Your Next Weekend Escape: The Eastern Townships of Quebec
You know how Vermont’s rainbow of leaves, historic covered bridges and roadside maple syrup stalls make it a quintessential fall getaway? Well, just across the border you’ll find a lesser-known destination that combines New England charm with a dash of French influence. Just a short flight or manageable six-hour drive from NYC, the nine distinct regions that make up the Eastern Townships of Quebec boast some of North America’s most bucolic scenery. Think splendid lakes, rolling hills, quaint villages, impressive national parks and much more. Here’s how to spend a long weekend there.
What to do
Though you could spend weeks hiking the Eastern Townships and the area’s many parks (more on that below), those looking for something out of this world will find it at the Astrolab Du Parc National Du Mont-Mégantic. Visit the lab on a clear night and you can take a look through the 1.6-meter telescope to see the breathtaking night sky in all its glory.
In the town of Sherbrooke, visitors can explore an open-air museum in the downtown area comprising 18 murals that celebrate the town’s history. The Saint Benedict Abbey in Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, established in 1912 by Benedictine monks from France, is still an active monastery as well as a year-round destination for tourists. (In the fall, against a backdrop of changing leaves and a lake, it’s particularly stunning.) If the season lines up, be sure to stick around for apple picking and hiking on the property.
The dozens of hiking opportunities in the Eastern Townships range in difficulty level, so you can strap on some fall flannel and boots no matter your experience level. Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook not only offers great hikes but is also packed with fun attractions such as Foresta Lumina, a multimedia light show along the Coaticook canyon, as well as one of the longest suspension footbridges in North America, spanning 554 feet at 164 feet off the ground. (It’s certainly not for those with a fear of heights.)
What to eat and drink
Along with the gorgeous scenery, a highlight of the region is its excellent food and drink scene, thanks to locally produced and farm-fresh ingredients. We’re talking everything from corn and pumpkin to cheese and beer and a regional specialty: cider. In fact, there are 29 vineyards, 20 microbreweries and 15 (!) annual culinary events that take place around the townships. One of the best ways to experience the area’s bounty is with a food tour, featuring offerings like local honey and organic fromage.
The region also gives the more popular (read: more expensive) wine regions a run for their money. You should specifically explore the Brome-Missisquoi region, which continues to grow and produce some tasty varietals. The wine route here gives you access to many vineyards and winemakers, though one notable stop—especially during harvest season when you can stomp grapes yourself—is Domaine du Ridge in Saint-Armand. For wine and cider, head to Château de Cartes, a family-owned vineyard that produces both. Another one of the townships’ specialties is ice cider (sort of like a sweet dessert wine), invented 30 years ago by winemaker Christian Barthomeuf. Do not have a Quebecois experience without trying it.
Where to stay
Harried New Yorkers will relish the solitude the region provides. You can have an off-the-beaten-path adventure by glamping in a variety of accommodations: There’s the glam Huttopia Sutton, the unique Entre Cîmes et Racines forest lodges, tree houses and more. Five fully equipped tipis are located in Saint-Romain and sit along the “rivière sauvage” (wild river); it’s an especially magical spot for those into water sports. Depending when you visit, you’ll also have access to skiing, swimming and, of course, hiking.
Another unique option is Zoobox, a 100% energy-efficient lodging option located on a thousand acres of land on the edge of Mont-Orford National Park. When power starts to run low, just hop onto the provided stationary bike to generate some more. In Parc de la Gorge, you can spend a night at Auberge du Changement D’Ère, which features “ultra-yurts” that are as cute as they are affordably priced ($58 to $100 a night as of this writing).
And if you’re seeking a few more creature comforts, there’s Manoir Hovey, a luxury lakeside hotel housed in a former estate with a handsome library, roaring open-hearth fireplace and unique guest rooms outfitted in decor that ranges from contemporary chic to log-cabin cute.