If you haven’t done so yet, it may be time to explore the Laurentians in Quebec. Inhabitants of the province know it well and take advantage of its close proximity to Montreal to explore the splendours of this majestic mountain range dotted with thousands of lakes and hills. In any season, the Laurentians beckons, calling visitors to come forth and discover everything it has to offer, but winter can be an especially exciting time. This may become your favourite wintertime vacation spot.
After the first ski lift was built in 1930, droves of tourists flocked here, transforming the area into a popular all-season vacation spot. Where railroad tracks once connected Montreal to the mountains, now the longest cycle path exists, popular in winter for snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing along its 232 km. You can stop at the heritage railway stations, once bustling with commuters and tourists, now perfect snapshots of a bygone era.
The Laurentians is full of quaint, charming towns and villages, and one of the most popular things to do here is explore as many of them as you possibly can. There’s Mont-Tremblant, both the resort town and the national park that goes by the same name, popular for its skiing and Swiss Alps–like atmosphere. For history buffs, St-Eustache is a must-stop for its period buildings and to learn more about the Battle of St-Eustache, fought here in 1837. St-Saveur is a sweet storybook town with colourful houses, tons of art galleries, cozy cafés and antique shopping. Ste-Adèle is a bustling town with more art galleries and eclectic shops, skating on Lac Rond in the winter, and the Musée Zénon Alary, which houses 250 sculptures by the artist of the same name. Val-David is the destination for unique Quebecois ceramics, antiques, and pewter sculptures and jewelry, while the art and antiquing in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts is pretty great too.
Where to sleep
Nestled high up in the trees with gorgeous mountain views and ski slopes steps away, the historic Hotel Mont-Gabriel in Ste-Adèle is the perfect spot for you and your family. After a fun day of skiing, the heated whirlpool tub beckons, to warm your tired muscles and give you a moment to relax and unwind. If you’ve never tried snowshoeing, the beautiful hiking trails of Mont Gabriel make for a picturesque introduction. The breakfast buffet is legendary and will give you all the energy you’ll need for the day! montgabriel.com
Auberge de l’Abbaye d’Oka
For a truly unique experience, book your stay at the charming Auberge de l’Abbaye d’Oka, the former monastery for the Cistercian monks of Oka. It may be cold outside, but a brisk walk on the beach will grant you scenic views of the Lake of Two Mountains. There are snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails for the days when you don’t feel like zooming down steep mountain slopes. Staying here will give you a much-needed reset to help you get through the rest of winter. Don’t forget to pick up a couple of rounds of Oka cheese before you leave the area! abbayeoka.ca
Stonehaven le manoir
Filled with antique furniture and old-world charm, the newly renovated Stonehaven le manoir in Ste-Agathe-des-Monts offers guests an experience steeped in luxury. The rooms are bright and impeccably decorated, and the beds are comfortable and fitted with plush linens. Tour the grounds and take in the garden, mountain and lake views. You may never want to leave! stonehavenlemanoir.com
Where to eat
Au Mazot Suisse
Is there anything more quintessentially Alpine than warm, delicious melted cheese on a cold day, in a Swiss-style fondue restaurant surrounded by mountains? Au Mazot Suisse in Val-Morin is one such place and a great spot to stop for lunch or dinner. Make sure you order the chocolate fondue to round off your meal.
Café bistro merci la vie
With a name like Café bistro merci la vie (“thank you life”), you’ll surely be thanking the husband-and-wife bakery team who churn out pastries and small bites full of flavour and homestyle charm. Everything is made on-site, imbuing the food with that homemade taste that can’t be beat. Try a freshly baked croissant with caramel dip, the Cheddar celery seed bread or anything from the simple brunch menu, with items paired with their signature baked-in-house bread. mercilavie.co
La Table des gourmets
Creating masterpieces from seasonal produce, the French-style restaurant La Table des gourmets in Val-David needs to be on your itinerary. Ingredients are treated with the utmost care and attention and are finessed to bring out every nuance in flavour. Try the menu pour les gourmets (the chef’s tasting menu), which includes five impeccably produced dishes. Your senses are in for a real treat! tabledesgourmets.com
What to see and do
Do not let the cold deter you. The winters here are lovely and full of excitement! Besides the ever-popular ski slopes, snowshoe and cross-country trails, the area offers much to see and do. While you’re here, visit the Miels d’Anicet farm to learn more about the farm and its bees. If you’ve been lucky enough to try the honey that these pampered and uber-loved bees produce, then you’ll definitely want to visit and learn a bit more about farming in the Laurentians. mielsdanicet.com
Au Petit poucet
Au Petit poucet is a must-stop, because you can’t visit the Laurentians without stopping at a sugar shack! Located in Val-David, it serves up real maple syrup year-round, heated and on a block of ice for a truly local experience. aupetitpoucet.ca
Maison des arts Saint-Faustin
For those looking to take in the local art scene, Maison des arts Saint-Faustin in St-Faustin-Lac Carré is a perfect place to stop and browse. Open year-round with changing exhibitions, outdoor sculptures and a crafts boutique, it’s a great spot to learn about art unique to the area. maisondesartssaint-faustin.ca
Hot/Cold Water Therapy
Although popular year-round, the numerous Nordic spas dotting the Laurentians are a huge draw during the colder months. Quebec is known for its brutal winters, but here you can expect the cold weather to contribute to a host of therapies that improve your well-being. The dip in temperatures coupled with the many lakes and rivers in the area make winter in the Laurentians perfect for this unique form of hot/cold hydro therapy. The process includes radically altering your body temperature in quick succession, from hot to cold and back to hot, and then repeating the circuit two to three more times. The Nordic-style water therapy offers many benefits, including stimulating your immune system, eliminating toxins from your body, increasing your metabolic rate and soothing sore muscles.
If rest, relaxation and pampering are what you’re after, then L’Auberge et spa beaux rêves in Ste-Adèle will meet your every demand. Luxurious and uncrowded, it offers a peaceful respite while also providing all of the benefits of a classic Nordic spa. Located by the Rivière aux Mulets (which you can access right up until November), the spa boasts an infrared heated solarium, a Finnish sauna and two natural stone thermal ponds, as well as an aromatherapy room to calm and rejuvenate your senses. beauxreves.com
For a fully immersive Nordic spa experience, the Scandinave spa Mont-Tremblant offers an escape complete with Scandinavian baths, Norwegian steam baths and year-round swimming, to name a few. You can also eat healthy, simply prepared meals to balance your body after your treatments and clear your mind, body and soul. Note that there’s a strict silence policy at the spa, which is especially good news if you’re looking for a quiet timeout. scandinave.com/mont-tremblant
One of the largest Nordic spas in North America, Spa le Finlandais offers a one-stop worldly spa experience with 25 spa experiences to choose from. Meditate in an Indian meditation room, relax in the Japanese sauna, get scrubbed clean in a Turkish hammam, or relax in the Icelandic baths or Scandinavian saunas. Don’t forget to try out the Nordic hot/cold hydrotherapy! Within these beautifully designed grounds, prepare to be transported to another world. spalefinlandais.com
For a truly luxurious experience, the Nordic Spa at the Estérel Resort offers the ultimate in relaxation and well-being. Surrounded by dense forest and three lakes, the resort offers guests the chance to bask in the natural beauty of the Laurentians. The spa includes two pools (one of which is open year-round), saunas to relax in, a Nordic shower and a natural polar bath on Lake Dupuis in the winter for the bravest spa hoppers. Prepare to leave feeling like a new person. esterel.com
An editor with 15-plus years in the publishing business, Catalina Margulis’ byline spans travel, food, decor, parenting, fashion, beauty, health and business. When she’s not chasing after her three young children, she can be found painting her home, taming her garden and baking muffins.