cross-country ski trails. It's perfect for the beginner like me and the visitor centre will recommend the best trails for you. Next morning we headed off on the trails on our skis through forests of hemlock and pine and up the Ridge Road to the Huron Lookout. There are six cabins like this in the park and ours was the only one that required you to leave by 10am when it becomes a day shelter for skiers. The others are yours for the duration. You don't even have to ski - there are snowshoe trails here too for certain cabins.

Hut interior. Basic but warm.
The hut is cosy with comfortable bunks, two dining tables and plenty of places to dry out your clothes. Francois Leduc, visitor centre manager, says a full moon brings extra visitors as moonlit skiing or snowshoeing is very popular. Families ski  then unpack their fondue sets and enjoy their dinner inside the warm day huts. After four hours of skiing we felt we deserved a treat and the nearby Nordik Spa in Old Chelsea offers hydrotherapy pools amid the snow with hot and cold running waterfalls. Custom dictates a visit to the sauna and steam room should be followed by a cold dip in outdoor pools then a period of relaxation. We had no trouble achieving this. 

Nordik Spa, Old Chelsea. We deserve it.

The only hotel inside Gatineau Park is the Wakefield Mill Inn. There has been a hotel on this site since 1838. Diners in the restaurant look out onto the Maclaren Falls while contemplating a menu of Brome Lake duck breast, black angus tenderloin, pumpkin souffle, apples with maple syrup and Quebec cheeses. Try a hot-tub under the stars before padding up to your room in robe and slippers. This one has water and electricity and offers perhaps, after all the excitement,  the best sleep of your life. Read yesterday's winter adventure: the Ice Hotel
Another adventure - skate the world's biggest ice rink

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So what does it cost?  
Gatineau Park cabins - There are 3 cabins and two yurts which all sleep six at $125 a night. Then there is a cabin which sleeps 17 at $350 a night. Be warned the weekends have all been booked this winter so you will have to pick a weekday. It costs extra for luggage transportation as we had and you need to book a week in advance.

To visit Nordik baths - prices start at $44 for basic visit.

Wakefield Mill Inn  Bed and breakfast package including hot tub from $110 per person.
Who do I talk to?

Rideau Skateway, Ottawa
Come back for Day 4 of Five Crazy Things to do in a Canadian Winter by someone who has done them. Tomorrow - skate the length of the world's biggest ice rink. (I'm exhausted already).

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  1. Hello Anne. I'm new to your blog and really enjoying it, thanks. Hearing your experience as an English ex-pat is really helpful as we are considering re-locating to Montréal after 8 years in Normandy(I share many of your experiences - my French relatives keep their kettle in a cupboard and get it out for me!). I was wondering if it may be possible for me to pick your brains about a few things if you have a moment? I have signed up to receive your blog so you should have my email if not respond here and I'll post it. Many thanks for your time.

  2. Sarah
    The kettle in the cupboard. It's a good title for my autobiography I think. No probs I will email you directly and see if I can answer your questions.

  3. Gorgeous place! I'd love to stay in a place this -- cozy, secluded, beauty all around. Just not sure about using an outdoor toilet in sub-zero temps. Just curious - why isn't alcohol allowed? Not that this is important to me.... :-)

  4. Roughing it? Well, my idea of roughing it is staying in a hotel without a hair dryer! The outside loo? Geez - that's a bit of a stretch for me! You see - this is why I love people like you - you go out and do all these brave and mad things and then I get to read about them - in comfort - central heating on and the indoor loo about 6 steps away!
    Great blog as always, Anne.

  5. Cathy
    Can't quite remember the reason for the alcohol rule though it stuck in my mind too. Seems cruel given the circumstances. Have to say I loved every minute - no amount of posh hotel packages could recreate this truly winter wonderland feeling.

  6. Nicola
    It's not often I'm in accommodation without ensuite bathroom and wifi believe me. We had to read by candlelight and wouldn't you know it, I was reading the Navigator of New York. Lots of starving Arctic explorers trapped in ice. That really felt appropriate.

  7. Great post Anne, I lived in Ottawa for 3 years but never knew about this sort of expedition being on offer, it looks fantastic. I have done the cabin thing without electricity before but not in the winter!

    Looking forward to the Rideau Canal post, I used to skate to uni on it! I definitely miss that and the Beavertails, you have to have a Beavertail to make the experience complete. :-)

  8. Sarah
    Not everyone can say they skated to college. Fabulous.
    Expect to see embarrassing picture of my husband tucking into the pastries tomorrow. Beavertails and hot chocolate are what keep you going if you're going to skate the biggest ice rink in the world.

  9. Is that a goose feather coat you're wearing?


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