There may be no better way to start a trip to the Eastern Townships, a picturesque region of Quebec just over the borders of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, than to check into the Auberge & Spa West Brome. A four-hour drive from Boston (or just an hour east of Montreal should you take one of Air Canada’s daily flights), the inn and spa houses guests in former condominiums complete with fireplaces and kitchens—not that you’ll need to cook. The inn’s on-site bistro exemplifies the region’s celebration of farm-to-table cuisine with a menu that uses the 80 veggies and herbs grown in the property’s organic garden for dishes like a board of heirloom tomatoes with basil and cheese, as well as local products like a Brome Lake duck leg confit served atop a bed of housemade gnocchi and mushrooms.
Further north, executive chef Mirsad Basic at Hôtel Château-Bromont’s Quatre Canards has a similar culinary philosophy, building dishes around produce found in a terrace vegetable garden, which he plans to expand next year, and local products, like honeysuckle berry chutney from nearby Granby that features in a duck foie gras appetizer and Fitch Bay lavender that lends subtle floral notes to the creme brulee. (The cuisine isn’t the only elevated aspect here—the hotel is adjacent to the Bromont ski resort, and suites feature wrought-iron spiral staircases that lead to lofted lounges.)
Should your sweet tooth still need satisfying, drive just a few minutes to the Musée du Chocolat de Bromont, where you can snack on a variety of truffles made on-site while sipping a cup (or bowl!) of creamy dark hot chocolate in the cafe. Then brush up on some art history with a stroll through the museum, which features chocolate renderings of works like Venus de Milo and Girl with a Pearl Earring, plus a primer on the origins of cocoa.
Lest you think a visit to the Eastern Townships is all about eating, rest assured there are plenty of opportunities to imbibe as well. Designate a driver and head out to explore one of the 22 vineyards that make up La Route des Vins, the region’s official wine route that covers nearly 90 miles. Be sure to stop at Vignoble de l’Orpailleur, a vineyard that boasts award-winning bottles, including an ice wine—a regional specialty that leans into Canadian winters by producing wine from frozen grapes—that has more than 30 accolades to its name. A similar product can be found just across the street at Union Libre Cidre & Vin, an orchard and vineyard that makes an ice cider by squeezing apples and leaving them outside all winter to freeze. More of a beer person? Off the wine route, but worth a stop, is Microbrasserie La Memphré, a microbrewery that produces a dozen brews ranging from a blonde ale and a witbier to a Scotch ale and a milk stout, all of which are named after local locations and historical events.
Your liver will appreciate a trip to find comfort food further east in Compton, a village home to just over 3,000 people. Channel your inner cheesemonger at Fromagerie La Station, a 400-acre organic dairy farm that has been in the Bolduc family for four generations. Take a guided tour and see the ripening rooms before trying some of the award-winning housemade cheeses, like the Alfred Le Fermier, a nutty raw milk cheese aged for eight months and named for the farm’s founder. Or go dairy-free with a stop at Que du Bonheur, a cafe that makes sorbet using seasonal Compton berries—a treat that can be enjoyed from the comfort of the eatery’s tufted crushed velvet chairs or on-the-go with pints found in shops throughout town.
Que du Bonheur sorbet is just one of the treats you’ll want to pick at Verger Le Gros Pierre, an orchard with 21 varieties among its 8,000 trees, including the crisp French transplant Primgold. After taking a tractor tour of the grounds, finish off your visit with a slice of apple pie or a baked apple filled with chocolate ganache, washing it down with a bottle of pure apple juice that changes its taste from batch to batch depending on the varieties available at bottling time.
Locals say that a person could happily live on just the fresh fruits, cheeses and other foodstuffs produced by Compton’s creative makers. For visitors, at least, it’s a wonderful way to spend a long weekend. Bon appétit.
-Give your stomach a rest with a trip to Savon des Cantons, a natural soap factory that allows guests to make their own.
-Discover the power of the blackcurrant berry at Domaine Ives Hill, home to 7,000 blackcurrant plants used to produce berry sangria, aperitif and wine, as well as jams, syrups and teas.
Auberge & Spa West Brome 128, route 139, West Brome (450-266-7552) awb.ca; Domaine Ives Hill 12, chemin Boyce, Compton (819-837-0301) domaineiveshill.com; Fromagerie La Station, 440, chemin de Hatley, Compton (819-835-5301) fromagerielastation.com; Hôtel Château-Bromont, 90, rue de Stanstead, Bromont (450-534-3433) chateaubromont.com; La Route des Vins, laroutedesvins.ca; Microbrasserie la Memphré, 12, rue Merry Sud, Magog (819-843-3405) microbrasserielamemphre.com; Musée du Chocolat de Bromont, 679, rue Shefford (450-534-3893) lemuseeduchocolatdelaconfiseriebromont.com; Savon des Cantons, 1540, chemin des Pères, Magog (819-868-0161); Union Libre Cidre & Vin, 1047, rue Bruce, Dunham (450-295-2223) unionlibre.com; Verger Le Gros Pierre, 6335, route Louis-S.-St-Laurent, Compton (819-835-5549) grospierre.com; Vignoble de l’Orpailleur, 1086, rue Bruce, Dunham (450-295-2763) orpailleur.ca; Que du Bonheur, 6685, route Louis-S.-St-Laurent, Compton (819-835-1001) que-du-bonheur.ca