An hour outside of Montreal, visitors to the beautiful four-season vacation area of the Eastern Townships (Cantons-de-l’Est) can join the locals for breakfast, lunch, dinner or just coffee at a new association of local cafes that have been certified for serving quality, healthy meals using local ingredients and products. Strict criteria state the cafes cannot be part of a chain, must be central to community life and often feature the cafe owner behind the counter.
Local village café owners invite visitors to their fine restaurants to enjoy coffee (often organic and sometimes free trade) along with meals prepared using top quality local ingredients as well as locally-produced specialty products for take out, often available frozen for quick make-at-home meals.
This newly created, select group of local cafes is similar to the Cafes de pays found all over rural France. These cafes also serve as meeting places that are known to be friendly, welcoming and down-to-earth. The owners of these cafés, which are centrally located in the towns and villages of the Eastern Townships are proud to share their diverse flavours and their beautiful surroundings. The cafes are often located near scenic viewpoints such as alongside lakes and rivers.
An example of a village cafe which produces a specialty product is the one located in the Chocolate Museum in Bromont, founded in 1993. While enjoying such local dishes as salmon pie, chicken crepes or baked beans served with a fresh vegetable salad topped with a home made chocolate and balsamic dressing, visitors can also learn about the history of chocolate and enjoy a wide selection of hand made chocolates and chocolate desserts served with a rich cup of milk or dark hot chocolate.
Some of these small establishments like Cafe Saveurs et Gourmandises also hold liquor licenses and offer local beers and wines. Sitting on the bank of Lake Massawippi in North Hatley, Saveurs et Gourmandises, specializes in homemade delicacies including a perfectly-sized cake-style chocolate brownie filled with walnuts. For lunch, their hearty French onion soup topped with a generous helping of melted cheese is a great place to start followed by a fillet of salmon sandwich or a warm cheese and ham on a fresh croissant. Their six varieties of pizza are popular too.
Other village cafes in the region specialize in maple syrup products or multiple varieties of homemade bread while still others grew out of central food markets. Some serve as local co-ops and a few feature exhibits by local artists.
Whatever their origins or focus, the village cafes, a prime feature of everyday life in the community, are a great place to experience the Eastern Townships like a local.
BROMONT, QUEBEC — Just an hour south of Montreal, the Eastern Townships offer the highest concentration of golf courses in Quebec. Situated in the Appalachian foothills surrounded by mountains, rolling hills, river valleys and lakes, these naturally beautiful courses offer some of the best golfing deals in Canada with low season/twilight rates from $20 — rarely topping $70 in high season.
Here are five of the best courses in the region:
1. Golf Château-Bromont
Serge, a local golf fanatic, says Golf Château-Bromont is his favourite course in the region. “The mountain views are spectacular and the greens are always in great shape and mosquitoes and black flies are rare.”
This par 72 course, opened in 1964 sports wide fairways, easy par 5s, and great views of the Townships. The back nine plays easier than the front and the best holes start with an elevated tee shot to a green far below. The greens play fairly slow with challenging undulations and large breaks compliments of nearby Mount Bromont. The intimidating signature 15th demands a long drive over water.
Tips: Take a cart — usually included — to combat serious uphill climbs.
A design quirk on the 13th hole requires golfers to approach the tees from the green — note the hidden water hazard behind the hole as you approach the tee boxes.
Rates range from shoulder season specials of $45 per person including golf, cart and a light lunch. Regular walking rates range from $40 to $50 with twilight/early mornings from $20 to $30.
Bring your bathing suit to the course for an après golf swim in the outdoor pool adjacent the clubhouse, which is less crowded than the hotel pool.
One-night packages per person including full breakfast, golf and cart start at $136.00 with four-course meal in superior accommodations.
Apres golf activities: Take advantage of a wide range of Château Bromont Spa treatments and an oriental-style hammam surrounded bylandscaped gardens, waterfalls and a whirlpool bath — the only one of its kind in Quebec. An adjacent bike trail joins the 3,000-kilometre Route Verte. Dining options include the popular Les Quatre Canards restaurant with signature Lac Brome duck and an extensive wine list.
While Golf Château Bromont scores points for scenery, Le Royal Bromont takes top marks for course conditions. “The Royal is better groomed, better maintained and has faster greens than Château Bromont,” Serge says.
Le Royal Bromont, a public course designed in 1992 by Graham Cooke, hosted the 1994 Canadian PGA Championship and appears on Golf Digest’s 2012 Best 100 golf courses in Canada. A par-72 track, Le Royal Bromont ranges from 5,181 to 7,036 yards and features bent grass greens, fairways and tee areas and white silica bunkers. As with most Quebec courses, pesticides are banned. Green fees from $26 to $71.
Another 18-hole championship course, Le Parcours Du Vieux Village sits in the shadow of Mount Bromont on the banks of the Yamaska River. Since 1994, this Score Golf favourite (9/10) with the pretty Victorian clubhouse has been attracting locals and visitors with bargain green fees from $20 to $44.
Facing Mont Orford, the Manoir des Sables Golf Course includes 27 holes sitting on a private lake. The par-71,18-hole championship course starts with an uphill par 5 followed by three holes of excellent mountain views.
On the 5th, aim further right than what your eyes suggest, otherwise your curving downhill tee shot will hit the woods on the left. The 6th, 10th and signature 16th all feature elevated tees.
You’ll have an audience as you approach the 9th green, which sits below a balcony at the Hotels Villegia. Shorter hitters should play up to avoid a difficult second shot around the dog leg left access to a green protected by an overgrown, garden-like hazard from which balls are impossible to retrieve. Shooting uphill under the watchful eyes of curious onlookers can make for some messy approach shots.
Greens fees are a reasonable $38 to $42 but do not include cart. Best to go for the golf/cart/three-course dinner package for $79 or a Stay and Play package in one of 117 rooms and suites with mountain or lake views.
Apres golf activities: Enjoy great drink specials — $12 pitchers of premium beer anyone? And $2 steamies (hot dogs) on the sprawling verandah of the Albatross Bar as you watch weary golfers struggle on the 18th green. Alternatively, head into Magog a few minutes away for a cooling dip in Lake Memaphremagog or a meal on the many terraced bars and restaurants lining the main street and Cherry River.
90, avenue des Jardins, Orford (Canton d’), Quebec J1X 6M6
Not far from Mordecai Richler’s Eastern Townships watering hole sits an award-winning, Graham Cooke-designed championship course at the foot of the western slopes of Owl’s Head Mountain.
The Owl’s Head Golf Course offers panoramic views, bent grass tees, fairways and greens, and strategically placed white silica bunkers and water hazards on six fairways. Most holes offer a view of Jay Peak in Vermont.
The course is well laid out so that each hole, including a signature island green, play quite differently from all the others thanks to the good use of woods, water and elevated tees. Prevailing left to right winds and optical illusions around the slope of the greens and fairway directions require a close study of hole-by-hole descriptions available online.
The par-5 12th offers the best shot at birdie or eagle but only if you avoid the fairway bunker on the right and hidden greenside bunker on the left. On the signature 16th island green, aim straight at the pin.
Rates range from twilight/off-season specials of $30 to weekend high season rates of $60.
Apres golf activities: Be sure to check out the impressive clubhouse complete with 45-foot ceilings of British Columbia timber and five fireplaces of native fieldstone, which houses an award-winning dining room specializing in classic French dishes.
40, chemin du Mont Owl’s Head, Mansonville, Quebec J0E 1X0