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Lanaudière: So Near the Open Air

Portrait of a region that grabs hold of you and won’t let go.

I push open the door to Trécarré Microbrewery, lodged in a century-old house in Saint-Côme.

Inside, I’m struck by the industrial decor—an arresting contrast that sets the tone of my visit to Lanaudière. Before I even sit down at the bar, someone has approached me to ask where I’m from. The familiar smell of hops, folk music in the background, and cozy atmosphere make me feel right at home.

Every time I pay a visit to the area, I’m surprised by the beauty I find, so close to Montréal. Between Île-des-Moulins and the magnificent Mont Ouareau, this region is a natural playground, and perfect for a picnic. The community that inhabits this land couldn’t be prouder of its waterfalls and forests, stewarding their environment proudly and carefully.

Québec’s Lanaudière region is at a turning point in its history: a period of excitement and vitality. On the day of my visit to the brewery, I met a wide spectrum of young, creative entrepreneurs. Here, they paint, sing, farm, bloom, cook, and shape materials with disarming ingenuity. They work hard, dream big, and are generally of a similar mindset: they want to build something to last, as their elders did, knowing how rich the land was and what the soil and the forests had to offer. There’s a good reason they chose to start their businesses here: the possibilities are limitless, and so is the sense of family and solidarity.

The Lanaudière community is tightly knit, despite its vast expanse of territory. You can feel it in the lively conversations, in the tangible connections between artisans, in the general enthusiasm generated by new initiatives bolstering existing ones—whether it’s a new café or a new public market. Lanaudière is booming, but the human touch remains.

The region is something of a hybrid, a place where nature, culture, and community come together. In a single day, I can relish  the solitude of a stroll through the woods and embark on an adventure with my loved ones. I can take a seat at a chef’s table while breathing in the scent of nearby fields and rivers. I can attend a classical music concert—the great Festival de Lanaudière—while sitting at the edge of the forest.

It’s no wonder that a new generation of entrepreneurs, artisans, and farmers have found a place to flourish here. It’s no surprise either that the people of Lanaudière, firmly epicurean, are welcoming them with open arms. These six companies represent some of the best ambassadors of the region’s renewed spirit and deep traditions.

L’Arbre et la Rivière

Potters Geneviève Boudreault and Matthieu Huckare as crazy about art as they are about nature. By the edge of the Matambin River in Saint-Damien, they set up their pottery workshop and boutique, which they dubbed L’Arbre et la Rivière. “Nature, culture, and heritage: these three words aptly summarize our company’s values,” explains Boudreault. “Traditions are deeply embedded in our artistic pursuits and practices; the ceinture fléchée (woven sash) pattern—typical of Lanaudière—emblazoned on our pieces is a good example.” To craft their pottery, the duo exposes the clay to the heat of a wood-burning stove; it’s the oldest known method for firing clay. It’s also the most uncommon in Québec. “The flames and embers give our pieces their unique colours and textures,” adds the artist, who always invites her guests to sit by the river for a picnic in the shade of native plants.

Kabania

In a shack built deep in the Forêt Ouareau Regional Park, Marie-Christine Tremblay fills the stove with a few more logs. It’s a ritual that hearkens back to an era when fire kept the house warm overnight. Standing on the edge of the Dufresne River, the Kabania ecotourism site helps bring us back to basics. “What sets Kabania apart is its ecological side, the feeling that pervades it, with hammocks hanging there year-round, and the originality of its common areas, which are perfect for chance encounters and exchanges. It’s refreshing in an individualistic world like ours,” explains the owner. Through age-old traditions, they work toward a timely and important mission: encouraging people to make green choices and take care of nature in their daily lives—while letting the peace and quiet of the retreat wash over them.

Qui sème récolte!

Thanks to some memorable, hands-on sharing of European traditions with friends from Brittany, the owners of Qui sème récolte! were compelled to make their own cider and apple juice. The experience inspired them to reboot the family orchard, ensconced in the Saint-Jean-de-Matha valley, a well-known foodie destination. The company—at once an orchard, cider works, maple farm, and canola farm—is the only cider maker in Lanaudière, a project that combines a bold attitude and skilled craftsmanship. “We took up the challenge of growing apples farther north, despite the risks,” explains owner Nathalie Rainville. “The risks of winter frost on the roots and branches, the risk of spring frost on the flowers… Our solution? Choosing the right variety of cultivars!” As a result, on the shelves, you’ll find ciders made of heirloom or Nordic apple varieties. The artisans that make them have an overriding desire for uniqueness, and abundant respect for their family and environment-al values—notably reflected in their minimal use of pesticides.

Photo: Qui sème récolte!

La Source Bains Nordiques

We no longer need proof of nature’s therapeutic virtues; in Japan, for example, “forest bathing” has been part of the public health program for decades. At La Source Bains Nordiques, you can immerse yourself in the Lanaudière forest: the facilities are nestled both in the mountains and in water. The results are always incredibly soothing. The spa encourages communion with two of the region’s natural resources, notes executive director Patrice Lalancette. “One of Rawdon’s tourist attractions has always been its waterways,” he adds. “Our Nordic baths are the natural extension of that.” And if traditional thermotherapy wasn’t enough, massage therapy, body care services, and gourmet offerings featuring local producers are also available. Disconnect from the daily grind, with Mont Pontbriand in the background.

Photo: La Source Bains Nordiques

Trécarré Microbrasserie

In 2008 the village of Saint-Côme was declared Québec’s capital of traditional song. Not only is the municipality the birthplace of many traditional bands, but it legally designated this folk music a key component of its heritage in 2014—a first in Québec. In this century-old house boasting industrial decor, you’re just as likely to hear improvised traditional music jams as watch professional bands perform. “Trécarré Microbrasserie’s name is quite fitting,” says the place’s co-owner, Pierre-Hugues Marsolais. “Like a big set square made out of wood, it stands tall at the heart of the village. And like the cleared square of forest it designates, it acts as a meeting place for beer lovers, locals, and passing vacationers.” It’s an important pilgrimage place for visitors looking for an authentic connection to the land.

Photo: Justine Laurier

Arbraska

Soaring from one tree to another in search of adrenaline or to face your fears, you’ll embrace the values that Arbraska stands for: exploring nature from unexpected perspectives and great heights, pushing your limits, and learning respect for yourself, others, and the environment. The thrill of a unique experience awaits, whether it’s an aerial obstacle course or a day spent part-hiking, part-climbing the via ferrata. “Arbraska’s roots come from embracing the region’s culture,” explains Stéphane Vachon, executive director and founder. “We were attracted by the values the people had, by how authentic and humble they were.” The sense of adventure and excitement is also coupled with the wilderness in all its tranquility, the calm of Lanaudière’s forest. This place has proven fertile ground for the company, which now boasts parks and facilities all over the world.

Photo: Arbraska

Lanaudière Region

1. Arbraska
2. Kabania
3. L’Arbre et la Rivière
4. La Source Bains Nordiques
5. Qui sème récolte!
6. Trécarré Microbrasserie

___________

 

Sarah-Émilie Nault is an independent journalist based in Montréal who contributes to various newspapers, magazines, and websites with a focus on travel and Québec culture.

How do we sustain our traditions?

This article was initially published in Issue 06 of BESIDE Magazine.

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