The Eastern Townships were once Québec’s quietest corner, with swaying fields and farmland punctuated by time-capsule villages. But these settlements – many spruced up with luxury inns, art galleries and antique shops – have since become a readily accessible country getaway for Montréalers: the Cantons-de-l’Est begin 80km east of Montréal – a leisurely drive – and extend to the US border. A growing ski industry – concentrated around Mont Sutton, just north of the Vermont border – is making its mark on the land. Yet the region’s agricultural roots are still evident, especially in spring, when the maple trees are tapped for syrup. At this time of year, remote cabanes à sucre offer sleigh rides and traditional Québécois treats such as maple taffy – strips of maple syrup frozen in the snow. You can also sample Québécois wines on La Route des Vins, which snakes through the region’s lush vineyards.
The land of the Eastern Townships, once the domain of scattered groups of aboriginal peoples, was settled by United Empire Loyalists hounded out of the US after the American Revolution. Their loyalty to the Crown resulted in freehold land grants from the British, and townships with very English names like Sherbrooke and Granby were founded. In the mid-nineteenth century the townships opened up to industry, which attracted an influx of French-Canadians seeking work: today, nearly 95 percent are francophone. For the most part, relations between the linguistic groups have been amicable, though pockets like the towns and villages around Knowlton and North Hatley remain staunchly tied to their anglophone heritage.Read More
The serene, leafy township of Lac Brome, named after the lake in its centre, encompasses several hamlets, the most inviting of which is the petite Knowlton, known for its Loyalist history. Knowlton’s main draw is the chance to spend a peaceful weekend just milling about, sipping coffee and perusing antique shops and art galleries, which you’ll find on the two main thoroughfares, chemins Lakeside and Knowlton and other smaller streets. Galerie Knowlton (49 rue Victoria; t 450 242 1666, w galerieknowlton.com; Mon–Sat 10am–5pm, Sun 10.30–5pm) features regional art, from silver jewellery shaped like pine leaves to rearing horses in bronze. Knowlton also buzzes with performing arts thanks to Theatre Lac Brome (9 chemin Mont Écho t 450 242 2270, w theatrelacbrome.ca), which showcases English-language plays, often comedies, in July and August. Among the various lively festivals throughout the year is the late-September Lac Brome duck festival, with culinary demonstrations and a fragrant produce market.
La Route des Vins (The Wine Route)
La Route des Vins (The Wine Route)
Sip your way through the Eastern Townships on the 120km La Route des Vins (w laroutedesvins.ca), connecting the region’s lush vineyards, many of which are notable for their ice wines. The tourist office and the route website have an easy-to-follow map. The wine route snakes across the southwest wedge of the townships, and along the way you can indulge in Québécois wines at over a dozen vineyards. The Wines of Québéc group (w winesofquebec.com) also features several wine routes throughout the region, including in Cantons de l’Est.
Domaine Les Brome t 450 242 2665, w domainelesbrome.com. West of Lac Brome, in Ville de Lac-Brome, this features a superb array of wines – and a gorgeous view of vineyards with the lake shimmering in the distance. May–Oct daily 11am–6pm; Nov–April Sat & Sun 11am–6pm.
Vignoble Le Cep d’Argent t 1 877 864 4441, w cepdargent.com. Northwest of Magog, this welcoming place in Cantons de l’Est has a sizeable store and a tour that takes you from the vineyards to the barreling room to a tasting bar. Daily: Jan–April 11am–3pm; May–Oct 10am–5pm; Nov & Dec 11am–4pm; guided tours four times daily, English tour daily at 10am.
Vignoble L’Orpailleur t 450 295 2763, w orpailleur.ca. Southwest of Knowlton near the village of Dunham, this friendly vineyard is well primed for visitors, with a small museum and sunny restaurant. Daily: May–Oct 9am–5pm; Nov–April 10am–5pm; guided tours mid-June to Oct three or four times daily.