Canada's Eastern Townships and the Jouvence resort provide year-round recreation, charming inns, gourmet dining and friendly neighbors.
The lead dog, one of six furry, super-charged delights, looked over his shoulder, his stunning blue eyes asking if there was some mistake. Did I really know what I was doing?, he seemed to ask. Who was this guy from the city yelling in bad French? The other dogs looked to him for reassurance, which they apparently got.
The mother in the next sled tightly wrapped her arms around her daughter, who was laughing with pure joy, and snuggled more deeply into the pile of fur pelts. And we were off in a blur of howling huskies and a shower of snow.
I drove the one sled, the “Musher” or chief sledder drove the mother and daughter (thankfully!), and we wound our way through a pristine forest covered with newly fallen snow. There was no sound at all except the sharp breaths of the dogs and the hum of the runners on the velvet snow. The air was pure; the stillness a joy.
QuÃ©bec’s Eastern Townships
These are the Cantons De L’Est, as the region is called in French. To us Anglophones, they are the Eastern Townships of QuÃ©bec, about 80 towns and hamlets with populations ranging from 750 to maybe 3,000. The region is blessed with some of the best preserved, least commercial trails, lakes, mountains, streams and authentic villages in North America, and it’s a wonderful destination for families.
And there’s another compelling reason that makes coming here so desirable: its accessibility. This region is only a 4.5 hour drive from Boston, a straight shot on Route 91 North, through Vermont, and over the border. From Montreal’s Dorval airport, it’s about an hour’s drive east. Because the population here is 94% French Canadian, vacationing in the Townships provides a linguistic and cultural experience that’s fun and enriching especially for families interested in having their kids exposed to other ways of life without having to cross an ocean.
Jouvence, A Special Family Resort
Every so often I come upon a place that makes for a special family experience, a place where all the elements come together uniquely: value, great customer service, terrific activities, beauty, a buck that goes very far, and a different culture. This is Jouvence (800/567-3134), an all-inclusive family resort located in the Eastern Townships. I visited the Jouvence resort in winter, a perfect Currier & Ives print if ever there was one. But it is a family resort for all seasons.
In the heart of Mont Orford National Park, surrounded by towering fir trees, and dusted with shiny white birches and maples waiting to display their autumn beauty, the resort is actually a tiny village. Twenty or so buildings stretch along the shore of Lake Stukley, or sit back among the “murmuring pine and the hemlock.” Some buildings, like the dining hall, have a distinct Scandinavian feel to them with lots of glass, blond wood and loft-like spaces that bring the outdoors in, creating an airy sense of space and light.
Meals are served buffet style, with coffees from around the world, piles of fresh fruit, and such creative culinary touches as stuffed grape leaves, artichoke salads, leg of lamb and tureens of special soups. The breads are always fresh, and the service, though it’s a buffet, is attentive. Watchful staff members are ready to clear away used dishes or provide an extra touch to the dining experience. There is an inventive kids’ menu, too. I saw no ill-mannered behavior – no families yelling in exasperation or frustration.
Families stay in cottages of sorts, some with three bedrooms or more, and all have small refrigerators. But mostly they’re out and doing. The activities are age-sensitive and as in the best resorts, staff members are exceptionally well trained. Some of the activities are free:canoes, kayak, snowshoes, etc., while others carry a fee: mountain climbing; archery; interpretive hiking; sailing. There are evening activities, too, including dancing and the Jouvence Casino.
There’s also a daycare center where, from what I saw, the kids were bonding pretty immediately with each other. The language differences, far from being a barrier, encouraged everyone to figure out how best to share and communicate, creating special moments.
Jouvence has a great deal to offer, but more than anything, it offers kindness and sensitivity that bring out the best in the guests and staff.
Beyond Jouvence There’s More
Because the entire region has so much to offer, it’s important to explore and experience its diversity.
Odd as it may seem, wine-making flourishes in these parts because of the “microclimates” and fertile lands. There are several vineyards that welcome visitors and invite them for wine tasting and guided tours.
Visit Le Cep D’Argent Vineyard ( 877/864-4441) in Magog. Winner of several awards for its fine wines, it also has a boutique, bistro and terrace. Also visit one of my favorite places, the Saint Benoit Du Lac Abbey ( 819/843-4080). The Benedictine monks celebrate their liturgies with memorable Gregorian chants – and produce excellent cheese and cider.
With Lake Memphremagog as its backdrop, Magog is as close as you’ll get to being in a French village on this continent. It’s a strolling town with very attractive shops, excellent cafes with diet-defying pastries, art galleries, stores, terraces and restaurants. Don’t miss the Fete des Vendanges (Wine Harvest Festival) in September for locally produced wine and farm goods.
The provincial capital, and largest city in the Townships, Sherbrooke offers every architecture ranging from Victorian style (Musee des Beaux Arts) to Greco-Roman. The town is attentive to families and provides tandem bikes, trailers for little ones, lots of picnic areas and festivities. There’s quality shopping of course, and many international events including a huge fireworks competition in July, theatre, puppet shows, and other family programs.
It’s possible to enjoy dog sledding at Jouvence and in many other Eastern Townships locations. One to check out might be Adrenaline Adventure in Magog (819/843-0045). For other outdoor activities, the pros at Les Randonnees Jacques Robidas ( 888/677-8767) are as good as it gets. They also offer horse-drawn carriage rides, snow shoeing, ice fishing and horseback riding. Plus, there’s an authentic teepee with a wood burning stove and hot chocolate in the middle of the woods.
Eastern Townships Accommodations
Everywhere there are truly charming auberges (country inns). There are also condominiums to rent, ski chalets, full service resorts, city hotels and many very attractive B&B’s. Contact Tourism Cantons ( 800/355-5755) for lodging ideas.
For a culinary treat, visit the Manoir Hovey ( 800/661-2421) in North mansion, built by Southerners who refused to escape the heat by vacationing in New England, the North, after the Civil War. Located on sprawling Lake Massawippi, this 40-bedroom manor is gracious living personified. I actually know visitors to the Hovey who refuse to tell others where it is! At the very least, have dinner there one night. I had the hickory smoked salmon with caviar and saffron (the menu changes often with similar delicacies). Kids are welcome, and will enjoy playing or boating on the lake after dinner – or just sitting with dessert on the elegant porch overlooking Massawippi.
A fun place for families or anyone is Le Pilsen( 819/842-2971) or the Pilsen Pub in North Hatley. The town has about 800 people, and the center of town has about a half dozen stores. Pilsen is just on the river, with chairs and tables that sit right above it. Across the river are the typical colored homes of the region. The food is deceptively simple, artfully prepared and presented, but in an atmosphere that’s casual and full of good energy. In summer, the place hops.
By: Susan Finch
Summer in Mont Orford National Park means plenty of outdoor activities to keep your kids busy. For swimming, try Stukely and Fraser Beach from June to the first weekend of September. These beaches also offer canoe and small boat rentals from mid-May to mid-October.
Cycling enthusiasts can enjoy scenery along Route Verte, the TransQuÃ©bec cycling network and hikers can head to L’Ã‰tang Aux Cerises sector for over 80km of lush trails. And for those looking to make the most of the great outdoors, Lac-Stukely Sector and Lac-Fraser Sector have hundreds of campsites to choose from. Call 819/843-9855 for reservations or see www.sepaq.com for more information.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.