*Autumn is Spectacular in Quebec!
Although the New England states get plenty of fall foliage attention, there are other wonderful leaf peeping places on the planet. One of my favorite autumn destinations is Quebec. Not only is La belle province a feast for the eyes, the cuisine and accommodations are memorable, too.
The Laurentian and Appalachian mountains are a blaze of colors from the end of September to mid-October. Check the transformation and the changing colors of the various regions on a leafpeeping website maintained by Tourisme Quebec.
Here are three of my favorite regions in this unique Canadian province — all wrapped up in hues of yellow, orange and red.
1) EASTERN TOWNSHIPS: They call it New England Charm with a Quebec Flair. Located less than an hour from Montreal and 30 minutes from the Vermont/Canada border, the Eastern Townships are a lush landscape of rolling hills and small villages. I was there two autumns ago and stayed at the Manoir Hovey. Built in 1900 as a summer estate in a birch grove overlooking Lake Massawippi, it’s located just outside the picturesque village of North Hatley. Today it’s an enchanting 40-room inn that combines the elegance of yesteryear with modern day amenities.
Enjoy the library lounge and its wood-burning fireplace and the Tap Room Pub in the former carriage house. Many of the inn’s rooms feature lake views and also fireplaces, canopy beds, whirlpool baths and private balconies. The romantic dining room presents the creative cuisine of Executive Chef Roland Menard, along with an extensive wine cellar.
I dined on confit of quail from St. Ignace with celery marinated in Chardonnay vinegar and a mayonnaise of handpicked wild ginger; pan-seared wild bass with a cauliflower and morel risotto; and a warm crumble of apples from nearby Compton, served with fig ice cream. C’est bon!
Take time to cruise the countryside. We stopped at Domaine Pinnacle, where the first sparkling ice cider was launched. Do a tasting of the sparkling cider, along with the regular ice cider and their aperitif cider. The ciders are made from hand-picked apples grown and harvested on the 430-acre estate. In Bromont is Le Musée du Chocolat, where chocolate maker Serge Bedeard makes more than three tons of chocolate a year.
The Eastern Townships have a well-marked wine route that features more than 80 miles of country roads, picturesque villages and a dozen vineyards for touring and tasting.
For great leaf peeping: Frelighsburg Cemetery; Baker Pound Road near Bolton Center; St. Hermenegilde; and the Old Frelighsburg Mill on the Brochets River. And don’t miss The Abbey of Saint-Benoit-du-Lac, an architectural gem on the shores of Lake Memphremagog. Founded in 1912 by French monks, the abbey opened a cheese dairy in 1943, producing a blue cheese called L’Ermite. Today, many varieties of Saint-Benoit cheese are produced and available for purchase.
2) CHARLEVOIX: As home to many artists (and the birth place of Cirque du Soleil), Charlevoix is like dropping into another world. With the Laurentian mountains on one side and the St. Lawrence River on the other, it’s one of the world’s few inhabited craters. It’s the perfect blend of culture and nature and a favorite destination for fall foliage viewing. Plus, it’s only 60 miles from Quebec City.
I stayed at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, which opened in 1899 and was rebuilt 30 years later after it was destroyed by fire. In 1999, the hotel underwent a $140 million restoration and expansion and today it combines old-world elegance with tasteful luxury. The setting can’t be beat, as it overlooks the majestic St. Lawrence River from the Pointe-au-Pic cliff in the heart of Charlevoix. It may be tough to leave as there’s a 27-hole golf course, three swimming pools, a spa and the Casino de Charlevoix.
One of my favorite little towns in the area is Baie-Saint-Paul. Tucked into the mountains, it’s known for its shops, art galleries and restaurants. Stop in at La Microbrasserie de Charlevoix for lunch and a Dominus Vobiscum Blanche, a microbrew with aromas of citrus and yeast and a tangy aftertaste. For something offbeat, go to the three-year old Fir Balsam Museum, the only one of its kind in the world!
Since Le Manoir Richelieu has three fine restaurants, it may be hard to go elsewhere. But don’t miss dinner at Auberge des Peupliers, a short drive from the Fairmont. Chef Dominique Truchon, who grew up in a neighboring village, has been the acclaimed chef here since 1983. Today, he’s one of the founders of the Flavour Trail of Charlevoix. Pick up a map and then look for the chef’s hat symbol. Fourteen food producers and 35 restaurants belong to the group, and welcome avid foodies (and leaf peepers!) into their establishments for a tour and a taste.
3) OUTAOUAIS: It’s hard to pronounce (oot-away) but it’s easy to like. The Outaouais region of Quebec is located at the southwest tip of the province. Its main city of Gatineau (formerly Hull), is located across the Ottawa River from Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. In fact, Outaouais is French for Ottawa!
With more than 20,000 lakes and a dozen rivers, it’s all about nature in this part of Quebec. And it’s great for leaf viewing.
One of the more magical places where I’ve stayed is the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello, a cedar chateau built in 1930. Inspired by the chateaus of the Swiss Alps, it took 10,000 giant cedar logs to build the resort, all cut and set by hand. For years, it was a private retreat, but since 1970 it has been open to the public.
Today its 18-hole golf course is legendary, and part of a scenic 65,000-acre estate lying on the north shores of the Ottawa River between Montreal and Ottawa. If you’d rather be in a cabin than the 211-room chateau, there’s Fairmont Kenauk, six miles from Le Chateau Montebello. Here you can stay in four-star chalets and enjoy such outdoor activities as canoeing and clay shooting.
The Land Rover Experience Driving School at Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello is the first of its kind in Canada. The year-round off-road driving academy allows owners and prospective owners to drive a Range Rover, Discovery or Freelander on off-road terrain at Fairmont Kenauk. Packages include accommodations and meals at Le Chateau Montebello.
For something a bit more sedate, hop on a vintage steam train. The Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train is a 40-mile round-trip alongside the Gatineau River to the the picturesque village of Wakefield. Enjoy on-board guides, musicians and spend the night at The Wakefield Mill Inn and Spa. The former gristmill (built in 1838) is on 24 acres and has a full service spa that includes an outdoor hot tub and a pool in the waters of LaPeche River. The dining area features stone walls, an open-hearth fireplace and a solarium overlooking MacLaren Falls.
After all that pampering, relaxation and fine cuisine, head for nearby Gatineau Park. The 30,000 acre site includes hills, forests, lakes and streams.
And lots of leaves.