Skiing at Mont-Tremblant
145km (90 miles) N of Montréal
Don’t expect spiked peaks or high, ragged ridges. The Laurentian Shield’s rolling hills and rounded mountains average between 300m and 520m (984 ft.–1,706 ft.) in height, with the highest being Mont-Tremblant, at 875m (2,871 ft.). These are not the Alps or the Rockies, but they’re welcoming and embracing to most levels of skier. There are 12 ski centers within a 64km (40-mile) radius, but Mont-Tremblant itself is the most popular, with a vibrant pedestrian village at its base that is a kind of Aspen-meets-Disneyland. Skiers can usually expect reliable snow from early December to late March. The busiest times are February and March.
BY CAR -- The fast and scenic Autoroute des Laurentides, also known as Autoroute 15, goes straight from Montréal to the Laurentians. About 15km (9 miles) before Mont-Tremblant, 15 ends and merges with the older Route 117, which also runs parallel with Autoroute 15. (If you have the time to meander, you can exit 15 at St-Jérôme and pick up the smaller Route 117, which passes through many appealing small towns.) Montréalers fill the highways when they “go up north” on weekends, particularly during the top skiing months, so try to avoid driving on Friday afternoons.
There are four exits to the Mont-Tremblant ski area from Route 117. The first is exit 113, which takes visitors through Centre-Ville Mont-Tremblant (formerly the village of St-Jovite), a pleasant small town with a main street, rue de St-Jovite, lined with cafes and shops. From the center of town, Route 327 heads to the mountain.
The fourth exit, exit 119, bypasses Centre-Ville and goes directly to the mountain. Watch for signs with the resort’s logo, which turns the “A” in “Tremblant” into a graphic of a ski mountain.
BY BUS -- Galland buses (www.galland-bus.com; tel 877/806-8666 or 450/687-8666) depart from Gare d’autocars de Montréal, 1717 rue Berri, and stop in the larger Laurentian towns, including Mont-Tremblant. The ride to Mont-Tremblant takes just under 3 hours.
Tourist offices are plentiful throughout the Laurentians—just look for the blue “?” signs. A major information center is at exit 51 off Autoroute 15. It shares a building with a McDonald’s. Called Tourisme Laurentides (www.laurentides.com; tel 800/561-6673 or 450/224-7007), it has racks of brochures and a helpful staff. It’s open daily. Closer to the ski mountain, there’s an office at 5080 Montée Ryan (tel 877/425-2434 or 819/425-2434), open daily 9am to 5pm. You can also check www.tourismemonttremblant.com, an official tourism site, and www.tremblant.ca, the Mont-Tremblant ski resort’s website.
You can certainly settle in for a day of skiing, eating, and shopping at the Mont-Tremblant ski center and resort village and get around by foot. If you want to visit Scandinave Spa (below), you’ll need a car.
If you drive through the area, keep this in mind: The abundant use of the name “Tremblant” can be very confusing. There is Mont-Tremblant, the mountain. There’s the resort village that is sometimes called the pedestrian village, sometimes called Tremblant, and sometimes called Mont-Tremblant Station. There’s the old village of Mont-Tremblant about 5km (3 miles) northwest of the resort, which long ago was the region’s center. There’s Centre-Ville Mont-Tremblant, the cute commercial district about 12km (7 1/2 miles) south of the mountain that used to be known as St-Jovite. Feeding the confusion is the fact that, in 2005, the villages of St-Jovite and Mont-Tremblant and the pedestrian village combined to become a single entity named Ville de Mont-Tremblant—but many maps and residents still refer to the areas by their old names. You’ll also see signs for a lake, Lac Tremblant, next to the pedestrian village, and the large national park, Parc National du Mont-Tremblant. Clear as mud, right?
There are parking lots right at the pedestrian village, and, if those are full, you’ll find others close by (and well marked) that are served by shuttles to the village.
Hitting the Slopes (& the Spa)
The Mont-Tremblant ski resort (www.tremblant.ca) draws the biggest downhill crowds in the Laurentians and for 15 years running was ranked as the top ski resort in eastern North America by “Ski Magazine.” Founded in 1939, it’s one of the oldest in North America. It pioneered creating trails on both sides of a mountain and was the second mountain in the world to install a chairlift. The vertical drop is 645m (2,116 ft.). When the snow is deep, skiers here like to follow the sun around the mountain, making the run down slopes with an eastern exposure in the morning and down the western-facing ones in the afternoon. There are higher mountains with longer runs and steeper pitches, but something about Mont-Tremblant compels people to return time and again. The resort has snowmaking capability to cover almost three-quarters of its skiable terrain (265 hectares/654 acres). Of its 95 downhill runs and trails, half are expert terrain, about a third are intermediate, and the rest beginner. The longest trail, Nansen, is 6km (3 3/4 miles).
For after-skiing (or instead of skiing), there’s an appealing European-style Nordic spa nearby, built adjacent to a river and featuring both outdoor and indoor spaces. You can easily spend at least 3 hours at Scandinave Spa, 4280 Montée Ryan, Mont-Tremblant (www.scandinave.com; tel 888/537-2263), open year-round. It’s a rustic-chic complex of small buildings among evergreen trees on the Diable River shore. Few activities are more magical than being in a warm outdoor pool as snow falls, the sun sets, and the temperature plummets. For C$48, visitors (18 and older only) have run of the facility. Options include outdoor hot tubs designed to look like natural pools (one is set under a man-made waterfall); an indoor Norwegian steam bath thick with eucalyptus; indoor relaxation areas with supercomfortable, low-slung chairs; and the river itself, which the heartiest of folk dip into even on frigid days. (A heat lamp keeps a small square of river open, even through the iciest part of winter.) The idea is to move from hot to cold to hot, which supposedly purges toxins and invigorates your skin. Bathing suits are required, and men and women share all spaces except the changing rooms. Massages are available for extra fees.
If you visit in warm weather, a downhill dry-land alpine Skyline Luge (www.skylineluge.com; tel 819/681-3000)is set up right on the ski mountain at the pedestrian village. The engineless sleds are gravity-propelled, reaching speeds of up to 48kmph (30mph), if you so choose (it’s easy to go down as a slowpoke, too). Rides are priced by number of descents, starting at C$12 for one ride (C$3 for kids 6 and under). The village has other games and attractions, such as bungee trampoline, outdoor climbing walls, and forest zip lines.
Where to Eat & Shop
The pedestrian-only resort village on Mont-Tremblant’s slope (www.tremblant.ca/lodging-and-village/village/index.aspx) is the social hub of the region. The village has the prefabricated look of a theme park, but at least planners used the Québécois architectural style of pitched or mansard roofs in bright colors, not ersatz Tyrolean or Bavarian Alpine flourishes. For a sweeping view of the entire complex, take the free gondola from the bottom of the village to the top; it zips over the walkways, candy-colored hotels, and outdoor swimming pools.
Otherwise, you can stroll the village easily. Small lanes lead up past 35 shops that sell clothing, sporting goods, sweets, and gifts. There are also 36 restaurants and bars.
Bistro Au Grain de Café (www.augraindecafe.com; tel 819/681-4567), tucked into a corner of the upper village just off the main plaza called Place St-Bernard, is a reliable choice for coffee and sandwiches (open daily 7:30am–11pm during ski season).
Like at most ski mountains, beer, burgers, and roast chicken are abundant. Slope-side drink palaces Le Shack (www.leshack.com; tel 819/681-4700) and La Forge (www.laforgetremblant.com; tel 819/681-4900) are full of TVs and music and feature perfectly agreeable family-friendly cuisine. For something a little different, the New Orleans’ inspired Fat Mardi’s (www.fatmardis.com; tel 819/681-2439) just across the square is another fine choice. The smaller microbrewery Microbrasserie La Diable (www.microladiable.com;tel 819/681-4546),housed in a free-standing chalet at 117 chemin Kandahar, is more laid back and offers seven home brews and a menu that includes veggie and salmon burgers along with the expected burgers, salads, chili, and good sausage with homemade sauerkraut. Be warned that it’s a bit of a walk down chemin Kandahar from the base of the ski mountain, especially in those clunky boots, but the location makes it easier to get a table.
After 20 years on-mountain, one of our favorite spots for sweet and savory crêpes, Crêperie Catherine (www.creperiecatherine.ca; tel 819/681-4888), moved to 977 rue Labelle, Centre-Ville Mont-Tremblant, in November 2014. If you go, be sure to try the house specialty, sucre a la crème (a concoction of brown sugar and butter). You can order from any part of the menu any time of day.
Biking the Route Verte (Green Route)
Start at Val-David, 80km (50 miles) N of Montréal
Québec is bike crazy, and it’s got the goods to justify it. In 2007, the province inaugurated the Route Verte (Green Route), a now-5,000km (3,107-mile) bike network that stretches from one end of the province to the other, linking all regions and cities. It’s modeled on the Rails-to-Trails program in the U.S. and cycling routes in Denmark, Great Britain, and along the Danube and Rhine rivers, and was initiated by the nonprofit biking organization Vélo Québec with support from the Québec Ministry of Transportation. Route Verte won the prestigious Prix Ulysse, one of the grand prizes given annually by the Québec tourist office, right out of the gate. The National Geographic Society went on to declare it one of the 10 best bicycle routes in the world.
Route Verte has a lot of sections, including paths all through the city of Montréal. But if you want to enjoy some countryside, head north out of the city to bike the popular P’tit Train du Nord bike trail. It goes through the Laurentians to Mont-Tremblant and beyond. It’s built on a former railway track and passes through the scenic villages of Ste-Adèle, Val-David, and Ste-Agathe-des-Monts. Cyclists can easily hop on and off for a day trip. Food and bike repairs are offered at renovated railway stations along the path.
This day trip is based out of Val-David, one of the prettiest villages in the region. The town conjures up images of cabin hideaways set among hills rearing above ponds and lakes, and of creeks tumbling through fragrant forests. There is a prominent entrance to the bike path here.
BY CAR -- Follow the directions above for “Mont-Tremblant for Skiing.” At exit 76 of Autoroute 15 (and also along Rte. 117) is the village of Val-David (pop. 4,450), the region’s faintly bohemian enclave.
The Route Verte website (www.routeverte.com) provides maps of all the paths by region (look for the “Laurentides” map). Advance planners might want to get the English-language guidebook “Cycling in Québec: Official Guide to Bicycling on Québec’s Route Verte,” which is published by Route Verte and can be ordered from the site.
Details specifically about the P’tit Train du Nordtrail are at the Tourisme Laurentides website, at www.laurentides.com/en/linear-park-le-ptit-train-du-nord-232-km. The tourism office also publishes a P’tit Train du Nord Official Service Guide. You can find it online at www.myvirtualpaper.com/doc/tourisme-laurentides/official-service-guide---linear-park/2014030701/#0.
Val-David’s tourist office is on the main street in the Petite Gare, or old train station, at 2525 rue de l’Église (www.valdavid.com; tel 888/322-7030, ext. 4235, or 819/324-5678, ext. 4235). The building is adjacent to the bike path. It’s open daily from 9am to 5pm from mid-May to mid-October and then again from mid-December to mid-March, with variable opening hours the rest of the year (call first).
There is a parking lot next to the tourist office on rue de l’Église, adjacent to the bike path. There is a second parking lot on the opposite side of the bike path.
Hopping onto the Bike Path
First, some additional details about the P’tit Train du Nord bike trail: It is 232km (145 miles) long and passes through forests and some lovely villages (Val-David among them), and offers breathtaking mountain vistas. Since it was built on a former railway line, it is relatively flat. Former train stations have been repurposed into cafes, bistros, and covered refuges. Most have people who can help with bike repairs. Since the trail is shared by walkers and skaters, bikers are limited to a speed of 22 km/h (14m/h)—fast for casual bikers, medium speed for road warriors. The trail is free to ride on.
So, which direction to head? You can’t go wrong either way. Again, take a look through Tourisme Laurentides’ 32-page Official Service Guide specifically about the trail, online at. You’ll see that Val-David is at km 42. Ste-Adèle (pop. 12,137), which has a popular lake, Lac Rond, is just 9km (5.6 miles) south. (In Ste-Adèle, the main drag, rue Valiquette, is lined with cafes, galleries, and bakeries.) Heading the other direction on the trail, Mont-Tremblant’s splashy pedestrian village is at km 91, 49km (30 miles) north. The guide lists services along each km of the trail, from bars to bike repairs to banks to supermarkets. The folks at the tourist office in Val-David and at the region’s central tourist office at exit 51 off Autoroute 15 can offer suggested itineraries depending on whether you want a leisurely or more challenging ride and on how much time you have.
If you didn’t bring your own bike, bike rentals (or skis, snow shoes, and ice skates in the winter) are available in Val-David at the tourist office and at Roc & Ride Sports de Montagne (2444 rue de l’Église; www.rocnride.com; tel 819/322-7978).
Where to Eat & Shop
For a relaxing picnic, get fixings in Val-David at the Metro Supermarket across from the tourist office on the main street or at the artisanal bakery, Boulangerie La Vagabonde, tucked into a house on a wooded side street at 1262 chemin de la Rivière (www.boulangerielavagabonde.com; tel 819/322-3953), for soups, salads, sandwiches, and pastries. If you’re in town on a Saturday morning from late June to late September, look for the organic farmer’s market on rue de l’Académie (opposite the church).
There’s a lovely picnic spot right in the village: From the tourist office, turn left onto the bike path and walk 5 minutes to the North River and the teeny Parc des Amoureux. Look for the sign that says site pittoresque.
For a more substantial meal, Au Petit Poucet, on Route 117 just south of Val-David (1030 Rte. 117; www.aupetitpoucet.com; tel 888/334-2246 or 819/322-2246), evokes a Québec of hunting cabins and hearty sugar-shack cuisine. A floor-to-ceiling fireplace anchors the interior, and the menu features tourtière (meat pie), pea soup, baked beans, and sugar pie. There’s a shop here for food to go.
Val-David is small, but it has many artist studios. You’re in luck if you’re visiting in mid-summer: the village hosts a huge ceramic art festival (www.1001pots.com; tel 819/322-6868) daily from mid-July to mid-August (July 11–Aug 10 in 2014). Sculptors and ceramicists, along with painters, jewelers, and pewter smiths display their work, and there are concerts and art demonstrations.
Touring Vineyards in Cantons-de-l’Est
Start at Dunham, 95km (59 miles) SE of Montréal, toward Sherbrooke
The rolling countryside of Cantons-de-l’Est to the southeast of Montréal has long served as the province’s breadbasket, and that includes grape and apple orchards (for wine and cider, natch). Still referred to by many English-speakers as the Eastern Townships, the region is largely pastoral, marked by billowing hills and small villages. Except for a few disheartening signs for fast-food stops, the region is largely advertisement-free.
Canada is known more for its beers and ales than its wines, but that hasn’t stopped agriculturists from planting vines and transforming fruit into drinkable clarets, chardonnays, and Sauternes. The most successful efforts have blossomed along southern Ontario’s Niagara Frontier and in British Columbia’s relatively warmer precincts, but in the Cantons-de-l’Est, which enjoys the mildest microclimates in the province, apples grow, as do grapes. Most vintners and fruit growers are concentrated around Dunham, about 103km (64 miles) southeast of Montréal, with several vineyards along Route 202. The region also produces a special variety of wine known as ice cider (cidre de glace). It’s an aperitif made from apples that have frosted over and is produced by vineyards such as Domaine Pinnacle, which is included on this tour.
Autumn presents particular attractions. In addition to the glorious fall foliage (usually best from early September to early October), the orchards around here sag under the weight of apples of every variety, and cider mills hum day and night. Visitors are invited to help with the harvest and can pay a low price to pick their own baskets of fruit. Cider mills open their doors for tours and tastings.
BY CAR -- Leave Montréal by Pont Champlain, the bridge which funnels into arrow-straight Autoroute 10. Go east toward Sherbrooke. Within 20 minutes, you’ll be passing fields, clusters of cows, and in summer, meadows strewn with wildflowers. The exit numbers represent the distance in kilometers that the exit is from Montréal. To get to Dunham, take exit 48 and pick up QC-233 south. Take that 9.5km (6 miles) to Rte. 104 E. Take that 25km (15.5 miles) to Rte. 202 West and signs for Dunham.
Tourisme Cantons-de-l’Est (www.easterntownships.org; tel 800/355-5755) provides a slew of information. Driving from Montréal, the first regional tourist information office (www.granby-bromont.com; tel 866/472-6292 or 450/375-8774) is at exit 68 off Autoroute 10. It’s open daily and has free Wi-Fi.
Touring the Vineyards
A drive through this area and a stop for one vineyard tour makes for a pleasant afternoon, but if you’re really gung-ho, you can follow the established Route des Vins, which passes 21 wineries. A map and travel information is at www.laroutedesvins.ca.
You can start anywhere, but a popular option is Vignoble de l'Orpailleur, at 1086 Rte. 202 in Dunham (www.orpailleur.ca; tel 450/295-2763). It has guided tours every day from late June through October for C$9. Its white wines, such as the straw-colored L'Orpailleur, are regulars on Montréal restaurant menus.
Ice cider and ice wine are two regional products that may be new to visitors: They’re made from apples and grapes, respectively, left on the trees and vines past the first frost, and served ice-cold with cheese or dessert. One top producer is Domaine Pinnacle, at 150 Richford Rd. in Frelighsburg (www.icecider.com; tel 450/298-1226), about 13km (8 miles) south of Dunham. Its cidre de glace is a regular gold medalist in international competitions (it avoids the risk of being cloyingly sweet, which is hard to do for ice cider). The farm’s tasting room and boutique are open daily May through December and Thurs-Sun January through April.
Where to Eat & Shop
Many of the vineyards, including the two listed above, have either restaurants or gourmet food boutiques on site. For a wider variety of food and shopping, we like the village of Knowlton. It’s at the southern tip of Lac Brome, on Rte 104 East (about 40km, or 25 miles, from Frelighsburg, above). At no. 39 on historic Victoria Street, Barne’s General Store (tel 450/243-6840), has been in business since 1890 and is a spot for organic food, tube socks, colored poster board, penny candy, and a spicy red dip made with pomegranate and walnuts called muhammara. Mmm! Also here is the Boutique Gourmet de Canards du Lac Brome, producer of Lac Brome’s famous (in this area, anyway) Peking duck meat. 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 (www.canardsdulacbrome.com; tel 450/242-3825 ext. 221), the store is open daily.
If you’re touring in the spring, you’ll be in the region at the time when every sugar-maple tree is being tapped and “sugared off.” The result? Maple festivals and farms hosting sugaring parties, with guests wolfing down prodigious country repasts capped by traditional maple-syrup desserts. Montréal newspapers and the regional tourist offices keep up-to-date lists of what’s happening and where during the sugaring; many of the festivals and “sugar shacks” are right in this area.
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.