A Long Weekend—or Short Week—in Lanaudière
Journalist and photographer Léa Beauchesne offers us an itinerary for a trip through Lanaudière, leading us from an abbey to waterfalls and a cider orchard.
Text & photos—Léa Beauchesne
In partnership with Tourisme Lanaudière
– Day 1 –
Aside from Saint-Donat’s famous pies and a few climbing sites, I knew very little about the Lanaudière region. And so it was with great curiosity that I set off to discover the area.
I left my little bit of forest near Portneuf at dawn and set out for my first stop in the south of Lanaudière. Just a dozen kilometres from the river, the treasure-rich agricultural plain is part of the St. Lawrence Lowlands. Before exploring the countryside, I pass through Joliette, a municipality shaped by members of a rather avant-garde clergy. To this day, it surprises visitors with its cultural and culinary offerings and is a great place to explore by foot. Hunger sets in quickly when you’re travelling, so make sure to stop at Brûlerie du Roy, the first roastery ever established in Lanaudière. With sandwich and coffee in hand, wander along Manseau Boulevard (a boulevard in name only), or check out one of the city’s many beautiful green spaces.
Let the sounds of the L’Assomption River lull you into a little shut-eye before being awakened by a visit to the Musée d’art de Joliette (MAJ). They emphasize that it’s a museum in a rural area, and not a rural museum. Since its construction in 1974, this little gem has continued to reinvent itself while pursuing its mission of opening the local community to the world of art. The MAJ team has been swept up in a wave of lightness since the reopening of museums. The ongoing exhibition, In Dialogue, highlights the museum’s permanent collection, as artists like Carl Trahan welcome you into their world. If you’re there on a Saturday, take in Patio 145, a creative DJ set, on the stunning terrasse.
Having feasted your eyes, it’s time to take care of your belly. MAJ director Jean-François Bélisle recommends L’Âtre Bistro, with good reason. Restaurant owner Julien has got what you’re looking for. With over 500 bottles in their cellar, L’Âtre undoubtedly has the biggest collection of natural wines in the region. Take a seat at the bar, order the grilled Brussels sprouts and the polpette (meatball), and let the sommelier be your guide. If you have time, spend a night in the area so that you can enjoy your evening to the fullest. But if nature is tugging at your heart, it’s time to hit the road for Mandeville.
The kilometres are sweet (if a little bumpy) on the way to this village, dotted with beautiful traditional houses. You’ll have time to explore tomorrow, but first, check in for a two-night stay at Natur’Eau Spa. After stopping for provisions at Bonichoix grocery store in Mandeville, enjoy the last stretch of road through the forest before you reach this site of absolute tranquility. You’ll find chalets and small, intimate dwellings quietly integrated into the natural décor. Cap off the day perfectly by dreaming in front of a fire.
– Day 2 –
After preparing breakfast in the kitchenette, it’s time to plan your day. It’s hard to decide between cramming your schedule with wonderful activities or taking advantage of a day at the spa to do absolutely nothing. I start at the spa, letting the heat and cold, the water and steam, do their work as I gaze at the forested mountains in the distance. Fully relaxed by the lemony-scented yurt, my body craves movement. There’s a number of nearby hikes, and I choose the must-see Chutes du Calvaire (Calvary Falls). Generally quiet in the mornings, the site quickly becomes crowded on hot summer days. Do the full hike or just pause there and enjoy the view of the rushing water. Back in Mandeville, the Le P’tit Ranch diner awaits you. To my great dismay as a poutine critic par excellence, the diner is not open every day. Make sure to check their hours before going.
If the previous activities haven’t eaten up your whole day, it’s definitely happy hour! A few minutes out of Mandeville lies the Vignoble Saint-Gabriel — the perfect place for a picnic. Drop into the shop for a tasting, add a little locally sourced snack if you’re feeling peckish, and admire the view of the organic vineyard. Co-owner Johanne explains that going organic was a natural choice, since Paul — her partner in business and in life — can’t tolerate chemical inputs. In addition to everything you’d expect, the vineyard offers a network of trails and an antique tractor display. Johanne explains that all of the tractors still run “with just a flick of the wrist.” Vanlifers can enjoy a second (or third) glass of wine: the vineyard is a Terego partner.
– Day 3 –
For foodies (so, everyone?), Lanaudière is a top-notch destination. If you want to stock up on local products, make sure you bring a cooler: there are delicacies aplenty. To help you decide where to go, the area’s tourism board suggests several gourmet routes.
I began my tour at Abbaye Val Notre-Dame in Saint-Jean-de-Matha, and could have happily spent the whole day there. The abbey offers trails, permaculture fields, forest foraging activities, and a gourmet store. Designed by architect Pierre Thibault in 2009, the sublimely tranquil and unique building is the home of the Oka monks. In normal times, they offer a hotel service for silent retreats. Because it’s so popular — and limited to just a few people at a time — you have to book almost a year in advance.
After a stop at the abbey’s shop, drive a few more kilometres to the Ferme Vallée Verte, still a family business after nearly 100 years in operation. Stop to say hi to the Gadoury brothers’ cows, bellies full of organic vegetation grown on site, lounging on the sandbank. Then make sure you get your hands on their black garlic cheddar, a farm-fresh raspberry yogurt, and the classic: a big bag of cheese curds.
Cheese makes you thirsty! You’re in luck; the Qui Sème Récolte! orchard is nearby. Its cultivars were specifically chosen for the ciders developed by the orchard’s owners, Nathalie and Jean-François. Nathalie kindly offers to show me around. As far as the eye can see, apple trees are popping out precious fruits that withstand a late frost. The beauty of the location and Nathalie’s passion are reflected in every product sold. Every choice is balanced and aromatic, and they offer non-alcoholic options as well. Take advantage of the orchard’s picnic tables and sample some local delicacies or travel 15 minutes further to the Parc régional des chutes Monte-à-Peine-et-des-Dalles to build up your appetite with a hike before unpacking your picnic and enjoying the setting sun.
Consider using the last rays of light to get yourself to Gollé Goulu near Saint-Côme. Nestled in a valley, the site is home to a vegetable garden and mixed forest. Various carefully built dwellings are hidden at the edge of the forest or sheltered by the canopy. If you’re comfortable in a tent, opt for one of the perfect and minimalist wilderness campsites. Over the years, Michel and his team have developed trails, a little fishing lake, and a lovely field that yields everything you need to put together a fruit-and-vegetable basket. If you’re there at the right time, there’s a pick-your-own potatoes. Nights here are peaceful.
– Day 4 –
The Forêt Ouareau (Ouareau Forest) was one of the places I was most excited to visit. There are a number of ways to explore this 150 km2 regional park, including hiking, canoeing, cycling, and rock climbing. I opted for the six-kilometre Contreforts trail, which runs along the lake and rock-climbing sites before heading to the rocky peak. The wind and tranquility, together with the short but sustained effort and natural lookouts, made for a perfect balance.
With over 650 km of marked trails in the area, the park and its surroundings offer plenty of options for hiking. Ascend the spectacular summit of Mont Ouareau to explore the lesser-known, Lanaudière portion of the Parc national du Mont-Tremblant and take in the endless horizon.
After your hike, take a short half-hour drive to the Trécarré microbrewery. The pretty patio is an oasis, and the microbrewery itself is a great option for lunch or dinner. One haskap berry beer (bière aux camerises in French) later, and it’s time for me to explore another enchanting site: Kabania.
Upon arrival, you’ll be given a wheelbarrow to transport your bags along the path leading to wooden cabins perched at various heights among the trees. There’s a large common area in the centre of each group of cabins, creating something of a (more peaceful) youth hostel atmosphere. From there, venture to the Forêt Ouareau or tube down the river. Kabania was created by Marie-Christine Tremblay. Today, new owner Olivier and his family have taken up the torch and continue to expand this magical place.
The next day, it’s time for me to head home. My time in Lanaudière has flown by: I’ll make my next trip longer. To extend your own stay beyond this itinerary, check out the Tourisme Lanaudière website, which offers a wealth of information about activities and accommodations. I hope you have as wonderful a time as I did in Lanaudière: may your trip be full of smiles and discoveries!
Léa Beauchesne prefers escaping to wide-open spaces over walls and asphalt. Journalist and creator, Beauchesne likes to play with words and images to create timeless moments where humans and nature collide. She doesn’t like to worry, except when it comes to the environment. You’ll most often find her in the mountains at the end of a climbing rope, on her bike, or on her skis, surrounded by too many dogs and preferably just one other human.
Tourisme Lanaudière represents almost 400 enterprises and other entities and is officially recognized by the Québec government as a regional tourism association. This non-profit organization brings business people together with the aim of helping the region’s economy grow by coordinating, developing, and promoting tourism.