Only 60km (37 miles) north of Montréal, the village of St-Sauveur (pop. 9,625) can easily be a day trip. The area is flush with outlet malls and the carloads of shoppers they attract, but a few blocks farther north, the older village square is dominated by a handsome church, and the streets around it bustle with a less frenzied activity for much of the year. Be prepared to have difficulty finding a parking place in season (try the large lot behind the church). Dining and snacking on everything from crepes to hot dogs are big activities here, evidenced by the many beckoning cafes. In summer, there's a tourist kiosk on the square.
In summer, Parc Aquatique du Mont St-Sauveur, 350 av. St-Denis (tel. 450/227-4671; www.parcaquatique.com), Canada's largest water park, features rafting, a wave pool, a tidal-wave river, a three-level spa pool, and slides, including one you ride a chairlift to get to the top of and ride down in a tube. Full-day admission is C$32 for adults, C$26 for children 6 to 12, C$16 for children 3 to 5, and free for children 2 and under. Half-day, night, and family admissions are also available.
Ten days in early August are dedicated to St-Sauveur's annual Festival des Arts (tel. 450/227-0427; www.fass.ca), with an emphasis on music and dance, including jazz and chamber concerts, and ballet troupes. The schedule always includes a number of free events.
Ste-Adèle & Mont Gabriel
In winter, the ski mountain of Mont Gabriel is a popular destination. To get there, follow Autoroute 15 to exit 64 and turn right at the stop sign. In addition to offering downhill skiing, the mountain is wrapped in cross-country trails that range through the surrounding countryside.
The adjacent village, Ste-Adèle (pop. 11,332), only 67km (42 miles) north of Montréal, is a near-metropolis compared to the other Laurentian villages. What makes it seem big are its services: police, doctors, ambulances, a shopping center, cinemas, art galleries, and a larger collection of places to stay and dine. As rue Morin mounts the hill to Lac Rond, Ste-Adèle's resort lake, it's easy to see why the town is divided into a lower part (en bas) and an upper part (en haut).
To get to the village, either take Route 117, which swings directly into its main street (boul. Ste-Adèle), or get off Autoroute 15 at exit 67.
Exploring Ste-Adèle -- Ste-Adèle's other big street, rue Valiquette, is a busy one-way thoroughfare that runs parallel to boulevard Ste-Adèle. It's lined with cafes, galleries, and bakeries.
Lac Rond is the center of summer activities. Canoes, sailboats, and pédalos (pedal-powered watercraft) -- which can be rented from several docks -- glide over the placid surface, while swimmers splash and play near shore-side beaches.
At exit 76 of Autoroute 15 (and also along Rte. 117) is Val-David, the region's faintly bohemian enclave (pop. 4,346). About 80km (50 miles) north of Montréal, it conjures up images of cabin hideaways set among hills rearing above ponds and lakes, and creeks tumbling through fragrant forests.
The tourist office is on the main street in the Petite Gare, or old train station, at 2525 rue de l'Église (tel. 888/322-7030, ext. 235, or 819/322-2900, ext. 235; www.valdavid.com). It's open daily from 9am to 5pm, except for a few weeks in spring and fall. Another possibility for assistance is Centre d'Exposition de Val-David, a cultural center that mounts art exhibits in a two-story wooden building at 2495 rue de l'Église (tel. 819/322-7474; www.culture.val-david.qc.ca).
Note that this far north into the Laurentians, the telephone area code changes to 819.
Exploring Val-David -- Val-David is small, so park anywhere and meander at leisure. There are many artist studios, and the village sponsors a huge ceramic art festival (tel. 819/322-6868; www.1001pots.com) from mid-July to mid-August that it claims is "the largest exhibition of ceramics in North America." Sculptors and ceramicists, along with painters, jewelers, pewter smiths, and other craftspeople display their work, and there are concerts and other outdoor activities. There are pottery workshops for children every Saturday and Sunday; reserve a spot online.
Also look for the organic farmer's market every Saturday morning from late June to late September on rue de l'Académie (opposite the church).
Val-David is one of the villages along the bike path called Parc Linéaire le P'Tit Train du Nord, built on a former railroad track. Rock-climbing enthusiasts flock to the nearby Dufresne Regional Park to explore its more than 500 rated routes. For a relaxing picnic, get fixings at the Metro Supermarket across from the tourist office or around the corner at Boulangerie La Vagabonde, 1262 chemin de la Rivière (tel. 819/322-3953; www.boulangerielavagabonde.com). From the tourist office, turn left onto the nearby bike path and walk 5 minutes to the North River and the teeny Parc des Amoureux. Look for the sign that says SITE PITTORESQUE.
With a population of 9,625, Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, 103km (64 miles) north of Montréal, has as its main thoroughfare rue Principale, which is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. The town marks the end of Autoroute 15.
Exit from the autoroute and follow the signs for CENTRE-VILLE and then QUAI MUNICIPAL. The town dock on the lake, Lac des Sables, and the waterfront park make Ste-Agathe a pretty spot to pause in warm months. Bicycles can be rented from Intersport Jacque Champoux, 74 rue St-Vincent (tel. 800/667-3480 or 819/326-3480; www.jacque-champoux.ca), for the 5km (3-mile) ride around the lake. Lake cruises, beaches, and watercraft rentals seduce many visitors into lingering for days.
In the heart of the village, casual breakfasts and lunches are available at the sunlit Au Petit Creux, 84 rue Principale (tel. 819/326-7055). Fresh-pressed juices and simple but tasty sandwiches fill any hankering for a snack, just as the restaurant's name suggests: Avoir un petit creux is a French idiom that means something like, "I have the munchies." Also be sure to check out desserts made on the premises.
Croisières Alouette (tel. 866/326-3656 or 819/326-3656; www.croisierealouette.com) offers 50-minute lake cruises that depart from the dock at the foot of rue Principale from late May to late October. A running commentary explains the sights (in English and/or French, with Spanish and Italian available upon request) and provides information about the water-skiing competitions and windsurfing that Ste-Agathe and the Lac des Sables are famous for. The Alouette cruise costs C$16 for adults, C$14 for seniors 60 and older, and C$5 for children 6 to 15, and it's free for children 5 and younger.