As I step out onto the rickety dock overlooking Lake Massawippi, I can't help but take a moment to pause and observe the sound of complete and utter silence. The lake is framed by fiery shades of gold, red, burgundy and orange maple leaves, as if lifted straight out of a picture book.
"This is it," I think to myself. The entire reason for the trip.
After a year of relative isolation, last fall I stepped back out into the world of travel, but with a new commitment: to choose destinations that emphasize sustainability, organic ingredients, regional cuisine and firsthand interactions with locals. I'm not alone in my endeavor; according to a recent survey, three in five travellers are willing to invest more money into a trip to make it sustainable.* And after two years of constant turmoil ranging from social unrest and activism to climate and pandemic anxiety all underscored by an overall lack of socialization, it's no surprise the slow travel movement has come into its own during the pandemic.
In the Eastern Townships of Quebec, tourism is leaning hard into slow travel. The historic region is made up of a collection of quaint townships, villages and cities steeped in nature offering miles of outdoor solitude. Here's how to embrace the slow travel movement in the Eastern Townships.
Ripplecove Hotel & Spa
Nestled on the edge of Lake Massawippi, Ripplecove Hotel & Spa offers a laid-back luxury stay. During the pandemic, the hotel was renovated and now features 29 brand new lakefront suites. Each room offers misty morning views overlooking the shore from a private balcony. Inside, guests are treated to a full kitchen, gas fireplace, soaker tubs and heated floors. On the rooftop terrace, unwind with a glass of wine while you take in the sunset from a lounger, or hop in one of the Jacuzzis to relax after a long day of outdoor adventure.
The property offers plenty of daily activities, from morning tennis lessons to e-bike rentals and paddling, connecting guests to nature with ease. For those who prefer a culinary getaway, the on-site restaurant Le Riverain provides a memorable dining experience. Whether seated next to the fireplace or lakeside, guests are treated to seasonal dishes with ingredients that reflect the area. Think: grilled quail served with fresh portobello mushroom or venison accompanied by parsley root puree and gooseberry juice.
See & Do
Mathieu Dupuis | Mont-Orford National Park
Considered one of the most beloved national parks in the area, Mont-Orford National Park is the perfect spot for year-round hiking. With 15 circuits to choose from, the trails offer incredible leaf peeping during the fall months and come winter, the trails are groomed for use by cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
What is a vacation without a little R&R? At Spa Nordic Station guests enjoy a Scandinavian brand of relaxation through a variety of hydro and thermal therapies. The cycle follows a three-step, hot-cold-relaxation routine to stimulate circulation and raise the heart rate – which is considered a healthy regime to tighten pores, eliminate toxins and reset the body.
For a unique evening adventure, head to Foresta Lumina. This after-dark, multimedia experience explores the mythology of the Quebec forest through lighting, original soundtracks and a unique heritage story. Follow the winding pathway, as you take in the light show and meet the fictional characters that make up the Foresta Lumina fairytale.
To help support the local community, visit Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, a working abbey. Here, 30-plus monks work to run multiple small businesses, such as a cheese factory, cannery and cidery, which give back to the communities and helps support the upkeep of the abbey. Visitors can stroll through two kilometres of prayer paths to observe the architecture of the historic building from all angles or enjoy an afternoon of apple picking in the legacy orchard on-property. Throughout the fall months, grab a picnic basket full of locally crafted and sustainable products to be enjoyed sitting amongst the apple trees.
Eat & Drink
Largely considered one of the best fine dining experiences within the Eastern Townships, foodies across Canada flock to Le Hatley to savour the seasonal menus crafted by Chef Alexandre Vachon. Drawing inspiration from his French-Canadian roots, Vachon includes sustainable ingredients harvested from the land, lakes and fields of the region. Explore the best of Quebec’s flavours on the eight-course Discovery Menu where each plate is paired with sommelier-recommended vintages. Somehow, humble and simple ingredients like tomatoes and onions are transformed under Chef’s watchful eye and crafted into dishes that both surprise and delight.
Les Enfants Terribles
Les Enfants Terribles, a laid-back neighbourhood gem located within Magog, is one of the most popular eateries in the Eastern Townships. The menu is full of comfort foods that highlight fresh, seasonal ingredients. Signature dishes include mushroom toast, homemade blood pudding and sea buckthorn caramel, and of course – poutine. The owners, Francine Brûlé and Serge Bruneau, are often spotted greeting patrons, as if each guest were popping by their home for a visit. The decor is sleek and industrial on the inside, but the airy rooftop terrace is typically where the party is at.
Vignoble Le Cep d'Argent Winery
Tucked away in the Eastern Townships’ Champagne region, travellers can find a specialty wine tasting tour at Vignoble Le Cep d'Argent Winery. For a once in a lifetime experience, guests can try their hand at sabering in the vineyard, then sit back and relax while taking in the vines that lie between a lake and mountain. With rolling hills that stretch over a 46-hectare plot of land along the Appalachian plateau, the Scieur brothers opened their doors to the public in 1988 to introduce the unique grape cultivation of Champagne. Today, the Sélection sparkling wines range is favoured by sommeliers worldwide and loved locally.
Leon Courville Vigneron
To learn about the culture of Quebec winemaking, visitors can enjoy a guided tour with owners Léon or Anne-Marie of Léon Courville Vigneron. Stroll the long rows of vines with an expert, chatting all things soil, tannins and permaculture. Afterwards, grab a bottle and a picnic basket from the shop to enjoy the incredible Appalachian mountainscape. While the Cuvee Collection is made up of everyday, easy drinking wines – splurge on something from the Reserve Collection for a well-aged and carefully selected pour.
Travel Note: Montreal extension
Those departing on a three-day Eastern Township road trip may wish to start or end their tour in Montréal. The townships are accessible by a one hour drive from the city, following along Autoroute 10 E.
Humaniti Hotel Montreal, Autograph Collection
One of Montréal’s newest hotels, Humaniti Hotel Montreal, Autograph Collection is the perfect spot to kick off an Eastern Township road trip. Located within walking distance to both Old Montreal and Quartier des spectacles, the revolutionary hotel is the city’s first smart vertical community––combining aspects of live, work and wellness. Humaniti is modern, sleek and cheeky all at once, with fun pops of colour throughout and an incredible collection of artwork created by Quebecers. Guests may feel transported to another world upon visiting the rooftop heated swimming pool (a rare feature in Montréal), with daybeds and loungers that rival that of a Los Angeles beach club. But perhaps most notable is their dedication to sustainable, paper free living––including eco-friendly toiletries by BeeKind, the hyper-local menu at on-site restaurant h3 and mini-bars stocked with organic, local drinks.