by Mark Medicoff
Autumn is a somber time, yet it regales us with its fiery splendour. The season’s mood urges us to reflect on life’s beauty as well as its uncertainty.
So in tune with the autumn’s offerings, here are day-trip ideas to scoop you out of the armchair traveler’s seat, pack a picnic and immerse yourself in the wonder of Quebec’s splendid fall foliage. Your destination can also be a great outing with the grandkids.
One sublime day trip could be a hike and picnic at McGill’s Gault Nature Reserve in Mont St. Hilaire. The reserve enjoys a unique UNESCO status as the first biosphere reserve in Canada—one of 507 protected places in 102 countries.
Mont St. Hilaire was accorded UNESCO status because it acts like a biosphere, sheltering a fraction of what was once the vast flora of the St. Lawrence Valley. This conservation area is also a migratory bird sanctuary, but by October the smart birds have probably taken flight ahead of winter.
The mountain affords some of the most stunning views in the province, so imagine the vista on a crisp, clear fall day. If you can make it to the pinnacle, you’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree.
On the south side of the mountain, pick apples and visit farm animals at Les Vergers Petit et Fils. There is also a small amusement park, tractor rides, a restaurant serving country meals and taste tests of their special ice cider.
Most of the walking trails are practical for those at an average level of fitness. Since some trails are muddy, it’s best to wear your waterproofs. Four-legged friends are not invited to the reserve.
About an hour’s drive east of Montreal, the reserve boasts 25 kilometres of trails and is open 365 days a year.
* Take Highway 20 E. to Exit 113 (Hwy. 133 S.), to Fortier St. and follow the blue signs to Reserve Naturelle Gault. 450-467-1755.
Another spot you might want to check out is in Oka National Park, the site of Calvaire d’Oka, a shrine that dates back to 1740. The marshes north of Lac des Deux Montagnes are known for their extensive heron breeding grounds. There are three walking routes, ranging from easy to moderate and from two to 10 kilometres. You can also walk along the coastal beachfront and enjoy a view of the water and autumn’s foliage.
* Take Hwy. 13 or 15 north past Laval, then west on Hwy. 640 until Route 344 (Chemin d’Oka). Continue west about five kilometres.
One of my favourite day-long road trips is a tour along the old but very navigable country roads in the Dunham and Frelighsburg areas, southeast of Montreal. The villages of Bedford, Dunham and Frelighsburg almost abut the U.S. border. They are charming and slow-paced towns to stroll through.
Along Route 202 toward Dunham, you’ll pass a number of wineries and apple orchards, one of which displays large sculptures on its lawn.
Since the valley area acts as a dome to soften the Quebec weather, you’ll find exceptional cider and wine. One of the most renowned wineries along the 202 is Vignobles l’Orpailleur, where you can taste their offerings and dine in their gourmet restaurant.
* Take Hwy. 10 to Exit 22 toward St. Jean sur Richelieu (Route 35 S.). Turn left at Grande Ligne Rd. toward St. Alexandre. Keep going, through St. Alexandre and Notre Dame de Stanbridge, to Route 235. Turn right, toward Bedford. After the bridge, follow signs to 202 E., toward Dunham. In Stanbridge East, at the blinking traffic light, turn right on Route 237, up to Frelighsburg.
There are bus and train tours to enjoy the autumn scenery and even profit from an apple orchard tour. Viator offers a Laurentian Mountains Day Trip by bus that lasts eight hours and glides you through the beautiful countryside of Val Morin, Val David, Piedmont and St. Sauveur.
The guided tour ends up in St. Agathe at Lac des Sables, where you will be treated to a 50-minute cruise on the Alouette and guided tour of famous homes dating back to the 19th century. For about $100, the bus will pick you up and return you to downtown Montreal. viator.com.
If you have any ideas or suggestions for travels, write firstname.lastname@example.org.