Just an hour away from cosmopolitan Montreal, the Eastern Townships beckon. And each year, lured by the natural beauty, culture and gourmet offerings of what is known as Quebec’s cottage country, 6 million visitors answer the call. Of course, they come from Canada but, given the region’s historical connections and close proximity to its neighbours south of the border, Americans escape here too. Here’s my list of Eastern Townships attractions that make the region one of the top places to visit in Quebec:
1) The Scenery
Known as the “Cantons-de-l’Est” locally, it’s easy to see why the Eastern Townships are so appealing. They’re home to landscapes of glistening lakes, and verdant hills and valleys. Between them, visitors make their way to the vineyards, farms and adorable villages like North Hatley on Lake Massawippi.
2) The History
What makes the Eastern Townships unique to Quebec is the blend of both Anglophone and Francophone influences. While most of the province was developed by the French, the Eastern Townships were settled by New England Loyalists after the American Revolution. In fact, by the early 19th century, 95% of the population was Anglophone but, today, we see the opposite, with almost all the residents now being Quebecers. The result of this distinct combination of cultures can be found in the townships’ architecture and century-old homes that have been transformed into charming B&Bs, shops, cafés and art galleries.
3) The Accommodations
The deluxe resorts are also a strong pull, and Manoir Hovey is just one of them.
Once an aristocratic, summer estate, today it’s a tranquil, country inn. This five-star property, a member of the distinguished Relais & Châteaux association of hotels, sits in an idyllic setting on the lake, surrounded by English gardens.
4) The Cuisine
Manoir Hovey’s award-winning cuisine, which is just as acclaimed as the inn itself, showcases what the Eastern Townships have to offer as a food and wine destination.
And if you’re on the hunt for fresh, local ingredients (think duck, rabbit, venison, cheese and maple syrup), you’ll want to sample fare by members of Chefs créateurs, a collective of the townships’ best culinary talent. Just look for the association’s logo to identify the restaurants where they work their magic.
5) The Lavender
Here’s a secret: you don’t have to fly all the way to Provence to blissfully skip through fields of fragrant lavender with wind-swept hair under the sun. You’ll find 10,000 of these flowering plants (pesticide- and herbicide-free), row upon row, stretched across the land surrounding Bleu Lavande, the largest lavender farm in Canada and second largest in North America.
To see them in full bloom and awaken all your senses, July is the month to visit, but you can still enjoy them in August. I visited too early in the season, so I asked Bleu Lavande to provide a photo of what the lavender looks like at their peak.
The summer is also time for guided tours, picnics, brunch on the terrace and, to take aromatherapy to a whole new level, professional foot and body massages in tented privacy right in the fields.
Bleu Lavande is open from May to October. Outside the summer months, you can still walk the grounds on your own, visit the interpretation centre to learn how lavender oil is produced and shop in the boutique filled with an extensive line of pure lavender products.
A Year-Round Destination
I can only imagine the vibrant burst of colours autumn would bring to the Eastern Townships not only for photographers like me, but hikers and cyclists seeking a French-Canadian adventure. And, during the colder months, outdoor lovers will find no shortage of winter activities, from snowshoeing to skiing and snowboarding.
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Do you have your own recommendations for the Eastern Townships? Share them by leaving a comment below.
Many thanks to Tourism Eastern Townships for hosting my visit. As always, all opinions expressed in this post are my own.