By Leah RumackUpdated Apr 04, 2017
Like many torontonians, I went to Quebec City on a school trip as a kid, and as a young adult I zipped back and forth to Montreal for parties and bagels. But when it came time to take my then-three-year-old son, Benjamin, to La Belle Province, I wanted to go to a place a little less travelled. The Eastern Townships, known as Montreal’s cottage country, are a pretty string of towns and villages along the US border known for its foodie culture and outdoor activities. We started our mini vacation in Granby, at the old-school, no-frills-but-chock-full-of-French-families Hôtel Castel & Spa Confort. It had handy Lego tables, a cheery cafeteria and a pool, but the real reason it’s popular is because of its proximity to Granby’s zoo and water park (see “What To Do”). Bonus? It’s down the street from groovy retro burger joint Cantine Ben La Bédaine. We spent a day at the gorgeous Ski Bromont water park in Bromont, where we also took in some important history at the chocolate museum. We puttered our way through beachy Magog, cultured Sherbrooke and charming Orford. By the end of our trip, Ben was busy bonjour-ing everyone we met, and I’m glad we didn’t have enough time to experience all the townships have to offer —it just means we’ll have to go back!
What to do
Our favourite part was our visit to the super-cute Zoo de Granby. While it’s the largest in Quebec, it’s still small enough that you can actually see the whole thing in one day, even while dragging a preschooler around on his stubby little legs. There’s lots of shade, and the clean, bright, cheery grounds are dotted with colourful animal and vehicle sculptures that kids can pose with or climb on. When they get tired, they can kick back and catch the sights on the elevated choo-choo train, head over to the mini amusement park for a ride on the Ferris wheel or put on their swim trunks and take a dip in the healing waters of the Amazoo, the zoo’s water park.
SnackTry an old-fashioned sundae from one of the many “milk bars” scattered throughout the townships.
SouvenirTake home a stuffed red panda doll (a.k.a. a firefox) from Zoo de Granby’s gift shop.
Nature trailsWalk and cycle in the summer, or ski in the winter, through the beautiful mature forests in Mont-Orford National Park.
Secret kid paradiseThe Hôtel Chéribourg in Orford has an enormous playroom, with a bouncy castle, climbing structure, air hockey and foosball tables and a screening room. There’s a little petting zoo outside, or you can take a paddleboat for a toodle around their pond. ’Allo, ducks!
INSIDER TIP Need gas? Take a special trip to the Marché du Village station in Ange-Gardien to get it. Why? It’s a gas station/Über-gourmet food shop that also happens to house an amazing collection of beers for sale, mostly from Quebec microbreweries.
DID YOU KNOW...The Eastern Townships were created in 1796 when the British gave land to Loyalists fleeing the United States after the American Revolution.
A version of this article appeared in our May 2015 issue with the title “Postcard from the Eastern Townships,” p.22.