Beauty and Bounty at the top of Interstate 91
ROAD TRIP TIME
Interstate 91 never ceases to amaze me. What a gorgeous highway! It is usually quiet, uncluttered and offers one breathtaking vista after the next. If you were to add your passport and cross over the border at the top, you would be regaled with some of southeastern Quebec's most stunning scenery as well as some mighty good eating- all of this wrapped in the warmest of Quebec hospitality.
Whether for a day or en route to Montreal or Quebec City, this trek will not disappoint. Using White River Junction or Hanover as a starting point, the border is about an hour and twenty minutes straight north. This is the entry point to what is called the Eastern Townships or les Cantons de l'Est, sometimes l'Estrie, in French. If you leave in the late morning, you might plan to enter the province just around lunch time. In fact, I would highly recommend such a move because you will be rewarded with a fine, simple lunch of delicious proportions.
Les Vraies Richesses is in the border town of Stanstead at 680 rue Dufferin. It is a simple wooden structure, but step inside and you are transported to a country boulangerie in France. Besides the smell and the choice of breads, there are sandwich selections, a French sort of giant one-man pizza (giant hungry man) and pastries so perfect that they should rather be photographed than swallowed. One of our favourite breads is a fougasse d'olives, a sort of miniature moist angel's harp wet with bursting green olives. There are also extremely slim seeded ficelles; imagine a screeching thin cousin to the baguette and queen of her doughy realm! These are the vessels to one of several sandwiches: the smoked salmon and caper masterpiece. New in 2016, there is a second establishment in downtown Sherbrooke ( 24 kinds of their Agga coffee) I, however, just love the coziness and convenience of the Stanstead shop. Just be aware of the opening hours! Click here
***Update July 2018: les Vraies Richesses is now only at its new large location in downtown Sherbrooke. All those descriptions still apply but no longer in Stanstead itself. Instead there is a new owner at 680 Dufferin who still sells the bakery breads and pastries from Vraies Richesses but who now runs the small eatery as well as rents 4 rooms upstairs. It is called Auberge Le Sunshine Click here
Now it's time to move around and digest. If you have decided to stay over, there are many choices for a night or two somewhere and I am narrowing it down to two inns: The elegant Hovey Manor with beautiful English gardens in spring and summer and then a somewhat contemporary Scandinavian-style farm called Ferme Au Pied Levé. The manor speaks for itself in a lovely location in North Hatley on Lake Massawippi with accompanying fine dining. It is part of the Relais & Châteaux network and is one of the top hotels in Canada right now. Click here
The farm is a working one, but three factors just make it unique; the hosts and their colourful collection of goat/pig/bird and border collies; the fact that Marie-Thérèse did not like the local butcher's knife so she decided to take a butchery course herself and is now known as one of the best in the province. It is now her meat that the Hovey Manor serves. And then my favourite moment: seated on the outdoor covered porch in a shocking lightning storm in July but oh-so-cozy in Adirondak chairs covered in Black Angus skins! Finally and most importantly: the cooking, though I fear that a description of such would not be worthy enough. I never thought that kid chops, yes baby goat, could be quite so phenomenal their only touch- a little olive oil, some gentle herbs and a magical hand at the barbecue. Don't forget your own bottle of wine! We still reminisce about the 4-course breakfast, fresh fruit, 3 kinds of jam with warm bread and muffins followed by airy crepes and then an even lighter omelette...one light, yet rich, astounding dish after the next marred only by a discussion about whether to walk home instead of drive. Click here
In this area, there are many small towns and the loveliest country roads for walking, cycling and cruising around. My husband likes to consult a map, but I like to simply drive and wander and drive him nuts when we get lost. An old-fashioned local paper map, though, would be a brilliant investment. It will be easier to plan your route rather than be limited to a ten by ten inch navigation system's screen. Ayer's Cliff, North Hatley, Georgeville, Bolton, Coaticook...scenery across huge tracts of farmland, charming old homes and farms. They are part of the Memphremagog region and also feature some beautiful lakes, like Memphremagog and Massawippi. The tourism offices and inn-keepers will also tell you about the different routes: The Wine Trail, The Summit Trail and the Townships Trail, through apple orchards, wineries...In winter, there is snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and downhill, many spas, not to mention the Mount Orford National Park and its four-season network. All national parks in Canada will have free admission for 2017. Click here for an example of scenery and drives or hiking spots.
Magog is the main town in the area with shops, grocery stores and an often congested array of busy. On nearby Fitch Bay road, you may come across a specialty fish smoking venture called Poisson fumé Keet-Baird Smoked Fish. It is actually the great butcheress who suggested this gem so of course it is a must-visit. Click here
Also in this corner is a large and intriguing lavender farm offering row after row of purple majesty and the requisite boutique.
All of this can be considered with the advantage of the strong American dollar, close to a thirty percent discount for Canadian travel these days.
(P.S. Now let's say that you forgot your passport and you could not sweet-talk your way into Québec, you might still get lucky on a meal and bread run. In downtown Newport, In the Northeast Kingdom, there is a grocery store called Newport Natural Market & Café at 194 Main street. It is almost like a miniature Co-op except that the gorgeous French bread made at LesVraies Richesses has an international passport and is delivered for sale daily! The café section has delicious options including vegetarian.)
My advice is to make an overnight booking but then let yourself get lost on the many country roads and enjoy the stunning views. Even a simple one-night getaway in this French province will provide mind clearing benefits that will evoke a sense of prolonged time trickery.
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