Cantons de l’Est is a magical place with blossoming lavender, charming lakeside inns, and bountiful wineries, surrounded by magnificent forests, mountains and lakes. Everyone here speaks French…. But this is not France, it is the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada.
A first stop to the region might be the ASTROLab of Mont-Megantic National Park. All the communities surrounding this observatory have made a pact to keep their evening lights to a minimum. This way natural darkness is preserved so you can really see the stars at their very brightest in the darkest sky in North America. This is the first international dark sky reserve in the world, and you just might see the Aurora Borealis, nature’s moving rainbow-color wonder of the skies.
After visiting the stars, the quaint Victorines du Lac Inn, with its lake views, is a cozy, comfortable place to stay. Have an aperitif in the salon, and dine on fine French cooking featuring popular local fare: duck, veal, fish, wild boar, wild mushrooms and maple syrup products. In the morning you are greeted with Breakfast crepes, croissants and other French delights. Activities abound: water sports, walks, bicycling, horseback riding and golf close to the Inn. (Standard overnight stays including hot Breakfast and 3 course Dinner from $207 for two)
Then it’s off to Vignoble La Halte des Pelerins vineyard at the foot of the shrine of Beauvoir, five minutes from downtown Sherbrooke. Tours share secrets of winemaking and the story of Pilgrims Stop, followed by wine and agri-food tastings on the patio.
Next, a luxurious gem! The yellow-clapboard, colonial Auberge Ripplecove Inn, with its 12-acres on Lake Massawippi, is one of five resorts in all of Quebec to receive the Four Diamond AAA for both food and lodging. An Economy room, including breakfast, dinner and gratuities on meals, begins at $121 per person. Cuisine, emphasizing local specialties, is something to savor. And every detail of the interiors is beautifully designed, from inside the pub and special wine cellar to antique filled rooms.
If you begin to hear the sound of Gregorian Chants, you probably have arrived at the Abbaye de Saint-Benoit-du-Lac, a Benedictine monastery set in the hills overlooking Lake Memphremagog. As you walk through corridors of unexpected, “eye-popping” zig-zag wall and ceiling tiles, be sure to include time for spectacular view-lookouts. And there is a surprise at the end of your visit: a lovely shop full of delicious Cheese, Cider and Maple products, all made by the Monks! The best restaurants in Quebec serve the Abbaye’s goods, so you might want to pick some up for a picnic on the way to more adventures.
Tucked away in a valley surrounded by trees, you will find Savon des Cantons. This is an olive oil soap-making factory where you can actually see how olive oil becomes soap in a lively 45- minute demonstration, daily at 11am and 1 pm. The aromatic shop is like a flower garden of soap fragrances and cosmetics.
For an unusual way to see the beautiful countryside, board the Oxford Express restaurant-coach, upper-level dome seating for scenic elevated dining. The train links Sherbrooke, Magog and Eastman, but you can leave the train during a stop in Magog to stroll the shops and boutiques of rue principale Ouest.
Nearby, Estrimont Suites & Spa awaits you with true relaxation: there is a health center with 14 massage rooms, Scandinavian baths, outdoor whirlpool, indoor and outdoor pools, Finnish saunas and Nordic
showers. Afterwards, cuddle near your suite’s fireplace with nachos, duck pizza, or a burger, or dine on the Chefs imaginative creations including fish, filet, crème brulee in the Hotel’s Cherry Dining Room. ($139 per person, including Dinner, full Breakfast, access to baths/ pools, gratuities).
Down the road is Ski Mont-Orford whose glorious vistas at 2,800 ft. can be experienced on the Hybrid Gondola. Once at the top, take a hike or brief walk to several lookout-points.
Then, for an unusual sweet taste of the Eastern Townships, try the ice wine at Vignoble Les Brome. This winery, built from an old sugar cane company, is set in a bucolic rural setting with panoramic views of rolling hills and valleys. Here there are over 60,000 plants and 12 varieties. Since there are fewer days of sunlight up here, they try to delay the harvest. But at the end of summer, birds can devour the whole crop in a few hours. To protect the grapes, all the vines are covered with nets as soon as the first birds arrive. Grapes remain on the vine till mid-October.
Information: Tourisme Cantons-de-l’Est: www.cantonsdelest.com
Hotellerie Champetre/Quebec Resorts and Country Inns,
GO: Air Canada to Montreal, then about one and half hour drive from
Montreal. Twenty minutes from Vermont border.
ASTROLab of Mont-Megantic National Park-189, route du Parc,
Notre-Dame-des-Boism, J0B 2E0
Bleu Lavande-891, chemin Narrow (Rte 247), Fitch Bay, J0B3E0
Orford Express, Market Station, Ancienne Gare Minto, 720 rue Minto
Savon des Cantons, 1540, chemin des Peres, Magog (Canton de), J1X 5R9
Ski Mont-Orford, 4380 chemin du Parc, C.P. 10, Magog-Orford, QC J1X 3W7
Vignoble Les Brome (Winery), 285, chemin de Brome, Ville de Lac-Brome (Quebec) J0E 1S0
Vignoble La Halte des Pelerins (vineyard), 693, chemin du Sanctuaire, Sherbrooke, J1H0E1
Auberge Ripplecove Inn, 700, chemin Ripplecove, Ayer’s Cliff, Quebec
Estrimont Suites & Spa, 44, avenue de l’Auberge, Orford (Canton d’),
Quebec J1X 6j3
Victorines du Lac Inn, 1886, route 161, Lac-Megantic, Quebec G6B 2S1