La Belle Boutique:
Quebec City's Small Hotels are a Big Draw

by Ilona Kauremszky

Hotelier Magazine
cover story - Spring 2006

Quebec City - is recognizable by its crowning glory, Fairmont’s Le Château Frontenac, a historic jewel that tops the province’s capital city. While this UNESCO World Heritage Site continues to cast a magical spell — the latest Condé Nast Traveler 2005 readers’ poll ranks Quebec City fourth among travel destinations in the Americas outside the U.S. — North America’s only walled city is also at the forefront of the boutique-hotel craze.

The grounds of l’autre chateau — “the other chateau,” as the locals call the Château Bonne Entente (CBE) — is a mere five-minute drive from Old Quebec. Amid a backdrop of sprawling floral gardens surrounding a manmade lake with a waterfall for its centrepiece, the hotel proudly sits with familiar curved rooftop and dormered shuttered windows. The addition of its pedestrian path, landscaped garden and waterfalls were part of a new $6.5-million renovation, adding further panache to the five-star venue.

Renovations began last March following an earlier $11-million expansion project completed in 2004. “With the new surroundings around the lake, guests can now walk and relax near the outdoor fire with the sound of the waterfall,” says Alain April, general manager of the Bonne Entente. “It’s magical.”

It’s no surprise “Bonne Entente” literally translates to “good harmony,” a moniker April says is part of the property’s stellar reputation. “The CBE was the first hotel in Quebec City to offer a seating reception where the hotel staff seats you at a table and then conducts the check-in here,” says April of the recent $2-million overhaul to the reception area. “This new concept is unusual. It’s more convivial. Guests are put in a different mood.”

Guests are met with a warm reception, and as you arrive, harmony is apparent. The whitewashed château resembles a Gatsby-like palace. Three storeys tall, the structure’s exterior emits simple elegance. The lobby is laden with caramel-stained wood cabinetry, a luminescent fireplace and distressed cocoa-studded leather sofas. The outdoor California-inspired Napa Grill patio restaurant, in the heart of the hotel’s new garden, boasts a cedar gazebo with a brigade of short-order cooks barbecuing fresh seafood and locally farmed meats. Inside, the Monte Cristo Resto Lounge (which underwent a $1-million renovation in 2003), meshes Mediterranean-chic with rustic Canadiana, its blonde-wood dining tables and chairs mingle with a stone wall quarried from local rocks.

“With these two restaurants, we renewed our hopes of attracting more out-of-town clients, as well as the hotel’s guests,” says April. “It’s important to diversify [food] offerings when you are a little bit out of town.”

With 106 renovated guest rooms and the creation of two new wings, the pièce de résistance rests in the construction of 28 new suites, part of what April describes as U?BANIA, a new concept inspired from the trends of the world’s top cities, combining style and well-being.

“The comfort of these new 700-sq.-ft.-plus suites will amaze guests,” he says. Styled in silken Mascionni Italian linen, the rooms boast top-of-the line amenities such as 42-inch plasma TVs, DVD players and spa bathrooms with Toto toilets. A chromotherapy bath and shower combine luminotherapy, aromathery and a dry sauna. “We call this bathroom the spa space,” says April. “Guests dive into a unique cocooning environment. It’s spectacular.”

The CBE has attracted diplomats and celebrities since it first opened in 1947, when Colonel Charles Hugh LePailleur Jones purchased two farms and baptized his estate Le domaine Bonne Entente. The esteemed property has been considered a place of quality and prestige ever since. After Jones’ death, the Bonne Entente was kept in the family and later changed ownership a few times. Today, it’s part of the hotel division of the Pomerleau Group.

“I am extremely proud to have raised the standard of this hotel from a three-star in 1996 to a five-star, four-diamond hotel,” says April, who came to the hotel in 1991. He’s proud that the CBE is the only five-star hotel in Quebec City solely belonging to Quebecer investors, working hard to build up criteria and train employees in order to earn the ranking. “Furthermore, we are an independent hotel and don’t have the support of a ‘big-oiled machine’ that a chain brings,” April says, quite proud to have obtained such a ranking for a small, independent hotel.

The soft-spoken hotelier is also the general manager of the Georgesville in Beauce region. With a total budget of $14-million, April oversees both hotels with a passion that has won him the respect of his compatriots. A fourth-generation child of hotelkeepers, April was destined for the business. Born at his father’s inn, the Auberge sur Mer in Notre-Dame-du-Portage, he quickly learned the business and later graduated from the Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec. He took on the general manager duties of the CBE at age 26.

Besides the latest renovations, the hotel has recently secured exclusive access rights to La Tempête, the newest golf course to open in the area. April believes it has “consolidated the hotel’s position in the convention and tourist market.” Visitors to the greater Quebec City region will only be able to obtain golf reservations at La Tempête by staying at Château Bonne Entente.

Corporate travel accounts for 65 per cent of its bookings, followed by 35 per cent from leisure travel. The average occupancy in the peak seasons of August through September and October is 85 per cent, with an average daily rate of $275. “That figure will increase this year with U?BANIA and La Tempête Golf Course,” says April who predicts the hotel’s golf-spa packages will be very popular.

And so is its hotelier. Named hotel manager of the year and personality of the year in 1998 by La Presse, today April sits on the chair of the Quebec City Convention Centre Board of Directors. Executive chef Marie-Chantal Lepage was nominated national chef of the year by the Société des Chefs Cuisiniers et Pâtissiers du Québec in 2000. In 2003, the CAA/AAA awarded the hotel its fourth diamond along with the esteemed five-star rating by the Corporation de l’industrie touristique du Québec (CITQ). Last year The Monte Cristo Resto Lounge’s wine list was added to the Wine Spectator magazine’s wine list and in January 2005, the hotel received the designation of “Leading Hotels of the World,” the only property in Quebec City to hold this rank.

“We take great pride in being associated with such a prestigious banner,” he says. The Bonne Entente will also benefit from positioning itself internationally, as the LHW guide is present in 80 countries and 430 hotels. “It’s great visibility,” he says.

While the Bonne Entente is Quebec City’s only leading hotel of the world, the auspices of Hotel Dominion 1912 was voted best hotel in Canada by Conde Nast Traveler readers in a 2005 poll.

“What an incredible honour to receive this award for a hotel that’s only eight years old,” says Christiane Germain, co-president of Le Groupe Germain. She co-founded the company with her husband Richard and later introduced Germain des Pres in Sainte-Foy, which was the first boutique hotel in Quebec City. “It set the stage for Groupe Germain’s interpretation of quality, comfort and service.”

The team’s exceptional service distinguishes the Hotel Dominion 1912. “Groupe Germain is a leader and continues to add to the boutique-hotel concept,” she says, demonstrated by the sense of intimacy comprising its memorable guest experience. “Our ‘WOW’ philosophy is of anticipating guests’ needs rather than responding to requests. Combined with the luxury of the facilities it makes our guests feel special. At the core of this concept are our team members’ heart and personality,” she says of the five-property hotel brand.

Conveniently located in the heart of Old Quebec surrounded by antique shops, galleries, restaurants and the old port, the eight-storey 60-room hotel occupies the former digs of the Dominion Fish and Fruit Co., the city’s first skyscraper. Remarkably, the structure continues to stand at the forefront of innovation. The decor of the Hotel Dominion 1912 possesses a minimalist opulence that epitomizes luxury without being excessive. The lobby is airy with chocolate-stained woods, and white linen draping from the windows and columns. The warmth of the log fireplace entices weary guests to relax in one of the plush white slip-covered sofas — the kind you can sink in for hours.

In the suites, the palette is soothing celery-green and golden wheat. Signature goose-down duvet covers the king-sized bed with crisp 200-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets. Guests can even purchase ready-made products from its online store. “La Boutique was conceived in 1999 as a result of repeated requests from our guests to purchase comfort items,” says Germain.

The Dominion 1912 plays up the building’s industrial past with a nod to the Edwardian exterior. Quebec designer Viateur Michaud brings urban sophistication in his use of Canadian-made products, evident in the suite’s custom-made glass bathroom sinks and lighting fixtures.

Viateur Michaud’s creative flair was also commissioned when design team Lemay & Michaud worked on the interior design of the Station touristique Duchesnay. The 48-room lodge overlooks the shores of Lac St. Joseph and the rolling Laurentian mountains, and is a 30-minute drive from Quebec City.

Opened in December 2002, the rustic auberge is part of the Sepaq park system. This former forestry school was transformed in nine months after an $8.3-million-dollar renovation adding a dining area, terrace, indoor heated swimming pool, outdoor Jacuzzi, sauna and exercise rooms, 11 meeting rooms and lake-view balconied suites.

Undoubtedly the auberge’s focal point is the towering two-storey stone fireplace with massive hearths on each floor. “We try to provide a real nature experience, and our activities have a taste of the educational,” notes out-going general manager Andre Roy, who recently departed for the Parc Aquarium du Quebec as the new general manager.

Awarded a three-diamond designation by CAA in July 2005, the lodge’s peak season is winter when the Auberge Duchesnay has an 80 per cent occupancy rate, with 40 per cent of the lodge’s business coming from business travellers. “The advantage we have is offering outdoor activities for business groups,” explains M. Réjean Beaulieu, Auberge Duchesnay’s new general manager. The facility includes high-speed Internet access in the suites and meeting rooms. “It is very easy for us to combine businesses and activities.”

With the morphing of these old utilitarian structures into unique plush hotels, Quebec City continues to inspire and set new trends across the hotelling landscape. These fine examples show visionary Quebec hoteliers tipping their hats to their historic past, while packing panache into the future of the hotel industry.


photos: Stephen Smith

Need to Know:

Chateau Bonne Entente
Auberge Duchesnay
Dominion 1912 Hotel

Québec City and Area Tourism and Convention Bureau
399, rue Saint-Joseph Est
Québec (QC) G1K 8E2
Phone: 418-641-6654
Quebec Region

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