Quebec’s Eastern Townships — a collection of charming small cities and towns with a French vibe — sprawl in a predominantly rural region east of Montreal and bordering Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Parklands, alpine resorts and countless miles of hiking trails and bicycling paths lure outdoors lovers. Wineries, microbreweries, distilleries, cider houses, cheese makers and maple-sugar shacks beckon culinary enthusiasts. Others come to eyeball the lake-and-mountain landscape, hear Gregorian chants or follow in the steps of fictional detective Armand Gamache. Sample it all on this four-day road trip — but note, in this French-speaking province, most signage is in French.
May through October, when colors range from spring’s new greens to autumn’s gold-orange-and-red flash dance, provides the best experience.
Accessibility: The Accessible Canada Act, passed in 2019, aims for a barrier-free country by 2040. While new buildings meet guidelines, most older or smaller ones do not, so it’s wise to call hotels, restaurants or attractions to discuss any special needs.
Day 1: Vermont to Coaticook, Quebec (about 30 miles)
Start in Derby Line, Vermont. Before or after crossing into Canada, visit the border-straddling Haskell Free Library & Opera House. Here, performers become international stars overnight, with only tape lines on the floors dividing the two countries.
From Stanstead, Quebec, just across the border, head northeast following Routes 143 to 208 (and your nose) to Fromagerie La Station, an artisanal cheese maker, dairy farm and maple products producer. On a guided farm tour (not wheelchair accessible), see the cows, visit the barns, inhale the sweet scent of hay drying and finish with a light lunch. If you don’t take the tour, you can visit a small interactive museum with accessible exhibits that explain cheese production, complete with the distinctive aroma of ripening cheese, then order a fancy grilled cheese sandwich in the farm store.
Primarily via Route 147, head south for 8.5 miles to Coaticook Gorge, a provincial park laced with nearly 12 miles of trails. Burn off those lunch calories hiking the moderate 2.2-mile Gorge Trail (shorter options available), which takes you across one of North America’s longest suspension footbridges. This 554-foot-long bridge spans a 164-foot-deep, 2,500-foot-long gorge carved by the gurgling Coaticook River. Reward your efforts with ice cream from Coaticook Creamery, about 1 mile north on Route 147. Maple walnut, perhaps?
Come evening, return to the park for some special after-dark entertainment. But first, just outside the gate, dine in the moderately priced Coffret de L’Imagination restaurant. Built as a textile mill in 1890, the handsome brick building retains a huge brick hearth and wooden floor and ceiling. Choose from a range of menu items — pizzas, salads, even filet mignon.
Then treat yourself to Forest Lumina, when sounds, lights and theatrical effects turn more than half of the park’s Gorge Trail into a magical and sensual fairy tale about a girl, the devil and an enchanted forest. Fairies twinkle and dance, trees gain faces, cliffs morph into rumbling rocks and volcanoes spew fiery lava.
Where to stay: Book a room at the budget-friendly Motel La Source in Coaticook. Or splurge on the lakefront Manoir Hovey, a Relais & Chateaux property created by an Atlanta executive in 1900 and designed to resemble Mount Vernon, the historic home of President George Washington and his wife, Martha.