Several times found, in fact. Québec was more than just a gateway to and from Atlantic Canada. It both bracketed and punctuated our summer travels.
Saint-Hyacinthe was our first stop in Québec. We stayed just long enough for a visit with our friends Valerie and Jean. We met these two at Fort De Soto Park on the Gulf Coast of Florida nearly three years ago when we were all travelling in our VWs.
We kept in touch through social media. We always knew our paths would cross one day again, whether planned or not. The delicious dinner they made us was accompanied by a healthy amount of wine, lively conversation, storytelling and some good belly laughs. In the morning after our showers, Jean made us breakfast and then gave us a tour of the downtown where we shopped and filled our pantry at the lovely old marché. There was even time for a quick visit with Valerie at her workplace. Merci beaucoup nos amis!
In Auclair, not far from the New Brunswick border, we camped at our first Harvest Hosts location deep in the heart of the Témiscouata countryside. Domaine Acer is an Economusée that, in addition to the typical maple offerings of syrup, sugar, maple butter and jellies, specializes in divine alcoholic beverages made from maple sap. We were amazed and very pleasantly surprised to taste their versions of semi-dry white wine, sparkling brut champagne and tawny port.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Harvest Hosts concept, this is how it works: you purchase an annual membership, which is $79. This membership entitles you to camp overnight at over 1,200 locations all over North America, including wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms, museums and golf courses (extra charge). The only hitch is that you need to be travelling/camping in a self-contained unit. That means you need to have a toilet, running water and gray tank on board as they do not offer hookups. You don’t pay to stay, but it is recommended that you purchase something from your host. Full disclosure: we definitely spent more than we would have had we stayed at a campground. But then, we’ll continue to enjoy the spoils of our visit for a while to come.
Once the Acer closed at 5pm, it was just us, the mosquitoes, the maple trees and the dark, starry night. We went to sleep dreaming of all of the delicious maple products we tasted on our tour.
We returned to mainland Quebec six weeks later.
Our first stop was in Lévis, opposite Québec City. That was where we breathed in as much salty air as we could before turning inland to visit our friends John and Chantal in Sherbrooke.
In the last five years, we’ve visited John and Chantal in several places. Their longtime home in Ottawa was one of our first stops in the Volkswagen in June 2014. In June 2016, after they sold their house, we visited them at a rented condo in Hintonberg (a hip Ottawa neighbourhood) before they left for an eight-month sojourn in Italy. They moved into a brand new condo (which they recently sold) in Montréal in the spring of 2017. Now they are living in Sherbrooke while their new condo is being built in Montréal. Who says retirement is boring? We had a whole lot of catching up to do with these two. Plus, it gave us a reason to explore Quebec’s Eastern Townships, which we’ve wanted to see for a long time.
After we left Sherbrooke, we camped at our fourth Harvest Host of the trip. This time, we camped at Vignoble Domaine Bresee (pronounced Breezy), a winery just outside of Sutton. Our host and resident wine expert set us up in the perfect spot nestled between the vines and a pond, which is now one of our all-time favourite campsites.
While exploring Sutton, we discovered Round Top Bagels. In our minds, the only way to eat a bagel is while it is still piping hot. Before continuing west to Ontario the next morning, we stopped for coffee and just-baked croissants from La Rumeur Affamée.
Driving west on Chemin de la Frontière, we travelled directly alongside the border of Vermont. The only delineation between Canada and the USA was where the road and the grassy field met and a small obelisk which appeared to be the official border marker. This is the way we imagine all borders should be. We passed a single border patrol vehicle and the East Pinnacle, QC/Richford, VT border crossing.
We stopped to stretch our legs in the sweet town of Frelighsburg, where we stocked up on as much locally sourced food and drink as we could fit in the van fridge and pantry. We’d happily live out the rest of our days in Québec for food alone. The food, the landscape and the culture were all contributing factors in choosing the slowest and most meandering route possible to exit la belle province.