I went with my husband on a northern Vermont and Quebec road trip in September 2008, stopping at Lake Hero, the Eastern Townships (Dunham & Magog, Quebec City, Ile d’ Orleans, St. Johnsbury and Stowe. The trip was mostly for fun, although we did stop at some wineries in Quebec for a story.
We flew from DCA to Burlington on Air Tran. Overall, a very easy flight – cheap, with no problems. We rented with our car through Thrifty, which allowed us to take it across the border with no problems (this was before Americans needed passports at the checkpoints).
We were right in time for Quebec’s foliage season. The leaves were gorgeous, and we didn’t experience many crowds. September is definitely a beautiful time for Quebec. There was a slight chill in the air so we wore mostly sweaters and jeans.
Eastern Townships (Dunham). We entered Canda through the Alburg area near Lake Champlain and spent much of a day driving around the pastoral Eastern Townships. We stopped at a few wineries along the way (this was the work part of my trip).
But the Townships came alive at our B & B/restaurant. I had a hard time finding places to stay in this area, and only came across Le Nid de Poule through an extensive Google search. We were a little skeptical as we went up the potholed road toward a simple looking house – so simple that we drove past it twice. But inside, we found a true gem – owner Alphonse Alpfonso. Turns out the place is almost better known as a restaurant than a B & B, due to Alpfonso’s past career as a restaurateur. Our room upstairs was spacious and private, even if it did have a shared bath. We spent some time walking along the property, with Alpfonso’s dog tagging along. There’s a cabin in the back where Alpfonso does sugaring in the season (which would be an awesome trip unto itself).
Our meal that night was fantastic – a true five-course gourmet experience, with fresh game, homemade pike mousse (!!) and vegetables direct from Alpfonso’s garden. Alpfonso is also extremely entertaining and personable. The whole experience – topped off with fresh scones for our trip to Quebec City – was one of my travel highlights of the year. And it only cost: $75 Canadian for the room, $31 Canadian for the 5-course meal.
Quebec City. We did a sad adieu to Alpfonso and headed north toward Quebec City. The drive took about 3 hours. We took a reasonably priced walking tour of the city offered by the tourist board, that gave us a good overview of the city’s history. We also spent some time walking in the lower portion of the city, and took the Promenade over to the Plains of Abraham.
We stayed at the Chateau Frontenac. Even though I knew it would be expensive, I booked two nights at the Frontenac because…well, I had always wanted to go there. The hotel is as gorgeous in person as it is in pictures, and you certainly feel like you are in the middle of things. Beautiful bar as well – we had snacks and wine here one night. However, the rooms were a little small, and not particularly distinctive. Also, I had wanted to take the tour of the hotel, but the times were all booked up. I know the hotel farms the tours out to an outside operator, but I wish that hotel guests would give some sort of preference to take it.
Alphonse had told us about that Quebecois classic, poutine,, so we asked the Frontenac concierge about it. She sniffed at us, then directed us to Chez Ashton. We didn’t know it was a fast food restaurant! Nonetheless, they had classic poutine – essentially french fries covered with gravy and served with cheese curds. Delicious!
Overall, we really enjoyed Quebec City. It’s a great city for walking and really does have a foreign flavor that you don’t get in other parts of Canada. I wouldn’t need to stay at the Chateau again, however – I think once is enough. There seemed to be some really cute hotels/inns in the lower part of the city.
Ile d’Orleans. We left Quebec and drove over to Ile d’Orleans, stopping at Montmorency Falls. We hiked up the endless staircase to the suspension bridge overlooking the falls, then took the cable car back down. A nice diversion, but not a destination. When we got to the island, we mostly drove around looking for culinary attractions. We bought foie gras and cheese and cider and had ourselves a picnic when we arrived at our B&B.
We stayed at Vignoble Isle de Bacchus , a very small B&B at a winery. It was incredibly quaint, like staying at a friend’s farmhouse if the friend happened to live in France. We had the bird of paradise room, which was in the attic with its own bathroom. Our breakfast here was also outstanding and the other guests – all repeat customers, all from Europe – had many questions about the Presidential election (which was going on at the time). The next day we drove around the island, stopping to look at the St. Lawrence and some small French churches, and then left for Magog.
Bread & Puppet Museum, in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. From Ile d’Orleans, we drove back into northern Vermont with a quick stop in Magog. Maybe it was our route or the rainy weather, but the area wasn’t quite as scenic as we had imagined. The one standout in the area was the Bread & Puppet Museum in Glover. Housed in an old barn, it’s a non-staffed museum based on an honor system. We spent several hours meandering through the barn and marveling at all of the gignormous papier mache puppets and political artistry. My husband, who does photography, could have spent the whole day here – it really is something to see. There was lots to buy in the gift shop as well. All in all, a very cool experience – even if you don’t agree with the politics.
Stowe. This was my favorite town in Vermont, the one that made me say, “Oh, NOW I get why everyone loves it here.” Truly gorgeous mountain area, with just enough shops and restaurants to make it livable. We drove around, looking for covered bridges, and also went over the high Smugglers Pass Notch. We were only here for one night, but I fell a bit in love with the area. I would love to come back here for at least a week in the summer or early fall to rent some bikes, go on some quality hikes and just relax.
As far as lodging goes, we stayed at Ten Acres Lodge , located just down the hill from the Trapp Family Lodge. We paid a peak season rate of $189 per night. We also had the Saturday night dinner at the hotel that was quite good. All in all, a very friendly place (although if I went back, I might want to try someplace else, just for variety). We did check out the Trapp Family Lodge, just to see what it looked like. The view from their hilltop is truly gorgeous and you can see why the Austrian family felt at home among the Vermont mountains. My husband said that he was glad we weren’t paying the high prices to stay there, however.
St. Johnsbury. Our drive through the Northeast Kingdom ended with a stop in St. Johnsbury. Maybe it was the weather, which was overcast and damp, but there was something depressing about the place. We did a walking tour of the town, which does have some interesting buildings – but overall, we were not inspired to linger. We stayed at the Estabrook House , which cost: $105. The owner was quite nice, but be warned: she does have cats so it’s not a place to go if you have allergies (she had told about them ahead of time…the animals do have the run of the house).
Meh (not negative or positive)
Lake Champlain Islands. This was our first stop after leaving Burlington. We drove up I-89 and then scooted over to the islands. We stayed at the North Hero House Bed & Breakfast right on the water and ate dinner at the restaurant (Cost: $140 for a standard room). The house is right on the water and also down the street from the Hero’s Welcome general store, where we stopped for lunch.
With only one night, you can’t make more than a snap judgment – and ours was that we wouldn’t need to go back to the Champlain Islands. I’m sure it’s an entirely different place in the summer, but we didn’t find much to do in North Hero. We went for a walk from the hotel and didn’t see much that was too exciting (although we did see some bike tours going through – now that would be fun!). We also thought the restaurant at the B & B was a bit overpriced for what you got.
Magog. This is a Canadian resort community on Lake Memphremagog. We stopped at a winery or two here, and also visited Abbaye de Saint-Benoit-du-Lac monestary, where we bought cheese in their public store. We stayed at Au Manoir de la rue Merry , a B&B within walking distance of the lake. Our night here was relaxing and uneventful - originally, I had made dinner reservations at Manoir Hovey, but we decided we didn’t want to get that dressed up. While the B&B itself was nothing special, the breakfast the next day was outstanding. Generally, I don’t see Magog as a must-see destination.
We thoroughly enjoyed our Vermont/Quebec road trip, I really loved Quebec and would love to go back to explore Montreal and the areas north of Quebec City. I would also like to go back to Stowe – I could see myself living there someday (It was that gorgeous). I also still have the whole southern portion of Vermont left to see.
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