With many great family activities including skiing, tubing and the local zoo, this bustling tourist region attracts millions of visitors each year
By Leslie Foster
Looking for a March break getaway? Consider heading to the Eastern Townships, a tourist region southeast of Montréal that attracts more than six million visitors annually.
The area boasts four Québec parks, four ski centres, picturesque lakes, snowshoeing, tubing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, theatres, museums, galleries, interpretive centres, and much more.
If you take the new toll bridge/Highway 30 and bypass Montreal, the drive is three-and-a-half hours long. Unless, of course, you want to stop in Montreal for a couple of fun-filled days.
Here is a sampling of activities to get your planning started:
The Owl’s Head, Bromont, Mont Orford, and Sutton hills attract thousands of skiers and snowboarders each year. Bromont is the only hill to offer night skiing.
Owl’s Head in Mansonville offers the area’s only true ski-in, ski-out accommodations. If you are comfortable with dated decor and more rustic conditions, Owl’s Head presents an economical ski vacation at a family-friendly resort (with rooms in the Auberge that sleep up to six people and one, two and three-bedroom condos). The hill provides progression opportunities for beginner skiers and many blue and black runs for experienced skiers and the daredevils in your family.
The resort offers daycare services, a reputable ski school, a boutique, cafeteria with lots of picnic tables, and a family-friendly bar. The Auberge has a not-to-be missed, relaxed-atmosphere dining room that features fresh, local ingredients. Owl’s Head also has many trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Our favourite part of skiing at Owl’s Head is the breathtaking views of Lake Memphrémagog.
Visit a Québec park
The four Québec parks, Mont Orford, Yamaska, Frontenac, and Mont Mégantic, offer snowshoeing, hiking, and cross-country skiing. For a truly unique experience, try torch-lit snowshoeing.
Frodo’s Quest at Mont Orford (French only) – March 1, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 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 are required.Visit www.sepaq.com for more details.
Mont Mégantic National Park offers fantastic torch-lit snowshoeing every Saturday until March 29.
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 bistro offers light meals and beverages. 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.
Considered to be among the top 10 animal parks in North America, the Granby Zoo is open in the winter and has approximately 1,000 animals, representing 200 species. A winter visit to the zoo allows you to observe animal activity different than in summer. We experienced two unique animal encounters at the zoo: petting the sting rays and feeding nectar to the birds in the aviary.
The entry hall to the Saint-Benoît-du-Lac Abbey, a monastery overlooking Lake Memphrémagog, 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. We attended the 11 a.m. church service conducted in French and Gregorian chant, a unique experience.
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. The 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 dessert!
Photo: Jean Tricoire