Quebec is renowned for its picturesque landscapes and rich history, but among its attractions, the Eastern Townships stand out as one of Quebec’s hidden gems.
When the world shut down Canadians had little choice but to get familiar with their own backyard. Thankfully, our backyard happens to be one of the prettiest places on earth. Case in point, The Eastern Townships in Quebec. One of Quebec’s hidden gems, consisting of nine regions, ‘The Townships’ resemble a Hallmark movie backdrop with picturesque towns and villages nestled in between valleys and mountains. While I can’t guarantee you’ll fall head over heels in love with a rich man in a flannel shirt posing as a humble lumberjack, I can tell you that you will fall in love with the food, the wine, and the region. Plot twist; it’s way better than a Hallmark movie and and it will never break your heart.
If you need to getaway right now, as in you’re going to lose your mind if you have to spend another weekend staring at the walls of your living room, then you should know there’s never a bad time to visit The Eastern Townships. It’s the perfect weekend escape with a number of things to do and see year-round from skiing in the winter to enjoying the crystal clear water in the summer. The Eastern Townships offer an unforgettable experience any time of year. I knew though, from prior visits, that fall was particularly magical.
With that in mind, I booked a trip just after Thanksgiving for my youngest daughter and I to take in the fall colours. To me, this trip marked the end of an era for travel with my children. My girls have always been my sidekicks when traveling, but when my baby turned 18 in September, I was acutely aware of the passage of time.
My girls are now young adults with their own interests, and they are keen to make a mark on this world without dear old mom trailing along. To be fair, I’m all for it but raising children is much like Canada’s fall colours; blink and it’s over. To me this trip was bittersweet, filled with tender emotion as I acknowledged the end of a beautiful chapter in my life. To my youngest, it meant she was of legal drinking age in La Belle Province. Same, same.
From the first stop on our weekend trip to the very last, was perfection. We had just enough time at every stop without ever feeling hurried or bored. I’d do this itinerary again in the exact same order with no regrets, so that’s exactly how I’m sharing it with you. Ready, set, go!
Exploring Quebec’s Hidden Gems: A Three Day Journey Through the Eastern Townships
Day 1 – Start in Dunham
Start in Dunham at Vignoble du Ruisseau
This is definitely not a “been to one winery, seen them all” kind of stop. Vignoble du Ruisseau is on to something huge here in Canada with their revolutionary patent pending technology that allows them to extend their growing season and protect their vines during the harsh Quebec winter. Using geothermal energy they are able to protect the roots of their six varietals from temperatures below -10C. Clearly this is work guided by the divine, so it’s only fitting that when you visit you raise a glass (or two) to the absolute geniuses working hard to ensure Canadian women will never have to go without. Be sure to take a tour of the vineyard before you start tasting and give thanks while you sip on the go!
Of course, wine has to paired with food, and Vignoble du Ruisseau offers a true farm to fork experience. Over 80% of the food served here is grown or raised on site, so the menu not only changes seasonally, but based on availability. With that said it’s difficult for me to give you recommendations on what you should eat, but if you’re a true foodie, simply trust in the process and let the waiter choose for you.
Wander the Village of Sutton
You are going to need to walk off the calories after your visit to Vignoble du Ruisseau, and there is no better place to do that than in Sutton. Filled with cafés, shops, art galleries, and charming architecture, Sutton will have you daydreaming about leaving it all behind and moving.
Stay at the Auberge Sutton Brouerie
The Auberge Sutton Brouerie is the ideal place to end your day. There is no need to go any further than this cozy inn. Freshen up in one of the two story rooms overlooking the river before heading downstairs for dinner. The restaurant here offers upscale pub food in a setting so laid back you can linger for hours.
Day 2 – Kick It Off in Sutton
Grab sustenance at Mollies
Mollie’s is the place you wish you had right around the corner from you but instead you have to settle for some foreign owned mega-chain with tasteless food and worse coffee. Ooops sorry, didn’t mean to sound bitter there. It’s just that I WISH I could pick up Mollie’s and drop it down the street from me. The food is fresh, baked on premises, and the coffee is divine. All that’s missing from this charming little restaurant is a velvet sofa for you and your friends, but the food, drink, and atmosphere are exactly what you need to start your day. Don’t miss it.
Head to Mont Sutton
If you’re a skier, then Mont Sutton should definitely be on your list to hit this winter but it’s worth noting that you can, and should, visit year round. The first draw is obviously the colours and there’s no better way to take them in, then on the chair lift.
Adrenaline junkies though can take it all in at breakneck speed on the giant zipline or on the zipline roller coaster. My daughter is, what some may call, a chicken. I prefer to describe her as risk-adverse. Needless to say I had to fib a little to get her on the zipline roller coaster, and I’m so glad I did because I’m still laughing thinking about it. What? You thought parents didn’t enjoy a little payback when their kids became adults?
Thankfully Ava forgave me over an amazing lunch at the bottom of the hill. Side note, you will find duck everywhere in the Eastern Townships, as Lac Brome Ducks was founded in the region and has become of the world’s finest suppliers of Pekin Duck. If you love duck, the townships are the place to indulge, including at the bottom of Mont Sutton where you can enjoy a Grilled Duck Sandwich served with local artisan beverages that include wine, beer, and spirits all produced in the area.
All calories after lunch were burned off quickly playing disc golf, not from athletic prowess, but rather from laughing hysterically along the way. Bottom line, we stink at this game, but we win when it comes to not taking ourselves too seriously. If you’ve never played disc golf, be sure to give it a try at Mont Sutton. Similar to golf in that it has 18 baskets (holes) but using a disc that resembles a frisbee, it’s a great way to spend some time in nature.
Fall in love with Knowlton
Just like people flocked to the real-life “Schitt’s Creek” in Goodwood, Ontario, you can be sure they’ll be clamouring to visit the next TV hotspot in Knowlton. Louise Penny’s wildly popular books about the fictional Three Pines is now a series on Prime Video starring Alfred Molina (check out interviews with stars here, including the woman who started it all, Louise Penny! ), and it’s sure to be a hit.
Aside from being the backdrop to Penny’s books, Knowlton is simply adorable. If not for the fact that it’s been around since 1802, you might think it was built solely as a backlot for Hollywood movies. The homes and buildings are picture perfect, and of course, the fall adds a little extra magic. Be sure to visit one of the many antique shops in the area, and grab a bite to eat in one of the charming restaurants or markets.
Stay at the Auberge McGowan
When you’re done roaming about Knowlton, hop in your car and travel the Heritage Trail. Be prepared to stop frequently to marvel at the natural beauty surrounding you, but don’t linger too long because you’ll want to maximize your stay at the The Auberge McGowan, located on Lake Memphremagog.
This delightful inn was completely rebuilt in 2021 and will no doubt become a beloved hotspot in the area once word gets out. In other words, book now as there are only SEVEN rooms!
Day 3 – Get Your Zen On
Start Your Day at the Spa Nordic Station
It’s hard to imagine becoming even more relaxed on your third day, but it’s possible when you start at the Spa Nordic Station. After you enjoy a leisurely breakfast at Auberge McGowan, hop in the car for the short drive to the spa.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit many wonderful spas in my life, but there is something about this small and blissful spa that makes it stand out. Perhaps it’s the many quiet spots to contemplate the big and small things in your life or the river that runs through it where you can lose yourself in some of The Eastern Townships forest bathing or just the general serenity of the location, but whatever it is, it’s an absolute must-do when visiting the area. Pro tip: give yourself at least three hours to fully immerse yourself in the experience.
Enjoy lunch at La Shop in Magog
As important to me as any stop I may visit on a trip, is the food along the way. Without any attempt to appear modest, I fancy myself a pretty solid home chef. I say this because it takes a lot to impress me at a restaurant. Basically I’m looking for one of two things when dining out; either the meal is so complex that I could never replicate it OR the meal is so good I can’t wait to replicate it in my kitchen. La Shop nailed the latter.
If I lived in Magog, La Shop is exactly the type of establishment I would visit weekly. Since it’s sadly more than three hours away, I’ll have to settle for recreating some of the inventive twists owner Jean-Phillippe Plouffe takes with grilled cheese sandwiches, salads, and beverages. Aside from the food, the ambiance here is relaxed and welcoming, and was the perfect place to grab lunch after our visit to the Nordic Spa.
Load up on Wine, Cheese, History, and Perspective at Abbaye de St Benoit du Lac
Our final stop may have been the most surprising part of the weekend for me. I honestly had no idea that Canada even had a monastery (or monkery as my daughter called it, and honestly I can’t stop calling it that now). The Abbey, by the way, is featured prominently in one of Louise Penny books, but I was assured that no murders have actually taken place here.
It’s odd visiting a place that seems so far removed from modern life, it naturally leads one to a lot of self-reflection. Indeed, the abbey is like walking through a living Rorschach test, in that every person who visits will see something different. While my daughter no doubt felt the “monkery” was similar to a prison with so much manual labour and quiet, I viewed it as an example of what we’ve lost in a world so in tune with technology but out of touch with humanity.
While I certainly wouldn’t want to lead a life quite like this (and apparently not many do with only 30 monks at the Abbey presently), it’s a wonderful place to gather some perspective and remind yourself that living at breakneck speed is simply a construct we sold ourselves as a condition of modern life. So whether you’re a person who believes in God, seeks spirituality, or is simply looking for a reset, it’s worth noting that you can book at stay at the guesthouse here to reflect and reset. And in true, kicking it old school form, you gotta pick up a phone to book your stay.
Finally, come with your wallet. The monks here make incredible cheese, cider, and preserves.
When to Go for The Eastern Townships for Fall Colours
Typically colours in The Eastern Townships start to appear in mid-September and reach a peak just before mid-October. We arrived one week past the peak but the colours were still stunning. If you’re flexible with dates, monitor the fall foliage map here to ensure you hit the peak. Just keep in mind, so are a lot of other people so your choice of accommodations may be limited.
From world-class vineyards to golden hues of autumn leaves, the region is packed with treasures waiting to be discovered. Pack your bags now.