The Eastern Townships, Quebec
The Eastern Townships offer vineyards, mountains, artisan food producers, biking trails, picturesque villages and bears (well we are talking about Canada!). The area, in the province of Quebec, has a unique history. It borders Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine in the USA – and is unmistakably French Canadian, and yet it wasn’t always that way.
It was founded by Loyalists fleeing the American War of Independence and later settlers from the British Isles. The region was divided into townships – following the British model of that era. At the beginning of the 19th century, 95% of the population was Anglophone. Less than a century later, that percentage had been reversed. Now 95% of the population is Francophone.
Tourists have been coming here for 150 years; initially wealthy English speaking Montrealers and holidaymakers from the United States came on paddle steamers. Today visitors tend to come by car.
One of the best ways to get a feel for the region and what it has to offer is to take a driving tour. There are four key routes to choose from: vineyards, townships, agriculture and summits.
With over 20 vineyards in the region you’ll never be stuck for a glass of wine. You can choose to follow a pre-set route, make up your own, or hire a bike and cycle out to the closest winery, buy a bottle and enjoy a picnic – whatever takes your fancy and suits the time you have available.
If wine isn’t your thing, then travel a little further east in the region and take the townships tour. The route will take you from one township to the next, allowing you to explore the countryside as well as the people. The townships offer museums, local food, culture and a chance to learn more about the history. For example Stanstead was built right on the Canada/USA border and some houses straddled the line; the opera house has the orchestra in the USA and the audience in Canada – imagine that for one of those ‘one foot in each country’ photo opportunities!
The Eastern Townships is an area passionate about food – and if you are too then you’ll want to follow the agri-tourism route and meet a range of artisan producers; stop off at a winery, visit local soap makers, bakers, and cheese producers, or try the deliciously sweet ice cider. Or sample the regional fare by dropping by one of the 16 Cafés de village, - a network of small, friendly eateries scattered across the Townships.
Alternatively, travel east and take a trip up the mountains on the summit trail. You can drive this or cycle it – and the views are wonderful. Trees march into the distance in every direction. In summer there are 100 shades of green and in the autumn the land is gold and red as the leaves turn, ready for winter.
This area was the first in the world to be declared an International Dark Sky Reserve – so it’s protected from light pollution at night. You’ll see more stars than anywhere else in southern Quebec and if you’re here in August for the Perseid Meteor shower – expect to be amazed.
Over six million tourists visit the region every year – many just for the day, but if you have time it’s worth staying much longer. There are over 130 events and festivals each year, 35 golf courses, four national parks, 500km of cycling paths, 900km of hiking trails, over 400 restaurants, four ski resorts, 19 spas, and 27 vineyards. And don’t forget the wildlife; bears, deer, moose, raccoons, skunks, muskrats and over 100 species of birds.
And it’s all only an hour’s drive from Montreal.
The Eastern Townships is just an hour from Montreal.
Air Canada flies direct from London to Montreal.
QuebecOriginal.com for useful Quebec tourist information.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.