As the largest of the 13 provinces that make up Canada, Québec has an excellent variety of landscapes, cultures and activities to satisfy every type of traveller. I ventured away from the main cities to explore the lesser-known regions of the Laurentians and Southern Québec to experience an unforgettable autumnal getaway.
I had packed for a brisk winter, expecting the cold to have already arrived, but the temperature when I landed wasn’t too dissimilar to the one I had left behind in London, which itself was experience something of an Indian summer. Most days a sleeveless top was more than adequate, although you might still want to keep your layers to hand.
The flight from London to Montreal is much shorter than the one I had recently taken to Vancouver. It clocks in at just over seven hours, but with comfortable seats and some decent in-flight entertainment, I was on the ground in no time at all.
Things to do in the Laurentians
I knew there was going to be a fair amount of cider on this trip, and as someone who isn’t a fan of the drink myself I was mainly going to judge how others enjoyed it. I did however let everyone know I had a sweet tooth, so would be on the hunt for all things maple syrup related. As we left the city behind, we could already see the vast forests and woods in the region beginning to turn in colour.
It was still the early stages of autumn in late September, but the trees were beginning to reflect the change of the seasons. The other notable sight was the long array of apple shrubs and trees, with these large orchards providing plenty of raw ingredients for the drink of choice here.
On the way to our first hotel we stopped in at an orchard where groups of people had already spent most of the afternoon picking their own apples. This is a common activity here and it really is a family affair. At Domaine Lafrance we were treated to a small tasting of local cheeses and ciders. This is an experience you can also book and it gives you an excellent grounding in what to look for and what to expect. You’ll soon realise that ice cider, which is made from frozen apples much like ice wine is made from frozen grapes, is a speciality of the region.
We eventually made it to Esterel, a gorgeous property which sits on Lake Dupuis. There are steam rooms and a spa if you want to pamper yourself, but we found that a dip in the lake itself was the perfect way to shake off any lingering jet lag. Make sure you dine at the outstanding restaurants too as the food is a match for the stunning views.
The food in general is of a high standard. The portions are large, so be careful when ordering sides as these can often be the size of most European mains! That said, a sharing portion of poutine never looks out of place on any table here.
After a very restful, although brief stay at Esterel we were on the road again to Mont Tremblant. This area turns into a picturesque ski destination in winter with some great slopes and quaint little villages, but it also has a a lot to offer in the fall period too.
Once I had checked into the Fairmont Tremblant I took a stroll down through the village. There are some great food options here like La Savoie and Microbrasserie La Diable where you’ll get authentic dishes, and you’ll need them if you are going to tackle the hikes to and from the mountain top. You could always take a gondola ride instead if there are adverse weather conditions but one of the joys of travelling at this time of year is that things are actually quite pleasant for outdoor activities.
Speaking of pleasant, well more than just pleasant actually, the Sentier des cimes Laurentides is an affordable way to get an elevated view of the changing seasons. There’s a walk along wooden pathways to a tower that winds upwards through the trees. This is quite a new attraction so its still possible to visit it without too many crowds, and this lack of other visitors is also partly due to our cleverly timed arrival during the shoulder season. There’s also plenty of space, this is the great Canadian outdoors after all, so all you really have to do is have a head for heights and a great camera.
I did manage to get another view of the trees from above at the end of my time here when I was lucky enough to take a short helicopter ride with Heli-Tremblant.
This was a unique way to see the vastness of the region but you also get close enough to the ground to pick out areas you might have otherwise visited too. I found the Scandinave Spa while looking down and admiring the view, and it brought back memories of my trip there. Admittedly that was only a few hours beforehand, but it was still a worthwhile memory! Also the spa has a strict ‘no phones’ policy, so it was good to see it again as I had no pictures of it. The digital detox was unexpected, and only lasted for a few hours, but was a genuinely liberating break from my screen.
Things to do in Southern Québec
Southern Québec is one the the neighbouring regions to the Laurentians but has a very different vibe. There’s just as much space, which is obviously a very good thing, but also a deep appreciation of culture. From traditional maple syrup farms, known accurately as sugar shacks, to museums dedicated to First Nation art and history, there’s a deep connection to the past.
We were staying at three different properties to fully explore Southern Québec. Hotel Rive Gauche was a smart hotel with a superb wine cellar and restaurant, the more rustic Le St-Christophe Hotel and Spa is set in a small town and has practical access to many local attractions while l’Espace 4 Saisons gives you the chance to fully appreciate the surrounding forests properly. We weren’t going to be spending too much time in the hotels themselves, but this room-hopping concept worked out well as we were able to see far more than if we had set up camp in one place.
Having heard so much about maple syrup throughout our first few days here, the prospect of visiting one of the best known producers of the sweet preserve wasn’t something I initially thought was necessary. We had tasted the stuff (a lot) and knew it came from trees, so what else was there to know?
Well, I’m glad I ignored my own instincts and appreciated my time at Sucrerie de la Montagne despite initial reservations. The friendly owners were on hand to talk us through the process, but they also know how to make this experience fun. You’re served up a series of wholesome dishes as soon as you arrive if you’ve booked a meal and you can explore the charming buildings which have been used for hundreds of weddings.
This was an unexpected highlight of my trip and I can’t recommend it enough for anyone looking to visit Canada on their next holiday.
I would also suggest combining time here with a stop at La Maison des peuples Autochtones where you will learn more about how the people who were first here shaped their lives around the natural tools and resources they had to hand.
I should also add another highlight here, as this affinity with nature reminded me of Gourmet Sauvage and its charming owner Ariane, who has crafted a business around wild foraging. One to check out if you do make it to the treetop walk I mentioned earlier as they are close to one another.
We decided to hike our way up two mountains as part of our appreciation of the land, and perhaps that was one too many as by the time I made it back from Montérégie and Mont-Orford I was exhausted. Luckily more food and cider was waiting for me at Cidrerie Michel Jodoin as well as a relaxing chance to recharge at Spa Bolton.
Another relaxing experience was a breakfast cruise on Lake Magog, something that gives you a chance to fully take in the scenery and lifestyle of lakeside living. Whilst gawping at the stunning properties you will picture yourself living on the shore but be warned, its not cheap to move here, so just stick to day dreaming!
This was also an area where I was able to take an e-bike tour on the dedicated pathway across the region. The Veloroute Gourmande runs for more than 200 km and there was no way we were doing all of that, but we did stop at another cider orchard (shocking, I know) for a tasting.
We were on the homeward stretch now and I’ve taken hundreds of trips to airports but this one was a first. If you thought the views from the treetop walk and helicopter ride were special, wait till you see what my hot air balloon ride would offer up.
Yes, this was also my ride to the airport – or at least it was heading in the general direction if the wind was playing ball – but I didn’t really care either way. I was about to conquer another bucket list item and the combination of trepidation and excitement was incredible.
We were in safe hands with Le Magie de L’Air, who delivered an unforgettable sunset ride which lasted just under an hour. The serenity and beauty of the refreshing air up in the skies was matched by the mesmerising view below us.
There’s a lot to love about this part of Canada at this time of year, and its so good that it has almost made me accept that ‘fall’ is an acceptable term to describe the season. Almost.
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