I often visit the Laurentians and Quebec City in the summer, but I’m looking for some place new. Where else can I go for a weekend escape in Quebec?
The Eastern Townships, a collection of charming communities, forests and farms just south and east of Montreal isn’t exactly a hot new travel destination (our American friends have been coming up here for summer holidays since the 1800s) but it has surely improved with age – much like the many fine wines the region now produces.
Ooh, I like wine – tell me more about that!
Quebec’s wine scene has taken huge strides in the past decade or so, with small producers making excellent stuff in a wide range of styles, including many “natural” wines. Among the best of these is the biodynamic-certified Domaine Bergeville in Canton-de-Hatley, which specializes in traditional-method sparkling whites, reds and rosés. Its tasting room is open all summer long and is a great place to have a drink, chat with the winemakers and pick up a few bottles to bring home.
Make sure to head down the road afterwards for a taste of the award-winning cheeses at Fromagerie Station, a family-run organic cheesemaker. They produce half a dozen varieties of cheese regularly, but the standout is the delicately flavoured (and fairly pungent) Comtomme, which you’ll definitely want to bring home. Then, if you’re looking for a taste of something sweet, head to Clos Saragnat, a biodynamic wine and cider producer making some of the country’s best sweet wines. If you’re lucky, owners Louise Dupuis and Christian Barthomeuf will be on hand to give you a taste of their ice cider, too.
Ice cider? That sounds weird.
It is! Deliciously so!
OK, I’ll give it a shot. But I’m definitely going to need some lunch along the way. Anywhere good to eat around there?
Mais oui! There’s a thriving community of organic farms and small producers in this area, and one of the best places to taste what’s growing is at Gaia in the cute town of Bromont. The locally sourced produce (much of it grown in their own organic garden) used in the Mediterranean-inspired dishes is so delicious that you won’t even mind that it’s all vegan (and if you are vegan, you’ll be thrilled). Sit out on the patio while you savour a delicious local wine or microbrew along with your Aztec power bowl. Or, for something a little more traditional, head for the picturesque shores of Lake Memphremagog for an excellent pub lunch at the La Memphré Microbrewery.
I’m sensing a theme here. I can’t spend all of my time just eating and drinking, can I?
You can if you want. But you do raise a great point: Aside from excellent cuisine and beverage options, the spectacular natural environment of the Eastern Townships – including four mountains over 1,000 metres – is one of the best reasons to visit. Among the most beautiful spots in the region is Parc National du Mont-Orford, a 59-square-kilometre green space complete with rivers, valleys, mountains and lakes. Hike to the 600-metre peak of Mont Chauve for panoramic views of the surrounding forests or mountain bike along 12 kilometres of groomed trails. Cool off afterwards with a dip in the crystal-clear waters of Lake Stukely, or rent a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddle board and go exploring.
I need a nap just contemplating all of that. Where can I rest my head after a long day of adventuring?
The nicest place to stay is probably the historic Manoir Hovey in North Hatley. A Relais & Châteaux property on the shores of Lake Massawippi, the Hovey has all of the charm of a beloved family cottage (if, that is, your family were 19th-century electricity tycoons). The hotel was built as a summer home for Henry Atkinson, owner of Georgia Power, in 1900 and modelled after George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Since being converted to a hotel it’s been under the same family ownership since the 1970s and remains a uniquely historic oasis of lakeside luxury.
On the other end of the spectrum – but not without its own appeal – are the cabins of Entre Cîmes Et Racines near Mt. Orford. Offering a range of styles, sizes and amenities, these eco-lodges feature composting toilets and are mostly electricity-free. Among the most popular accommodations is “Le Hobbit,” which comes complete with round windows, a sod roof and other touches sure to satisfy the most avid Tolkien fan.
Anything else I might want to check out while I’m in the area?
Yes, tons. There’s Foresta Lumina, an interactive multimedia outdoors experience in Coaticook Gorge that’s great for kids, but also cool for adults. Taking place in the evening as the sun sets over the forest, this 2.6-km hike features 11 different zones, each telling a different part of a fantastical story through light and music.
For more of a grown-up experience, head to the mountainside Balnea spa in Bromont for some serious relaxation. Open since 2005, this $5-million outdoor spa offers everything you need to unwind, including thermal treatments, plunge pools and massage treatments in a majestic setting overlooking Lake Gale. Once you’re finished being pampered, soak your bones in a hot tub by the water before heading up to Lumami Resto for a light lunch in your bathrobe.
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.