A Long Weekend—or Short Week—in the Laurentians
Journalist and photographer Léa Beauchesne heads to the Laurentians for a journey of mountain adventures and moments of plenitude with local winegrowers and producers.
Text & photos—Léa Beauchesne
In partnership with
– Day 1 –
For the first time since we lived together in university, I’ll be spending more than 24 hours with my best friend from elementary school. With huge smiles, and a few cries of joy, we meet up for a getaway to the Laurentians. We’re incredibly excited to discover this region together. Seems like it’s rare to sojourn without children when you’re a parent. We’ll savour this, I promise.
The drive to Val-David takes us back to a summer we spent together in western Canada. Roads tucked away among mountains that endlessly whizz by, as we fill our lungs with ozone-filled air: this will be a beautiful adventure. We marvel at the first furrows of the village, which happens to be celebrating its 100th anniversary. Despite the recent COVID travel rules that have wreaked havoc on it, this municipality has kept close to its earthy, “hippie” roots — a bit of a dream for me. Every Saturday, local producers meet at the Marché d’été to sell the fruits of their labour. Locals and visitors bring the place to life from the minute it opens. Each booth tells a story, often that of a family business, inevitably that of a passion. A nice elderly lady shows us her full basket. She is having her grandchildren over for supper. Very red tomatoes, fresh herbs, savoury pies — it will no doubt be a feast. Right next to the market, a few craftspeople are setting up in the Allée des créateurs. We chat with them while discovering their work. From July 9 to August 22, you can also discover the 1001 Pots ceramics exhibit, a perfect place to explore the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi with beautiful reminders of human work and the passage of time. Perfectly imperfect handcrafted objects reveal themselves in this magical place. It’s very easy to lose yourself in daydreams in the 1001 pot gardens, with a Camellia Sinensis tea in your hands.
With a population in love with the land and its many flavours, it’s no wonder that Val-David has an array of incredible restaurants. At dinnertime, visit the Général Café for a vegan, local, organic dish. If there’s a lineup along the staircase, it’s because the coffee is as good as the service is friendly. For a hearty meal, go to the Boucanerie du Nord to savour a wood-oven-baked pizza. If dessert is a must, pay a visit to Nadège, owner and pastry chef of Café C’est la vie. With a raspberry shortbread in our backpack, we head to Sainte-Adèle to discover its new mountain bike trails.
This part of the Laurentians is peppered with villages populated by outdoor enthusiasts. In Sainte-Adèle, the community takes great care in protecting and accessing the land. The people, the municipality, and its entrepreneurs have joined forces and succeeded in protecting an immense territory of 788 acres, which has become the Parc du Mont Loup-Garou. A plaque with the names of donors, located at the entrance to the trails, shows that community mobilization can accomplish great things. My friend entrusts me to the good care of Dominique and Daniel, a perfect pair of ambassadors for the park. These two cycling enthusiasts introduce me to their little paradise. The atmosphere on the slopes is incredibly friendly. We stop regularly to chat (luckily for my poor pandemic cardio). In addition to showing me the mountain biking trails, Dominique and Daniel tell me a host of anecdotes about life in Sainte-Adèle, which immediately makes me want to move there: the birthplace of out-of-bounds skiing in Québec, the outdoors community, the infinite possibilities of the land. We are dreaming in broad pedal strokes.
If you end your day of mountain or road biking along the bucolic Le P’tit Train du Nord linear park, stopping in at Le Mapache in Val-Morin is a must. I’ve been talking my friends’ ears off about how we absolutely must visit on our next climbing trip to the area. Its Mexican-market-inspired cuisine, natural wines, and craft beers in an old train station are heavenly. A shrimp roll that tastes like something other than mayonnaise: we’re in awe! The owner loves his village, of course, and suggests we end the evening at the Brasserie Ayawan.
The region offers a plethora of options to stay the night. For unique accommodations and a perfect opportunity to disconnect in the forest, visit the Refuges du Lac Démélé. This enchanting place is the dream of both Michel and his partner, Anne-Sophie. A former guide in the far North, Michel thrives on the great outdoors. A few steps from the shelters, Lac Démélé stretches out over the horizon, ready to stage its endless waltz of sunrises and sunsets. Along your way, you absolutely have to grab a bite at sEb l’Artisan Culinaire — a pit stop that’s likely to become your favourite restaurant in the region.
– Day 2 –
While there are different ways to get around the Laurentians, any climbing enthusiast would choose, first and foremost, to do so by rock climbing. The Parc régional Val-David–Val-Morin boasts incredible rock, both for bouldering and route climbing. After a short tour to check out the boulder-strewn forest, the director of the park, Jean-François, guides us to a perfect lead-climbing area. The breeze makes its way through the trees that surround the crag, dispelling any trace of the feels-like-35 ºC heat from our skin. It’s as good a time for climbing as it is for talking. Friends meet up and children explore the surrounding nature between top-rope attempts. Even though it’s Sunday, the wall is quiet. We see Paul Lapièrre in action. With decades of experience, this pioneer still has all of the passion that pushed him to develop his first climbing routes. Today, we owe him for establishing hundreds of routes in Val-David. With laughing eyes, he says he’s not going to stop. After doing a few popular climbs, it’s time to descend to the parking lot. If you’d like to learn more about rock climbing in Val-David, contact the Passe-Montagne school for more information.
We decide to stretch the day out a bit to make the most of the village. There are several craft shops and other boutiques here. We go into Lolipop, where designer Jonathan Léon welcomes us, his verve as bright as his glass creations. His laid-back look contrasts with the neat finish of his handiwork. While heating and manipulating his material, the artist unfolds the chapters of his journey for us. A pretty glass heart later, we head to Le Baril Roulant. “We want to change the world.” Patrick rules his empire with a rebellious spirit. Part microbrewery, inn, restaurant, and performance hall, the pub brings the community together year-round. Get there early to enjoy the patio during the golden hour. Do the establishment proud by ordering a cherry sour or a tasty mushroom poutine. If you’ve booked a room on the premises, continue the evening and “let the kegs roll.” For the most nature-friendly option available in the area, don’t miss the Parc d’escalade et de randonnée de la Montagne d’Argent (camping in the park is reserved for climbers, but there is another family campsite right next door). Take the time to do a short hike; the effort-to-view ratio is worth it.
– Day 3 –
An hour down the highway and it feels like you’ve travelled across an entire province. As you move toward the south of the Laurentians, conifers give way to deciduous trees and agricultural expanses. Orchards and vineyards multiply and intermingle. I’m spending this last day in the Laurentians solo. This promises to be a sweet finale, punctuated by inspiring encounters where honey and cider mix happily. After a few detours, I arrive at Vignoble Rivière du Chêne in Saint-Eustache. The California style of the main building makes you feel like you’re on vacation the instant you step onto the premises. The owner, Daniel Lalande, approaches me, a genuine smile across the tanned face of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors. Making wine makes him happy, it seems. He tells me about how his passion was born after visiting a vineyard. Years of hard work allow tourists like me to discover wine grown in Québec and to settle in peacefully for an aperitif. The vineyard team has designed a great basket of local products to taste on site, accompanied by a glass of wine, of course. The experience can be continued by visiting sister vineyard Vignoble La Cantina.
Between two storms, I continue my journey toward Intermiel (Le Monde des Abeilles). The sparkling beekeeper and guide Anne-Marie introduces me to the world of bees. “Passionate” is an understatement to describe this woman who was probably a bee herself in a past life. While touring the facility, she demolishes several popular beliefs by teaching me that bees are not aggressive if approached gently and calmly; that bees leave a place if they are not happy there; that they need a wide variety of flowers to do their jobs. Anne-Marie makes sure they have everything they need and more. When opening up a beehive, she is careful not to crush any of her friends and explains to me that only the “surplus” honey — beyond what the bees require — is collected here. Tours take place every day during the summer.
The drive home is approaching, but I have one last stop before jumping back into real life. At the turn of the century, Georges-Étienne Lafrance sold apples. Three generations later, Domaine Lafrance welcomes thousands of visitors every year and distributes its products around the province. The orchard is well known as a pick-your-own spot, and for its ice cider, but I discover much more than that on site: among other things, their Dandy gin, made from apple brandy distilled at the estate, is a welcome surprise. The team carefully develops each product, making it as local and thoughtful as possible. There is something for all tastes and all budgets.
My “I want to move to this region” meter is extremely high as I leave the Laurentians. I hope you, too, will soon experience as much wonder along the 117 and its many detours.
– Extend your stay –
Why not settle down for a few weeks in the area, to continue to taste cider or to link climbing and exhilarating downhill biking projects? If there’s time, add one or two days to visit the Upper Laurentians. Nature is even wilder there and allows for absolute disconnection. You’ll find several welcoming villages, such as Nominingue, where you can spend the night in the various unusual accommodations on the Les Toits du Monde site. The co-owners, Dior and Sylvain, have created an oasis of tranquility. In the surrounding area, you’ll be spoiled for choice if you want to go hiking or canoeing. Take your explorations even further and head to Ferme-Neuve. This area is home to the Parc régional Montagne du Diable, an incredible space where getting lost in the woods or on a body of water is a good thing. Take a minute, as well, to discover Miels d’Anicet: in addition to having created an exceptional place for bees, the owners provide visitors with an incredible spread.
Tourism Laurentians is a non-profit regional tourism association (ATR) formed in 1975 and operating on the basis of a voluntary membership for tourism stakeholders in the Laurentian region. Representing several hundred companies, it is a valuable resource and information tool for visitors when planning their visits to the region.
Léa Beauchesne prefers escaping to wide-open spaces away from 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.