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 continually 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, and eat at superb restaurants: look for the designation of Créateurs de Saveurs Cantons-de-l’Est (Eastern Townships Creators of Flavour; w createursdesaveurs.com), a network of local, home-grown restaurants and cafés.
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.