Visitors revel in the earthly delights of the Eastern Townships, located about 90 minutes east of Montreal. With a population of around 400,000 scattered throughout some 125 villages, this collective of small hamlets speaks to the enduring allure of the locals’ ability to exude l’art de vivre, or the art of living.
In fact, it’s practically hard-wired to lead an active lifestyle year-round, which explains in part why so many Olympians come from the area. When the local population is not exhibiting fitness prowess, they’re going to spas for the day and feasting on gastronomic indulgences. And why not? The Eastern Townships ooze small town charm, but offer hallmarks of affordable luxury—all built on a foundation of Quebec’s distinct flair and sentimentality.
Trekking miles of pristine wilderness in Quebec’s second oldest park will scrounge up a ravenous appetite. Refuel and recharge with what is called a “Massawippi bar” from Ferme Beaulieu. The shortbread crust of the bar will power you up, made with a blend of brown sugar, butter, eggs, coconut, cranberries, raisins, chocolate and almonds.
Located in Bromont, this tiny museum has been giving chocoholics a sweet historical jolt since 1993. Get your cocoa fix at the adjacent cafés de village with a cup of their decidedly decadent hot chocolate. The bittersweet and earthy chocolate is a melt of Valrhona chocolate, and a welcome departure from any sad, sugary chocolate mixes we grew up drinking.
Magog’s local watering-hole, this upscale gastropub welcomes many thirsty travelers. Bike races are plenty in this area, so don’t be surprised to find a slew of spandex-clad athletes congregating around house-brewed pints (of which there are 13 to choose from) and frites at the bar. Do them one better and order the ailes de canard with your suds—Chef Randy Pronovost’s confit duck wings are always delightfully tender. The slabs of plump waterfowl arrive at the table glistening with a sweet, sticky, and secret sauce prepared with local stout.
Serenity and sumptuous bites await at Estrimont Suites and Spa, located in Orford. The menu of its restaurant, La Pierre de Feu, has recently been refreshed in an effort to inject the kitchen with vitality and creativity, though the signature hot-stone cooking experience remains. In devising various new seasonal dishes, diners favored the asperges gratinées au fromage Saint-Benoît, choux fleur rôtis poêlée de champignons sauvages, et micro pousses (asparagus au gratin with St. Benoit cheese, roasted cauliflower, fried wild mushrooms, and micro sprouts). Flavors are kicked into overdrive as charred veggies are draped with a gooey crowning glory: cheese that echoes the tastes of soft butter and roasted hazelnuts.
Madame Corriveau (whom I affectionately dubbed “Maple Taffy Lady”) is a dear friend of the owners at Cantine Chez Paul, which serves some serious poutine. Corriveau sets up a makeshift table positioned just outside the diner where people flock to sample her spread of classic sweets, such as fudge, candy, and syrup. The most intriguing item, however, is found in a cloth-draped tin bucket: maple taffy. Using plenty of elbow grease, Corriveau scoops out a fat, amber glob and serves it in a sugar cone. With concentrated maple notes, the taffy is chewy, sticky, sweet, and dense. Everyone but your dentist will love it.
Upon arrival, guests must first provide affectionate pats to the owner’s two dogs, Fanny and Bacchus. From there, you’ll notice all the house-made maple syrup products (butter, vinaigrette, sugar) that have been harvested from trees on the property. But not only is this place home to adorable pets and tantalizing treats; they’re an award-winning winery, too. Domaine Les Brome does many things exceedingly well thanks to owner Leon Courville, who serves his European charm in spades. Located on 350 acres of vineyard that wind toward Brome Lake, the winery is representative of its robust and complex terroir. The Reserve XP Version 6 is an aubergine-orange hued symphony. You’ll get a power-punch of dried dates and rosemary on the nose, and you’ll taste a field of blueberries, dried fruit, and a touch of cacao. The intensity of the concentrated flavors is courtesy of passerillage, a method that dries clusters of De Chaunac grapes on the vine past normal harvest periods.