4 chairs facing the beautiful lake Massawippi in the Eastern Townships, Québec. Photo taken on a calm tranquil colorful morning during the peak autumn foliage season in Ayers Cliff, Quebec.

Whether you want to slip away to a charming cottage in the Eastern Townships or savor top-tier wine at picturesque vineyard, there's plenty to pique your interest in lesser-visited locations across Quebec. (Getty Images)

A taste of Europe is not as far away as you may think. With much shorter flights than the long-haul routes across the pond, the Canadian province of Quebec offers exciting destinations with European flair, breathtaking landscapes, luxury hotels and world-class food and wine. If you haven’t been to this vibrant French-Canadian region, now is the time to visit. With the U.S. dollar at its strongest against the Canadian dollar (currently $1 U.S. dollar equates to around $1.3 Canadian dollars), travel to Quebec is a bargain. Here are top selling points for planning a trip.

[See: 10 Bargain Friendly Vacations in Canada to Book Now.]

Quebec Features Versatile Hot Spots

The second largest province in Canada, Quebec shares its borders with the states of New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. Its two major historic and metropolitan cities, Quebec City and Montreal, are located along one of the world's longest and most spectacular rivers, the St. Lawrence River. While you may have already visited hot spots such as Quebec City and Montreal, there are 20 other under-the-radar tourist regions in the province worth exploring.

There's Plenty to Discover in Quebec's Eastern Townships

A cross between the rolling hills of the French countryside and fertile New England farmland, this rural area is filled with quaint towns and villages, the first and largest producing wine growing region in Quebec and pristine mountains and lakes. What's more, you'll find plenty of charming hotels and spas, along with a variety of romantic inns.

Agritourism (sustainable agriculture tourism) and fine dining are the foundation of the Eastern Townships. This is especially true in the spring, summer and fall seasons, when local farmers and artisans highlight their products and the 28 winemakers along the two wine routes focus on perfecting their vintages. Local specialties such as duck, venison, rabbit, trout and cheese as well as apple and maple products are produced under the name "createurs de saveurs," which translates to creators of flavors, and the chefs in the region feature these products in their cuisine.

[See: 10 Mountain Resorts for a Cool Summer Getaway.]

Quebec Offers Diverse Wine Routes

When the temperatures are warm and everything is in bloom, the wine routes come alive at the best wineries in the region, including Vignoble d' l'Orpailleur, in Dunham Valley. With their vines first planted in 1982, these French winemakers were pioneers who endured harsh winters, but with perseverance and climate change, the shifting temperatures have allowed them to produce award-winning dry wines, such as Orpailleur White. Other top producers like Le Cep d’Argent make sparking, white, red and rose wine varieties. Domaine de Côtes d’Ardoise, the oldest commercially operating vineyard, and other notable winemaker, Leon Courville Vigneron, produce everything from white wines to ice wine.

Speaking of ice wines, while most people think vineyards close come winter, the cooler seasonal temperatures produce liquid gold. Ice wines cider, and sweet white wines have been the primary wines produced in Quebec until more recently. Known for their fruity and sweet flavors, these specialty wines are best when sipped and served with dessert.

You'll Find Year-Round Allures

The Eastern Townships offer activities and events, such as hiking, cycling, gourmet cruises, horseback riding, cultural programs and festivals throughout all seasons. In the winter months, once the last of the fall leaves have disappeared and snow blankets the streets in the towns and on the mountaintops, this region transforms into a winter wonderland.

You Can Embrace the Great Outdoors at Ski and Play Villages

The Eastern Townships is a skier’s delight with five ski areas including Mont Orford, the fourth-highest mountain in Quebec. Many of these ski areas are also home to mountain biking trails, archery, golf and even water parks in the warmer months. During ski season, check into Domaine Château-Bromont at the base of Mont Bromont and request a view overlooking the slopes. This is the largest lit ski center in North America, so you can watch the skiers slalom down the slopes after the sun goes down.

In the evening, enjoy a taste of the region at their restaurant, Les Quatre Canards. As one of the Chefs de Creatuers, their menu features local Lac Brome duck confit, fois gras, trout and rabbit and their wine list offers many of the locally produced wines. For something more casual after a day spent outdoors, head in town to Micro Brasserie Le Brouemont and try a Quebec specialty: poutine. Their menu has numerous versions of the traditional French fry, gravy,and cheese curd concoction, including one with duck confit.

You Can Relax and Rejuvenate at Nordic Spas
If jumping from the comfort of a warm steam room or sauna into a freezing cold pond or pool sounds less than optimal, then you may not be familiar with the concept of a Nordic spa. This ancient spa treatment has long been known to help boost health by stimulating the immune system and causing a feeling of psychological and physical wellbeing by overheating the body followed by an icy plunge. Quebecois have embraced this practice, with a variety of Nordic spas in the region. They also modify the treatment to achieve similar results during the warmer months. SPA Eastman, in the township of Eastman, offers a complete spa experience with unique treatments, yoga and health and wellness consultations. The spa even offers tonic cuisine, their version of "spa cuisine." Most of the dishes are gluten-free, dairy-free, non-GMO and organic.

[See: 10 Top Historic Hotels Across the U.S.]

You Can Get Pampered at Luxury Retreats

If you're looking to splurge, plan to stay at Manoir Hovey, a five-star Relais & Châteaux property on Lake Massawippi in North Hatley, located just four hours from Boston. Once a secluded summer estate, this intimate, luxury resort has been described as "a national treasure." With its breathtaking views overlooking the lake, personalized service and relaxing spa, it's the perfect place to unwind and relax. In the winter, you can try your hand at ice fishing along Lake Massawippi. The property also offers a number of other unique activities and highlights, including an enchanted forest.

Chef Francis Wolf, who has trained under some of the world's most critically acclaimed chefs, brings an exciting dining experience to the property’s Le Hatley Restaurant. His hyper-local terroir-based Quebec cuisine features only those products seasonally and locally sourced or foraged. He also creates what may be the only homemade birch syrup (from local birch trees) and vinegar.

Tags: vacations, travel, Canada


Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Finalist in Journalism, award-winning food and travel writer, and coauthor of PratesiLiving.com, where she shares the stories of her international food and travel experiences. She also freelances for other regional, U.S., and international publications. You can follow her at Twitter (@pratesiliving), Linkedin, Google+, Facebook, and Instagram.

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