Montérégie and Eastern Townships are two charming regions with proximity to Montréal, found south of the St. Lawrence and north of the U.S. border. They are filled with farms, mountains, lakes, parks, villages and an abundance of history. The areas are paradise for food and drink lovers – everything from fresh regional products, u-pick berries, farmer’s markets, boulangeries, gourmet restaurants, you name it – and it’s always washed down with innovative and traditional flavours from local cideries, vineyards, microbreweries and microdistilleries. So, what are you waiting for? Grab a seat in the Lazy Campervan and let’s go!
You’re reading a guest post by Carla Bragagnini
Shortly after leaving Montreal, the van’s gas tank was full, but my body definitely needed re-fuelling. And what’s a road trip without sampling as you go along? So I wasn’t on the road for long before making my first pit stop in La Prairie.
La Boîte Vegane is a comfort foods plant-based restaurant with a tranquil terrasse, located in this off-island suburb of Montreal. They take advantage of the local foods in the region, like sourcing their lettuce from a pair of young farmers in Sherbrooke, for example. They also lend a hand in the community, most recently helping to feed the homeless in Montreal. Though they offer burgers, hot dogs and poutine, I knew I had to taste the latter – Quebec’s most famous dish. As the next stop on the road trip would be Venise-en-Quebec, I wanted to get myself in the mood, so it made sense to sample the Italian poutine, the perfect fusion of Quebecois food with an Italian twist. And just when you thought the combination of fries, gravy and cheese curds couldn’t get any better – try topping it with a veggie bolognese – mamma mia, c’est bon ça!
As someone who grew up on the laid-back west coast, I was inspired to put the “lazy” in Lazy Campervan from the get-go, so I spent my first day lounging around the beach town of Venise-en-Quebec on Lake Champlain’s Baie de Venise. As gentle waves hit the shore (drink in hand encouraged – but optional), vacation mode was “on.” Suddenly, time stopped and there was no where else I had to be. When I left the city behind, this is exactly the kind of experience I was after.
The quaint town centre is home to a public market, “Le Vénisien” – a set up of little white kiosks, where vendors sell everything from seasonal products to homemade candy and artisanal creations. If I wasn’t still stuffed from the Italian poutine, this would’ve been the perfect casual place for dinner. The stands sell everything from – you guessed it – more poutine to waffles, wraps, tacos and pizza. And to drink, there’s an entire hut devoted to bubble tea and even one that doubles as a cocktail bar.
Sticking with the Italian theme, I had to visit the gelateria, “Gelato-Sorbets-Produits Keto.” Keeping things local, they sweeten some of their ice creams with Quebec’s own liquid gold – maple syrup. I ordered the mojito and piña colada sorbets and as my tastebuds danced to tropical tunes, I watched sunset fall over the town from a bench on the boardwalk, painting it in orange and purple gelato-inspired hues.
The next day, my first stop in the Eastern Townships was the town of Bedford. Bedford itself is on the food map as the town where the inventor of peanut butter, Marcellus Gilmore Edson, a Quebec chemist, was born. In 1884, he received the first patent for peanut butter (or “peanut candy,” as it was called back then), which he created as a nutrient-rich food.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much luck finding peanut butter-themed anything in Bedford, but I did come across a delicious boulangerie, Chouquette et Amandine. They offer some viennoiseries and pâtisseries, inspired by local products, like roulées with maple syrup and nuts, raspberry-almond tartelettes and apple chaussons. After you’ve indulged your sweet tooth, have a look at their bread selection and get your gluten on, choosing from over 40 varieties!
To me, Frelighsburg, located at the foot of Mount Pinnacle (part of the Apalacchian mountain range) was one of the most picturesque villages on my road trip. It is composed of heritage buildings like a grammar school converted to a tourist office, gift shop and art gallery, a general store (dating back to 1815) serving as a café and a series of restaurants starting at the mouth of the Pike River. The area is surrounded by cideries and vineyards, so for beverage aficionados, this is a must-see on the wine and cider routes.
Les Sucreries de l’Érable, set at the general store is a trip back through time, as it is filled with vintage Quebecois memorabilia, including antique license plates, milk tins, peanut butter cans (finally there’s the Canadian peanut butter evidence I was looking for!).
They carry a multitude of apple products from Au Cœur de la Pomme, a local orchard that makes apple butter, cider, vinegar, jams, jellies and even the intriguing concoction of a mustard made from maple syrup and cider. You can’t walk out the door without picking up a piece of their homemade maple syrup pie – pair it with fresh apple juice from the village for the ultimate sugar rush.
Not only is the town of Dunham surrounded by apple trees, but it is also the site of Quebec’s first commercial winery. So in this context, the Brasserie Dunham, specializing in all things beer, really does something unique.
It is housed in the Relais de la Diligence, which used to be a posthouse for horses and carriages, a hotel for the upper class, and at one point, a factory making equipment for maple syrup production. If this building could talk, oh the stories it would tell! Made entirely of orange bricks, it just oozes generations of history.
The resto-pub’s terrasse is one of the best gems I encountered on my travels. It was frequented by couples and friends having lunch and colleagues getting together for creative meetings. It felt like the place where big and little ideas have been shared in good company for decades. I loved the juxtaposition of the historical structures and the pops of colour from the modern decoration, the arcade machines, murals, boutique shop and the artwork gracing the cans. As I sipped the Foudres Unis beer, a fruity collaboration between seven breweries, I soaked up the afternoon rays in a moment of boozy perfection.
The Coaticook region is synonymous with everything dairy, as evidenced by the farms dotting the landscapes. Laiterie Coaticook, one of the largest ice creameries in Quebec and producer of cheese curds, cheddar and goat cheeses, sets up its base in town. In nearby Compton, you can also visit Le Station Fromagerie and pick up local flavours resulting from organic pastures. As someone who doesn’t consume dairy, I had my work cut out for me in the Coaticook Valley. Even when I went to get coffee in town, it wasn’t possible to get any other milk other than cow’s (I tried!).
In times like these, I was really happy to enjoy the kitchen amenities of my Lazy Campervan. It was easy to make myself a cappuccino right in the comfort of camp using the van’s stovetop espresso pot and some chilled oat milk from the cooler (probably much to the disapproval of the entire town of Coaticook). But nevertheless, that brings me to one of the best food experiences of the trip…
Vangelina, the Toyota Sienna, who served as my trusty companion on this road trip was much more than a vehicle to get me from point A to B, she also served as a hotel, walk-in closet and a kitchen on wheels. There’s nothing like being able to set up camp in different scenic locations each night and having an electric cooler, sink, grill and all the kitchen supplies at your disposal to cook up a home-made (or rather, van-made) meal.
Everyone who noticed my set up let me know how they felt about it (“bien equipé!” people with their thumbs up and approving grins would shout at me from across the campgrounds). Having Vangelina’s crowd-pleasing amenities meant I could source some of the region’s finest ingredients en route – fresh fruits, vegetables, paired with locally-sourced wine, cider or beer, for a cozy evening “in.” Turns out the best meal of all was cooked using ingredients hand-picked on the road. Each one had a delicious story to tell of a place that captured my heart (and stomach) along the way.
If you want to rent Vangelina for your next trip…
Collaborator @ Lazy Camper Van
Carla Bragagnini is a freelance creative with a background in writing and illustration and a focus on the travel and food sectors.