Follow Me Foodie to Takhini River Lodge!
A taste of the French countryside at Takhini River Lodge in the Yukon Territories.
It is located 40 kilometres north of the Yukon’s downtown and Reader’s Digest named it one of the “Nine must visit Canadian winter resorts”. Although I am Canadian, I couldn’t even challenge the list because I’m unfamiliar with the country’s winter resorts. However my stay at Takhini River Lodge was one of my favourite moments in the Yukon.
Not only did it include an incredible view of the Northern Lights, but the bed and breakfast exceeded expectations and the owners Christiane and Jean-Marc quickly became friends.
I haven’t stayed in any other bed and breakfast in the Yukon, but there are about 15 in the Whitehorse area. They range from budget friendly spare bedrooms, to rustic log cabins, and finally elegant cottages with full kitchens, hot tubs and internet. This was on the latter end of the scale. J’adore!
Wasn’t that video beautiful? Doesn’t it make you want to go? Well it worked on me, and most importantly it was accurate. It captured the charm, elegance and various walks of life at Takhini River Lodge.
It is considered a luxury bed and breakfast and apparently it’s popular with Japanese tourists. The added bonus was their optional thee course dinner home cooked by Christiane. Bed and breakfast and dinner? Yes, please!
The Takhini River Lodge Story
Once upon a time in a beautiful land far far away called Alsace, France (not pictured above), there was a woman named Christiane. Her career was as a pharmacist and eventually she owned a pharmacy with six employees. Discovering how stressful that was, she moved on to being a pharmacist at a hospital, which is where she thought she always wanted to be. Somewhere in those life changes Christiane eventually met her husband Jean-Marc.
Jean-Marc is a professional baker. He owned a bakery in Alsace, and eventually that grew into two busy bakeries with fifteen employees. Each bakery had its own on-site production area and the quick expansion was a result of being a local favourite.
The stress of keeping and managing both their businesses was exactly that – stress, so they gave it all up… within a week.
Within a week Jean-Marc sold his bakeries and their house with an outdoor pool and moved to the Yukon. Oh, and did I mention they had a child under four years old at the time?
And you thought you had a story?
“Crazy” comes to mind for sure! I said it out loud too. Jean-Marc said “crazy” was a nice word people used when they told their friends and family they were selling their business to open a bed and breakfast in the Yukon. “Sleep on it.” “Give it a week. Or even a month!” “You’re just going through a tough time, don’t make such rash decisions.” “Why so far? And why the Yukon?” All these questions were asked, but they had no hesitation and they had their heart set on the Yukon.
They visited the Yukon once or twice before on holidays and fell in love with it. They knew they wanted to escape city life, noise, crowds, and above all, the stress. “What’s the point if you’re not happy?”, something they each said to me privately at different times. That was in reply to me questioning why they would give up their successful lives in gorgeous Alsace, but their answer was simple.
So without further contemplation they packed their bags and moved to the Yukon. They made it sound like an effortless decision.
When they first arrived, they lived in downtown, Whitehorse where they had to map out their new life. They spent months inquiring the purchase of a bed and breakfast, but there was nothing they wanted on the market.
It took a while, and even Whitehorse downtown was starting to get too crowded for them. Christiane and Jean-Marc really don’t like big crowds (or even small ones it seems, downtown Whitehorse is not big)… which is odd to me because they opened a bed and breakfast! They are such warm and friendly “people-people” and they love meeting new visitors and hosting, but I guess the context is different (?).
Anyway, the opportunity for a bed and breakfast finally came and it was nothing they originally had in mind.
It was the opportunity to buy 100 acres. Yes, that’s one hundred acres. I don’t even know what that looks like…
There. That’s what it looks like. Actually barely. This is just half, if not a quarter of 100 acres. This is their front yard. The house you see is the guest house (bed and breakfast), which they designed and had someone build from scratch, and the smaller house on the right is their family house.
They wanted open space, nature, wild life, and peace and quite, and they certainly got it. Their closest neighbour was acres away.
As soon as I got out of the car I asked Jean-Marc “what do you do with a 100 acres?” and he said “enjoy it.” They have the simplest answers, but they hold truth.
I told them both at different times they met their soulmate. I don’t know what fairytale they live, but they’re on the same page and that’s all that matters. This is their dream, and they’re living it.
It has been 6 years since they left Alsace, and I had to ask if they had regrets or missed Alsace, and “no” was the answer. They go back to visit family and friends once a year for a couple weeks, but even then they can’t wait to come home… to the Yukon. Christiane says they are different people now and she can’t relate to the Alsace lifestyle.
It was hard for me to understand because a life in Alsace seems magical, but it’s a difference in personality. I like my big cities, although I can’t take for granted peace and quiet… and we all need a little peace and quiet. For Christiane and Jean-Marc, they need a lot.
THE END… ? Barely.
Follow Me Foodie to Takhini River Lodge
If peace and quiet looked and felt like this everyday, I could use a lot more too! Freshly baked madeleines home made by Christiane herself, luxurious themed rooms, beautiful views, an elegant cottage, and an outdoor hot tub? Make yourself feel at home. And I sure did.
They built the bed and breakfast 5 years ago and they keep it vey well maintained. If they told me they built it this year I would have believed them.
It is an adults only guest house for up to eight people. There are four uniquely themed rooms with private bathrooms, a communal living room and hot tub, but the kitchen is Christiane’s territory.
She cooks and cleans with some occasional help and it’s work she more or less enjoys. She calls “cooking a different kind of chemistry, but it smells better than the stuff she used to do working in a lab or pharmacy. It’s still a science, but a different kind of science”. Very true.
She’s not a trained cook or chef although she took a few classes to brush up. Her food is rustic, homestyle and yet elegant, very much like the guest house itself. Her personality is all over this place, and this multi-talented wife and mother of one even designed it. Smart, sophisticated, and artistic. Jean-Marc, you are a lucky man… although he has the same characteristics, so really it’s a very complementary duo.
So what does Jean-Marc do while Christiane looks after the guests and the house?
After they bought the bed and breakfast and started their business, they realized they needed something more to offer their guests. They knew they had spectacular views of the Northern Lights, which was the main attraction, but being 45 minutes to an hour away from downtown, Whitehorse, they had to make it convenient and more appealing. It is part of the reason why Christiane started offering her home cooked dinners too, because restaurants were far away.
So the solution to offering their guests more was to buy 20 dogs (started with 5). They now feature dog mushing education and dog-sledding as part of Takhini River Lodge entertainment. Yeah, they don’t do things in baby steps. To me, buying 20 dogs is adopting 20 children, except they’ll never grow up and be able to fend for themselves. But again, Jean-Marc enjoys it. What can I say?
Actually what I did say was “why don’t you just offer cooking classes?” or “teach people how to bake your signature breads?” (yes, I have no filter), but he honestly does not miss baking bread at all. He does it sometimes if Christiane asks, but they still buy bread from Alpine Bakery (local bakery), or sometimes Christiane just does it herself. The only bread Jean-Marc still makes is brioche, and it’s because it’s easy.
I started to get it after a while though. If she really hated her job and he really hated his job, then quitting their jobs and moving to the Yukon is not that crazy. Sure they could have chosen some other remote land in France or Europe, but they wanted life in the Yukon.
I am not hating on the Yukon, but I think even Yukoners would have questions marks all over this scenario.
Alsace and the Yukon are both beautiful, but in very, very, different ways.
On Christiane’s Dinner Table
The dining area is communal and you can eat with other guests, or have your own private table. There was only one other girl staying at the lodge with me at the same time, so we just ate together. It’s pretty unreal having breakfast and dinner with a view like that.
Only guests at Takhini River Lodge can make reservations for dinner… and no, she would never want to open a restaurant. I asked.
Fleischschnaka (Takhini River Lodge Alsatian chicken rolls) with gingerbread spiced cranberry sauce – recipe here. It was served over a bed of organic field greens and blackberries with Fireweed flower vinaigrette.
Christiane’s signature “La Crème Brulée“
This is one of her signature desserts – Christiane’s recipe here.
The casual dinner was still more effort than what one would do on a regular night. The style is country side French with a bit of eclectic Canadian influence, and she uses local ingredients where possible. She gets most of her vegetables from her neighbour who does farming (they don’t farm at Takhini), and then everything else will be what’s available at the market that day.
She plays the menu by ear, but she does have some signatures like her creme brûlée and beef bourguignon. I like to think her Fleischschnaka is one too because that’s a regional specialty that is very rare to find outside of Alsace.
So after a pleasant 3 course dinner ($49/person, must give 24 hours notice), I was ready to see the Northern Lights.
Oh! Okay, well that’s better. It captures much better on a camera, albeit you have to adjust the settings (and they’ll help you). This is not photoshopped and it is taken on a good quality point and shoot.
As I mentioned in Follow Me Foodie to the Yukon, the Northern Lights is much better in the winter than the fall (when I was visiting – early October), and in the summer you won’t even see them since it never gets dark. It takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust before you start seeing tints of green. Mind you, I was witnessing them under fog and in less than decent conditions, but in the winter it is effortless to see.
There it is! Much better. The Northern Lights is worth a trip alone, and although you can see them in Northern and Southern hemispheres in the auroral zone throughout the dark and cold months every year, Canadian territories are some of the top places to witness them.
To see the Northern Lights in Canada people go to the Northwest Territories or the Yukon Territories, although this year they are better in the Yukon. The Northern Lights has an 11 year solar cycle and 2013 is Yukon’s year, which means it offers the best conditions for viewing them.
Being that this was my first time ever seeing the Northern Lights I thought it was beautiful, even in the fog.
It wasn’t moving so much and for locals they wouldn’t have gotten up to watch this, but for me it was amazing. And even if I missed the Northern Lights (the intensity and movement varies depending on weather) I would have been left with star gazing at the Milky Way Galaxy… I’ll settle for that too!
This is what it looks like when it’s moving.
During the time I was there, the Northern Lights would be at their best from anywhere between 11 p.m. – 5 a.m. The sun rises at 8:30 a.m. which took some getting used to because at 7 a.m. it was still incredibly dark.
I decided to check it out at 5 a.m. to see if they would get any better and brighter, so at 5 a.m. I went outside…
I was scared s***less. All I had was a flashlight and keep in mind it felt like -5 degrees Celsius. I knew I was walking into an open field and onto the hot tub patio to see the Northern Lights, but I couldn’t see a d*** thing! The flashlight only helped so much and even light can only travel so far! It can’t travel 100 acres far! I thought I was going to get eaten alive by a bear or some wild animal! A coyote! Or wolf!
The hot tub is only about 7-10 meters from the house, so it’s not far, but when you can’t see what’s in front of you, it feels much longer.
There was a point when I started hearing the dogs howling. The howling turned into an aggressive growling, and I think at that moment I closed my eyes, plugged my ears and squatted, clinging onto myself with my elbows for dear life. All I could think was either I’m going to die, or tomorrow there will be a few less dogs.
I couldn’t hear them howling from my bedroom or anything, but it sounded like they were getting eaten… but they were fine and I saw them all again the next morning.
Anyway I stayed for another 10-20 minutes and waited for my eyes to adjust, and this was the best I got. So not worth it… so I went back into the house and crawled back into my warm and comfortable bed. 5:30 a.m… and rise n’ shine at 9 a.m.! Breakfast time!
Breakfast is served upon request from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m.
So I experienced the bed, but not yet the breakfast.
Breakfast at Christiane’s
The breakfast spread always includes a fresh baked bread, and yogurt, fruit and granola, but everything else varies from muffins and pasties, sausage, eggs, omelettes or crepes. I also had a cheese and ham plate, a fried egg, and toast accompanied with Christiane’s homemade Fireweed Flower Jelly and Yukon Wild Roses Jelly. She foraged all the flowers herself and the jams are local specialties.
Sometimes it is not even the place, but the people that make an experience unforgettable. I mean Takhini River Lodge was amazing and I would recommend it whole heartedly to anyone going to the Yukon looking for an unique, classy and cozy experience, but Christiane and Jean-Marc were my highlight.
Sure, the Northern Lights were also a major highlight, but their story is really what inspired me. The background is certainly part of it, and it’s a shame not many people really know about it, because it’s truly a one-of-a-kind story. What fascinating people. I can only admire their search for happiness, and they genuinely found it.
The story behind this bed and breakfast is quite unreal… a must read, but I’m biased.