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What do ancient mountain ranges, gently rolling hills, stone fences, picturesque back roads, pretty villages, warm baguettes, delicious coffee, apple cider, melt-in- your- mouth pastries, duck pate, charming auberge and a World War 1 airplane have in common? The eastern townships of Quebec!
Tucked as they are in the south-western portion of the province, tight against the U.S. border, Quebec’s Eastern townships make a wonderful vacation destination.
They are full of surprises, mountain vistas, New England architecture, good restaurants, nice shops, excellent attractions, great bakeries.
The first thing that will strike you is that villages throughout the Eastern Townships retain their individual charm and character. They are people-oriented, architecturally intact, vibrant communities. They possess a joie-de-vie that rubs off on visitors. They are a pleasure to see, great to visit. Folks are friendly and helpful.
From whatever direction you approach, Knowlton makes a base for the exploration of the townships. The village, several hours north of Jay, Vermont and one hour south of Montreal, is central to a number of other small communities such as Sutton, Frelighsburg and Dunham.
Knowlton, with its rural beauty, is the jewel in the crown that is known as Ville de Lac Brome which consists of the amalgamation of seven villages around Brome Lake. The other six villages? Bondville, East Hill, Foster, Fulford, Iron Hill, West Brome. The lake which has been a summer destination for wealthy families for many years, is ringed with exquisite cottage-homes and boasts a marina and grand hotel. Bustling, pretty Knowlton, belongs to the Association de plus beaux village du Quebec, a group that represents villages which have retained their culture and history.
The village is home to Auberge Knowlton, an excellent place to stay while exploring the area. The Auberge, located at the corner of Lakeside and Knowlton Road, in the heart of the community, advertises that the building has been an inn for 150 years. Present owners, Gabereau and Signy Stephenson have done a great job of sympathetically renovating the heritage structure. It’s such a pleasure to stay in a room that has windows that actually open! Their on-site Restaurant-Bistro, Le Relais, specializes in local cuisine. Patrons rarely stop at one basket of warm crusty baguette with creamy Eastern Townships butter and their soups are excellent.
Knowlton’s main thoroughfare is lined with bistros, restaurants, specialty
shops such as L’Emporium, Antiques Aura, Bousada Interiors, England Hill and
several bake shops whose delicious smells waft to the street and dare you to pass
without going in
To understand local history visit Brome Lake Historical Society Museum on Lakeside whose displays are excellent and pertinent to the area. The complex operates on donations of buildings, money and artifacts. One display in particular, details the life of Reginald Fessenden, inventor of short wave radio, who lived in Knowlton as a child. The most fascinating exhibit at the museum is a Fokker DV11, a First World War aircraft, one of three remaining in the world. It is in good condition and was last flown in the 1960's. The Society has an excellent archives, housed in an interesting old court house building. Many United Empire Loyalists and early Upper Canada settlers can trace their family history to Quebec’s Eastern Townships.
Given three or four days in the area, visitors branch out from Knowlton on a series of countryside explorations. The Eastern Townships share mountain ranges with the states of New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. Terrain is hilly and wooded, spectacular in the autumn, gorgeous in winter, pleasant during the summer. A drive through the mountainous countryside, northern Appalachian in nature, brings one to Alpines Mont Echo, a valley garden devoted to Alpine and rock garden flowers, the brainchild of Maria Galletti. Gardens and nursery are open by appointment and a small fee is charged. Maria has great luck with heathers and does most of her selling by mail order.
Close by Alpines Mont Echo, the village of Sutton, in its pretty river valley, has a vibrant main street with lots of bistros, sidewalk cafes and specialty shops such as the Galerie Les Imagiers which displays the art of local painters, tucked in beside hardware and grocery stores.. Be sure to stop in at La Rumeur Affamee, a wonderful store, full of cheeses, pates, breads, pastries, cakes and pies. Hungry? Try a soup and sandwich lunch at L’International Patisserie Café. Sutton Heritage & Communications Museum has a collection of more than 400 items that are related to communications, along with a documents archives that houses the service manuals and schematic drawings for a lot of the artifacts, a definite bonus for collectors.
Down the road from Sutton, in the tiny mountain community of Abercorn, stop in at the Boulangerie Croissanterie to taste their multi-grain and sourdough breads and buns. Their date squares and rum balls are excellent, washed down with “Feeling” a Quebec bottled drink.
It was here that we heard about the giant rooster at Au Diable Vert, an inn that overlooks the mountain peaks in the state of Vermont.
Diable Vert, translates into “to the green devil”, a french Canadian saying
that means “in the middle of nowhere”. True to its name, the inn is located
on a high slope in the Sutton Mountains, overlooking both the Green Mountains in Vermont
and the Missisquoi River Valley. The wood-stick and root built rooster sculpture stands
high on the crest of a hill behind the inn. Views from the sculpture’s vantage
point are spectacular.
One day should be spent exploring the countryside around Frelighsburg and Dunham. Frelighsburg is a real success story. Tucked into the valley of the River Aux Brochets, road approaches to the tiny community emphasis its gorgeous location. Have your camera handy! From the heights on Ch. Eccles Hill, three sets of mountains can be seen, - Pinnacle and the northern Appalachians, The Green Mountains and the Adirondacks in northern New York State. Frelighsburg has undergone a renaissance, under the watchful eyes of its heritage-savvy citizens. Drop into Les Sucreries de l’Erable, the heart of the tiny community, for lunch or coffee and pastry. Frelighsburg celebrates the arts each year with an early September festival devoted to art and artisans. You think the area familiar? If you’ve seen the movie “The Patriot” you may be right.
Au Coeur de la Pomme, the Heart of the Apple, is located on Route #237, just outside Frelighsburg, with an outlet store that sells apple products and flavored vinegars. For a real Canadian treat, try their Maple Vinegar. The owner, Helene Vasseur, also operates a store, “Cidrerie Fleurs de Pommiers” near Dunham, across from Vignoble Les Blanc Coteaux Winery. Au Coeur do la Pomme has been featured in Gourmet Magazine.
One of the most unusual area attractions is a monument on Ch. Eccles Hill to the only person killed in the Fenian Battle of Frelighsburg, a deaf woman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just down the gravel bi-way from the monument, the road peters out before one of the old crossings in seamless U.S. - Canadian border. Ask for directions to the monument and to Hunter’s Falls at the Information Centre on the Green in Frelighsburg
Dunham, on Route #202, is known for its limestone architecture, specialty shops and agricultural tourism ventures. The area is also home to fruit orchards, goat farm and craft iron forgery. Vignoble Les Blanc Coteaux Winery, just west of Dunham on Route #202, operates a gourmet boutique that sells wine along with local food products. This winery has thirty acres of grapes and is a major contributor to Quebec’ vinticulture industry. A helpful pamphlet, Wine Route - helps visitors find more than thirty wineries throughout Quebec. Vignoble de L’Orpailleur Winery is right next door to Les Blanc Coteaux.
A Fleur d’Eau Parc Floral, is located between Dunham and Knowlton on #202. These gardens specialize in aqua-culture and plant interpretation. Paths lead around ornamental lakes and are lined with perennials and water flower display gardens. Guided tours of the attraction are offered
The Eastern Townships are home to a number of health and fitness spas. One of the nicest is the Spa at Bolton Chute, Spa Des Chutes De Bolton, if only for its view of Bolton Falls.
By appointment you can use their facilities which include sauna, whirlpool, steam room, polar swim area on the river and swimming pool. Of course, a soothing massage is always a pleasure. The Spa is located about twenty minutes east of Knowlton on Route #243/245
Further exploration of the Eastern Townships takes you east of Knowlton, to Magog and beyond. Your first stop on this leg of your tour should be at the Abbaye St. Benoit-du-Lac, a Benedictine cloister. The complex is situated on a hill by Lake Memphremagog and is very medieval looking with its towers and spires. Exterior and interior architecture is magnificent. Brick interior arches of yellow, red and gold are stunning as are the colourful tile floors in the public areas of the buildings. To assist with financial responsibilities, the monks keep orchards and a dairy herd. An on-premise store sells apple vinegar, jams and jellies, cheeses, ciders and C.D.’s! The Abbey is famous for its music - Gregorian Chants.
For those so inclined, National Park Mont Orford north of Magog, offers every amenity for the serious camper and hiker. Mont Orford is home to the Center d’Art, an international classical music school. Some of the buildings utilized on the site were moved from Expo ‘67 in Montreal. One building is in the shape of a grand piano. Entrance gates are interesting wood sculptures. The grounds are also dotted with unique sculptures.
If in need of an auberge-inn, Au Relais de l’Abbaye, on Ch. Gendreau is a good place to stay and eat. Their table d’hote is reasonably priced, well prepared and nicely served. The inn overlooks the lake, and is just south of Magog which is a full-service community on Lake Memphremagog. From the town’s dock’s, daily cruises take visitors around the lake which is twenty-eight miles long, the last three in the U.S.A.
Mining was an important industry for the Eastern Townships. One of the most profitable was the Capelton copper mine that now offers visitors the unique experience of touring the underground operation. Well-trained guides make the experience most enjoyable but it is not for the claustrophobic individual. Be aware that there are steep sets of steps that must be negotiated so those with problems climbing shouldn’t attempt the tour. Visitors are outfitted with boots and appropriate clothing before taking the exhilarating ride up-mountain to the mine’s entrance Although Capelton Mine is more than 4,000 feet deep, visitors explore only a small portion of the upper level. Lower levels are now flooded. The mine which has not been gussied up with bright lights and sound systems, gives an accurate and truthful interpretation of what mining was like c1860 through 1920.
The Capelton Mine area is home to a number of covered bridges, one right on the mine property and a second - the Eustice Bridge - a mile away. Watch for signage. North Hatley, the closest village to the Capelton Mine attraction has a nice ambience about it. The community is so popular, parking is at a premium. Street parking is by permit so follow signs to public parking lots. The makings of a picnic lunch can be purchased at J.B.LaBaron Epiciere or you can slip across the street to Jay’s Restaurant for a reasonably priced lunch. North Hatley is known for the Piggery Theatre, an English language summer theatre that has been operational since 1965 and is housed in a former pig barn.
Quebec landscape is dominated by churches, usually built on the highest point of land,
in village or rural area. Each church displays an architectural individualism, especially
in their spires. Individualistic touches are often given to homes and business with
interesting use of unique features, odd window treatments and whimsical add-ons.
IF YOU GO:
Sherbrooke, Quebec J1L 1W4
Sutton, Quebec J0E 2K0
Knowlton (Lac Brome), Quebec J0E 1V0
Sutton, Quebec J0E 2K0
Glen Sutton, Quebec J0E 2K0
Dunham, Quebec J0E 1M0
Frelighsburg, Quebec J0J 1C0
Stanbridge East, Quebec J0J 2H0B
883 Missisquoi Rd.
P.O. Box 690
Knowlton, Quebec, J0E 1V0
North Hatley, Quebec
Canton d’Orford, Quebec J1X 7A2
Magog, Quebec J1X 5R9
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