About an hour out of Montréal, north of Autoroute 10 at exit 68, this largely unassuming city (pop. 60,617) offers a few fun activities for children.
First is the Zoo de Granby, 300 boul. David-Bouchard (tel. 877/472-6299 or 450/372-9113; www.zoodegranby.ca). Take exit 68 (or, if you're coming from the east, exit 74) off Autoroute 10 and follow the signs. Two roller coasters were added in 2008, and there is a hippo river, an outside gorilla park, a "Mayan temple" with jaguars and spectacled bears, a lemur's island, and a tiger's habitat, which can be toured by elevated train. There is also a shark petting area (called a "touch tank" and overseen by an educator -- don't worry, they're minisharks), bumper cars, and a Ferris wheel. A massive heated wave pool is a highlight of the water park. The zoo is open daily June through early September and weekends early September through mid-October, from 10am to 7pm in peak summer months and until 5pm the rest of the season. Admission is C$33 for adults, C$26 for seniors, C$22 for children 3 to 12, and free for children 2 and younger. The fee includes entry to both the zoo and the water park. Because many families need more than 1 day to visit the entire complex, 2-day passes are also available. Granby is also home to Parc de la Yamaska (tel. 800/665-6527 or 450/776-7182; www.sepaq.com/pq/yam/en), which has a popular beachfront and opportunities for such activities as swimming, canoeing, hiking, and biking. This is the northern part of the Appalachian mountain range, and it's lush and verdant in summer.
Bromont, along with Knowlton and Lac Brome , are all close together on the southern side of Autoroute 10. Medium-size country roads connect them.
Founded in 1964 primarily to accommodate an industrial park and other commercial enterprises, this town of 6,049 at exit 78 is now a popular destination for Ski Bromont (tel. 866/276-6668 or 450/534-2200; www.skibromont.com). In winter, the mountain offers day and extensive night skiing. In summer, it has mountain biking (rent bikes on-site or at the town's entrance, opposite the tourist office) and the Ski Bromont Water Park. A new wave pool, big enough for 700 people, was added in 2009.
Each May since 2001, Bromont has been home to the La Fête du Chocolat (Chocolate Festival), with activities for the whole family, including live music and performances, chocolate body painting, chocolate sculpting, and (of course) tasting upon tasting. For event details, visit www.feteduchocolat.ca or contact the regional tourist office (tel. 866/472-6292 or 450/375-8774). If you miss the fest, you can stop by the one-room Musée du Chocolat (tel. 450/534-3893; www.museeduchocolatdebromont.ca), in a red house along in the main stretch of businesses at 679 rue Shefford, opposite the church. Inside, you'll find a display of chocolates both made on the premises and imported from around the world, and a restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch. It's normally open throughout the year Monday through Friday 8:30am to 6pm, and Saturday and Sunday 8am to 5:30pm, with extended hours in the summer. Bromont is also home to the area's largest flea market (marché aux puces), where anywhere from a couple dozen to several hundred vendors set up in the local drive-in from 9am to 5pm weekends from April to October. It's at 16 rue Lafontaine (tel. 450/534-0440).
Knowlton & Lac Brome
For a good confluence of countryside, cafes, and antiquing, head to the town of Knowlton, at Brome Lake's southeast corner; it's part of the seven-village municipality known as Lac Brome (pop. 5,078). From Autoroute 10, take exit 90, heading south on Route 243 toward Lac Brome.
In the summer season, the Lac Brome tourist kiosk (also called a relais d'information touristique) is open on Route 243 shortly after you've left Autoroute 10. Knowlton is about 8km (5 miles) past the kiosk, and you'll hug the lake's eastern side for most of the trip. (Be careful: Bikers share the road with nary a shoulder to fall back on.) There is a public parking area and a lake beach, Plage Douglass, about 5km (3 miles) into the route, just before Knowlton. You can park for C$7 to take a dip or do some easy lakeside walking.
Knowlton is compact, but its two main shopping streets (Lakeside and Knowlton) have about a dozen boutiques and antiques stores that reveal the creeping chic influence of refugees from Montréal. Stores sell toys, gourmet items, quilts, jewelry, pottery, chocolate, and clothing. Knowlton is one of the last towns in the region where a slim majority of the residents keep English as their mother tongue. Paul Holland Knowlton, a Loyalist from Vermont, settled here in the early 1800s, establishing a farm, general store, and sawmill. He was a member of Parliament for Lower Canada from 1830 to 1834.
The major local sight is Musée Historique du Comté de Brome (Brome County Historical Museum) at 130 rue Lakeside (Rte. 243; tel. 450/243-6782). It occupies five historic buildings, including the town's first school. Exhibits focus on various aspects of town life, with re-creations of a general store and courthouse. The Martin Annex (1921) is dominated by a 1917 Fokker single-seat biplane, the foremost German aircraft in World War I. Also on the premises are collections of old radios and 18th- to early-20th-century weapons. Admission is C$5 adults, C$3 seniors, and C$2.50 children. It's open mid-May through mid-September Monday to Saturday 10am to 4:30pm, Sunday 11am to 4:30pm. Allow about an hour.
For a spot of tea, a picnic array of Québec-made cheeses and charcuterie to nibble by the lake, or a mellow sit-down lunch, try Brie & Cie, 291 Knowlton Rd. (tel. 450/242-2996; www.brieetcie.com). If your tastes are broad, the sampling platter includes two pâtés, two cheeses, quiche, salad, and cornichons for C$14. Sandwiches with ham or turkey smoked on-site start at C$10.
On historic Victoria Street is Barne's General Store, at no. 39 (tel. 450/243-6840), where you can buy fancy crackers, tube socks, colored poster board, penny candy, or a spicy red dip made with pomegranate and walnuts called muhammara. Mmm!
And how can you leave Knowlton without visiting the Boutique Gourmet de Canards du Lac Brome? Though no live ducks are in view, there are more duck products here than the average non-Québécois can fathom. Located at 40 chemin du Centre (tel. 450/242-3825; www.canardsdulacbrome.com), the store is open Monday to Thursday 8am to 5pm, Friday 8am to 6pm, and Saturday and Sunday 9:30am to 5pm.
East from Lake Brome, on the north side of Autoroute 10, is one of Québec's most popular national parks. Visitors come to Parc National du Mont-Orford (tel. 800/665-6527 or 819/843-9855; www.sepaq.com/pq/mor/en) in warm weather to hike the 80km (50 miles) of short and long trails; or bike the Route Verte, which passes through the park; or golf at Mont Orford Golf Club, which hugs the mountain's lowlands. From mid-September to mid-October, the park blazes with autumnal color, and in winter, people flock to the slopes to ski, snowboard, or traverse the network of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. From Autoroute 10, take exit 118 north.
The mountain itself, Mont Orford, is a veteran ski area known as Ski Mont Orford. It has long provided the preferred slopes for local affluent residents. The resort is composed of three mountains, the contiguous Mont Giroux, Mont Desrochers, and Mont Orford, which is one of the three highest peaks in Québec. Combined, the mountains provide four faces with nine lifts (including a hybrid gondola) and 61 trails. Information for both downhill skiing and golf is at www.orford.com; call tel. 866/673-6731 or 819/843-6548 for downhill skiing and tel. 819/843-5688 for golf.
The area's other ski resorts -- Owl's Head (tel. 800/363-3342 or 450/292-3318; www.owlshead.com) and Mont Sutton (tel. 866/538-2545 or 450/538-2545; www.montsutton.com) -- are more family-oriented and less glitzy. Mont Sutton is particularly known for its "glade skiing," or skiing through the woods. Its trails are regularly the last to thaw each spring.
Orford has another claim to fame in the warm months: Centre d'Arts Orford, 3165 chemin du Parc (tel. 800/567-6155 or 819/843-3981; www.arts-orford.org), a world-class music academy set on an 89-hectare (220-acre) estate. From late June to mid-August each year, the Festival Orford presents a series of classical and chamber music concerts. Most tickets are C$39 for professional concerts, with student ("rising star") performances for just C$5. Concert and dinner packages are available. The Centre also has an auberge with rooms starting at C$68 per person. It's also off exit 118 north from Autoroute 10.
Magog & Lac Memphrémagog
As with countless other North American town names, Magog (pop. 24,359) came by its handle through corruption of a Native Canadian word. The Abenaki name Memrobagak ("great expanse of water") somehow became Memphrémagog, which was eventually shortened to Magog (pronounced May-gog).
Confusingly, the town of Magog is not adjacent to Lac Magog, which is about 13km (8 miles) north. Instead, it's positioned at the northernmost end of the large, long Lac Memphrémagog (pronounced Mem-phree-may-gog), which spills across the U.S.-Canadian border into Vermont on its southern end.
Bureau d'Information Touristique Memphrémagog (tel. 800/267-2744 or 819/843-2744; www.tourisme-memphremagog.com), at 55 rue Cabana (via Rte. 112), in Magog, is open daily 8:30am to 7pm in summer, 9am to 5pm the rest of the year.
If you're driving and want to take in Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac , Magog itself, and Bleu Lavande , a lavender farm that's stunning in full bloom in July and August, take Route 245 from Autoroute 10 and visit the abbey first. Then head north to Magog and south on Route 247. This drive, along both the west and east sides of Lac Memphrémagog, is wonderfully scenic.
North Hatley & Lake Massawippi
Set among rolling hills and fertile farm country, 19km-long (12-mile) Lake Massawippi, with its scalloped shoreline, is easily Cantons-de-l'Est's most desirable resort area. It was settled in the late 19th century by people of wealth and power, including many U.S. Southerners trying to escape their sultry summers (they came up by train and are said to have pulled down their window shades while they crossed through Yankee territory). They built grand estates with verandas and formal gardens on slopes along the lakeshore, with enough bedrooms to house their friends and extended families for months at a time. Several homes have been converted into inns, including the lavish Auberge Ripplecove & Spa and Manoir Hovey . For an escape from intensive travel or work, it's difficult to do better than here.
The jewel of Lake Massawippi (which means "deep water" in Abenaki) is the town of North Hatley (pop. 742). Only 148km (92 miles) from Montréal and just 34km (21 miles) from the U.S. border, it has a river meandering through it that empties into the lake. See the impressive sunsets over the lake, try the town's very fine restaurants, take advantage of access to 124km (77 miles) of good bike paths, and partake in a summertime program of Sunday-afternoon band concerts. A full listing of activities and a bike map are online at www.northhatley.net.
Horse lovers will want to know about les Randonnées Jacques Robidas, 32 chemin McFarland (tel. 888/677-8767 or 819/563-0166; www.equitationjacquesrobidas.com). Guides lead trail rides through forest and meadow beside the Massawippi in summer, with rates starting at C$65 per person for a 1-hour ride (minimum two people). Buggy and winter sleigh rides are also possibilities. There's a discovery farm and nature school on-site, as well as cabins to rent.
Stanstead & Beebe Plain
For a brief detour on the drive south to Vermont, explore the border villages that compose the town of Stanstead, at the end of Route 143.
Stanstead (pop. 3,162) was settled in the 1790s and, as a border town, became a commercial center for the Québec-Boston stagecoach route. Many of the society homes from the late 1800s have been preserved. Canada's largest producer of lavender also happens to be one of the region's most popular destinations. Bleu Lavende (tel. 888/876-5851 or 819/876-5851; www.bleulavande.ca) is a huge farm, a picnic spot, an agricultural discovery center, and a place to buy chocolate, jelly, home-cleaning products, sprays, and an array of other goodies all infused with the miraculous properties of Lavandula. Hotels in Magog and neighboring towns organize excursions to the farm, which is located at 891 Narrow Rd., just 4.4km (2 3/4 miles) from Route 247 in Stanstead. During peak season, when the lavender blooms in July and August, Bleu Lavande can attract more than 2,000 visitors per day. The website offers a complete list of activities, including times for tours, which run daily mid-June through September. Packages with wine sampling or spa services are available. The boutique is open daily during high season and Monday to Friday during low season, and it's closed between Christmas and the first week of January.
Fans of geographical oddities will want to stop by the Haskell Opera House (tel. 819/876-2020; www.haskellopera.org). Dating from 1904, it's literally and logistically half-Canadian and half-American: The stage and performers are in Canada, while the audience watches from the U.S. With recent stiffening of border control, the Opera House has had to make new demands on its audiences: Visitors from Canada must park their cars on the Canadian side of the building or report to U.S. Customs; visitors from the U.S. must similarly follow suit. As the website reminds, "It is expected that all visitors will return to their country of origin." QNEK Productions is the resident theater company, and it's based in Vermont. QNEK ticket information is at tel. 802/334-2216 and www.qnek.com.
What makes the township of Beebe Plain notable is 1km-long ( 1/2-mile) Canusa Street. The north side is in Canada, the south side in the U.S. -- hence the name, CAN-USA. Here, it's long-distance to call a neighbor across the street. While folks are free to walk across for a visit, they are expected, at least technically, to report to the authorities if they drive that same distance.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.