The Eastern Townships is the third most popular tourist destination in the province of Québec (after Montreal and Québec City) and attracts more than 6 million visitors each year. The region boasts four Québec parks and four ski centres.
Most of Québec was developed by the French. The Townships however were developed by the Loyalists from New England in the late 18th century. When driving through the quaint towns and villages, you will note the founders’ influence in the unique architecture of homes, churches and historical buildings.
There are so many reasons to visit the townships in the winter, from skiing to snowmobiling, ice fishing and tubing. Here is a sampling of activities to get your planning started:
Owl’s Head, SkiBromont.com, Mont Orford and Sutton attract thousands of skiers and snowboarders annually. Each has their unique features. If you are looking for progression options for beginner skiiers or boarders, Owl’s Head and Bromont offer you excellent choices. Bromont is the only hill in the area to offer night skiing, while Owl’s Head offers the area’s only true ski-in, ski-out accommodations.
We had the pleasure of staying and playing at Owl’s Head in Mansonville. This is a spectacular ski hill with incredible vistas of Lake Memphrémagog. The Auberge (hotel) is not the Chateau Laurier, but if you are comfortable with dated décor and more rustic conditions, Owl’s Head presents an economical ski vacation at a family-friendly resort. Conditions in the Auberge are dorm-like, but rooms are very clean, showers are hot, and you are close to the action, with the Auberge located on the top level of the ski chalet. Rooms in the Auberge can sleep up to 6 people and they also have 1, 2, and 3 bedroom condos with full kitchens.
The hill provides progression opportunities for beginner skiers and many blue and black runs for experienced skiers and the dare-devils in your family. There are lots of runs, and lift line-ups are short, even when the parking lot is full. The resort offers daycare services, a reputable ski school, a boutique, a cafeteria with lots of picnic tables, and a family-friendly bar.
If you are travelling with a group, you can head down to the bar in the evening and pop a movie in the DVD player for the kids to watch on the big screen TV while the adults kick back and relax. Bring some board games, arts and craft supplies, and books to keep little ones entertained. The relaxed atmosphere is sure to make your vacation memorable.
If you are looking to sample local fare, The Auberge has a not-to-be missed, relaxed-atmosphere dining room that features fresh, local ingredients. Much to my surprise, my tween son tried rabbit for the first time and loved it. His parting comments were, “I wish there was more!”
Owl’s Head also has many trails for snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
The Townships are an outdoor mecca with 236 lakes, 23 beaches and four Québec parks. Mont Orford, Yamaska, Frontenac and Mont Mégantic. During winter, hike, cross-country ski or snowshoe. For a truly unique experience, try torch-lit snowshoeing.
Frodo’s Quest at Mont Orford (French only) – March 1, 2014 from 6-8pm, Snowshoe the torch-lit Le Coyote trail and solve the riddle of Frodo’s Quest. Enjoy a hot chocolate by the campfire when you return. Reservations required.
Mont Mégantic National Park Offers torch-lit snowshoeing every Saturday until March 29, 2014. www.parcsquebec.com/megantic
There are tubing runs at the Coaticook Gorge and Haut Bois Normand in Eastman, but we played at the brand new Parc du Mont-Hatley. Tows take you up the hill to enjoy 15 tube runs. There is a play area for young children at the foot of the hill.
The chalet has two large rooms with lots of picnic tables. The bistro offers light meals and beverages in a warm and cozy environment.
The tube park is planning an expansion in the next couple of years to include family mountain-rafting. This is sure to become a destination tubing centre. We’ll be back once the expansion is complete.
Considered to be among the top 10 animal parks in North America, the Granby Zoo is open in the winter. The zoo features approximately 1,000 animals, representing 200 species. A winter visit to the zoo allows you to observe animal activity different than in summer. The zoo is well laid out with an intimate feel. Amenities are modern. The cafeteria has some treat options, but also offers hot meals and a sandwich bar. There are several scheduled activities each day (even during the winter). We were surprised by two unique animal encounters at the zoo: petting the sting rays and feeding nectar to the birds in the aviary. I tried really hard to pet the sting rays, but they kept surfacing looking for attention, a little more than my nerves could handle. A nice touch was the outdoor fireplaces. The smell of burning wood added to the winter-visit experience!
Saint-Benoît-du-Lac Abbey overlooks Lake Memphrémagog and is open to the public. The entry hall to the Saint-Benoît-du-Lac Abbey is lined with plaques depicting the history of the Abbey and the life of the monks.
The Benedictine monks produce sparkling cider and a dozen different cheeses, including the award-winning Bleu Bénédictine. All of the products they produce can be purchased in their retail store (closed Sundays).
We attended the 11:00am church service conducted in French and Gregorian chant, a unique experience.
The Chefs créateurs is a group of 19 upscale restaurants that specialize in high-quality regional fare. We had the privilege of dining at Bistro 4 Saisons in Orford. We were welcomed like old friends in this upscale, yet comfortable restaurant. Service was beyond compare. The food was art on a plate and the last bite left us wanting more, not that we had any room left…Well except perhaps for desert! www.bistro4saisons.com
You can also sample regional fare at one of the 16 Cafés de village, a network of small eateries located throughout the Townships, in villages such as Danville (Mante du Carré), Eastman (Café Les Trois Grâces) and Dunham (Les Sucreries de l’Érable).
Other attractions you may wish to consider while you are in the area:
- Sherbrooke’s Museum of Science and Nature
- ASTROLab in Mont-Mégantic National Park
- Alpaca farms Domaine des Nobles Alpagas in Lac-Brome (Knowlton), the Ferme Criadorable in Dudswell or Les Alpagas de la ferme Norli in Bromont.
Worth noting if you’re coming from the west, the new toll bridge/Highway 30 allows you to by-pass Montreal. However, if you have the time, you may choose to stop in Montreal for a couple of days too!
For more family-friendly vacation ideas, visit the Tourism Eastern Townships website www.easterntownships.org.