The Three Laurentians: Lower, Heartland, Upper
Part 1: The Lower Laurentians (Basses-Laurentides)
By Stephanie Levin
Warning! This is not a quiz. But if you’re not Canadian, or your geographical antenna isn’t pointed toward Quebec, the Laurentians might bypass your radar screen, and that would be too bad, particularly for the traveler who thrives on unassuming pristine landscapes, sporting adventures, family farms and wide-open spaces.
The Laurentians divides splendidly into three regions beginning with the lower Laurentians, an hour out of Montreal, the Heartland, think Mont Tremblant, a three-hour drive, and the upper Laurentians, comprising 4,500 lakes and rivers.
Due to its convenient location from Montreal, the Lower Laurentians make a fine day excursion. Rural and quiet, this agricultural district-the City of Mirabel- is an eclectic mix of agrotourisme, dotted with a concentration of sugar shacks. Yes, sugar shacks—
The postcard-perfect country roads wend through fertile farmland, apple orchards, vineyards and lavender fields. The region is peppered with family farms and diverse businesses, giving the region a bienvenue, or welcoming feeling.
September and October are the perfect months to visit. Fall arrives unannounced cloaking the countryside in crimson and gold. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Ciderie et Verger La France‘s 350-acre apple orchard. The 12,000 organic trees, bearing plump apples bring tourist and families in mid-October to pick apples and picnic on the grounds. For the intrepid wine taster or the curious, the fascinating process of making ice-wine and ice-cider (only made in Canada) is best told over the ice-wine tasting bar with an enthusiastic ice-wine maker. (Exits 2 or 8 Highway 640 West)
From bucolic apple orchards, I encounter a buzzing business at one of the sweetest family businesses on route Intermiel-home to 6500 beehives. The busy bees pollinate flowers all over Quebec, terminating in one of the most interesting honey farms in Canada. There’s an educational center where I learned a thing or two watching the beekeepers smoke the hives. Did you know that bees orient themselves with the sun as a reference point in navigation and communication? A taste of honey is a must and I savored blueberry honey, and chocolate-honey spread, and if my friend hadn’t moved me along, I might have spent the afternoon savoring a variety of honeys as well as honey products. (Exit Highway 8, 640 West)
Down the road and around the bend, 100,000 lavender plants send the nose a quiver at La Maison Lavande. Summer is the best time to meander through this field, divided into different rows of lavender, each with its own history and lavender expert revealing the medicinal secrets of this much loved plant. Lavender lovers bundle up in the fall, picnic on the lavender grounds then spend the afternoon wandering through the two lavender boutiques that boast 50 exclusive handcrafted products produced from the fields or munch on lavender- infused snacks from the snack bar.
(Exit, 11 Highway, 640 West)
What better way to wind down a scenic day than with wine tasting. Coming from Northern California, where one can be a bit of a wine snob, I was delighted to discover Vignoble Riviere du Chene a family-owned vineyard, founded by a passionate young wine maker in love with viticulture. The domain is committed to producing “Certified Quebec Wines” Tastings are offered in an intimate, casual environment with the winemaker on hand. Small is beautiful definitely gets my vote when it comes to this winery. (807 chemin de la Riviere du Chene)
Alas, from a fine glass of wine, and as the sun descending over the trees; I tour Route des Gerbes d’Angelica, a sensorial thematic garden. This is not your typical garden, but a large swath of land divided into various types of gardens from whimsical to herbal, all connecting. The lovely ladies that attend to the gardens also produce and sell artisan breads from local products as well as herbal teas. The organic herbs, all plucked from the garden, are a delight to sip and savor on a chilly, crisp fall afternoon. (Exit 11 Highway, 640 West)
A bientot, until winter when we travel to the Laurentian Heartland.