Lavande, chocolat et vin. Mon dieu!

Indulging the senses in Quebec

photo by lisa kadane

This week, we bring you our friend Lisa Kadane – fellow travel hound and writer extraordinaire – as a guest blogger. She returned recently from Quebec’s Eastern Townships with this rather sensual missive in hand:

 

I’m not exactly a fragrance girl. Sure, I daubed Poison and Anais Anais on my wrists and decolletage back in high school. But it’s been years since I’ve been loyal to a scent.

Still, standing in the middle of a field at Bleu Lavande lavender farm near the village of Fitch Bay in Quebec’s Eastern Townships – with tiny purple flowers pressed between my fingers to release their fragrant oil, I wonder at the olfactory bliss I’ve been missing out on all these years.

The smell of fresh lavender is ambrosial. I want nothing more than to lie down on the grass between the tidy rows of blooming perennials, close my eyes and soak up the warm sun and heady, yet calming, aroma.

I find myself wondering again. Do residents of La Belle Province enjoy themselves more than the rest of us? Does their food taste better? Is their wine somehow more intoxicating? Or do they simply stop to smell the roses, er, lavender, more often?

I’m on a road trip through this rolling, river-laced slice of Quebec that lies east of Montreal – indulging in the land’s bounty and tapping into the kind of passion that makes growing lavender in Quebec’s climate even possible.

I’ve discovered a regional joie de vivre and I want to bottle it and bring it back to Calgary.

The Eastern Townships’ beauty is easy to see. Lush forests give way to emerald pastures interrupted by postcard-perfect red barns. Quaint stone cottages appear de rigueur. And every small village has a charming New England feel.

American Loyalists settled the area after the Revolutionary War, bringing their architecture and language with them. At one time, this cluster of towns and villages was mainly English-speaking, but the French, being good Catholics, remedied that with lots of babies and the townships are now an interesting mix of English and French unique in Quebec.

While the scenery is spectacular, it’s not enough to just drink it in with my eyes. I want to smell and sip the wine, touch and taste the chocolate and meet the people that call the Cantons de l’Est home.

“It’s easy here to connect with people,” says Danie Beliveau with Eastern Townships Tourism. “They want to share what they have and how they live.”

At Domaine Les Brome winery near Brome Lake, I indulge in seven varieties of wine, all before noon. Winery owner Leon Courvill bought the hillside land for its sweeping view of the lake, and then decided to turn his love of wine into a living.

“It is a passion,” he says over a glass of Vidal, the very same enjoyed by Royals Will and Kate when they visited Quebec last year. “It ties you up – the property, your name on the bottle. It’s very personal.”

At the Musee du Chocolate in Bromont, I sip on liquid dark chocolate.

photo by lisa kadane

This, what museum founder Michel Bilodeau calls “the original hot chocolate,” is so decadent I can only drink half the cup. More than its taste, Bilodeau loves the memories good chocolate evokes. “Chocolate makes part of your history as a kid,” he says.

Lunch at the Star Cafe in Knowlton includes the best BLT of my life – no fewer than three layers of bacon sandwiched between crispy-chewy ciabatta bread. It’s followed several hours later by a salad of pressed ricotta from St-Benoit-du-Lac and a “Hunter’s Feast” entree (Brome Lake duck in a rich mushroom sauce) at the Estrimont Suites & Spa dining room.

I am so full of local fare – including more wine – I almost say no to the goat’s cheese cheesecake. Instead I look at the waiter and whisper, “Mai oui.”

To be clear, my frolic through the townships is not a bacchanalian blowout. But something insidious happens when you indulge your appetites day after day: you want more.

So it’s fortuitous that we visit the Abbaye de St-Benoit-du-Lac, where modern Benedictine monks have been living by the centuries-old rule of “moderation and balance.” Frere Jacques du Long meets with us and dispenses lifestyle advice for voracious travelers: “Balance is about eating and drinking. Sleeping. Working. Moderation in consuming,” he says.

Digesting these sage words from a 77-year-old monk, I resolve to temporarily drink fewer glasses of wine and eat more balanced meals (less bacon, more lettuce).

I also vow to inhale the fragrant scent of lavender daily thanks to the “joie de vivre” I purchased as a souvenir: a tiny, blue glass bottle of lavender oil.

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