GO TO THE DEVIL …VIA QUEBEC’S CHEMIN DE TERROIR
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well the road to Mt. Tremblant in Quebec’s breath-taking Laurentian mountains is paved with temptation. Mt. Tremblant, means “trembling mountain” from the earthquakes that used to occurred frequently in the region…but the native Algonquin believed the mountain to be inhabited by devils, hence the name given to the Diable (“devil” in French) River which tumbles down the mountain into Lake Tremblant.
While Mt. Tremblant is an amazing golf, ski and beach destination many forget that there are a lot of cool things to do and see on the way from Montreal. The Quebeckers call it the “Chemin de Terroir”. There is no exact translation but the closest English approximation would be the “Route of Agricultural Delights”. As an example, you will sample what is arguably the tastiest apple bread in the world at St. Joseph-du-Lac. Denis Lafleche at The Tarterie du Verger aux Musiques (literally “the pie shop of the musical orchard”) sells hundreds of loaves daily and you can tell why when you sample the mouth-watering bread, with chunks of Cortland apples, delicious but not gooey nor too sweet. A walk to the orchard guided by Denis’ son Joel led an orchard first planted by his grandfather. Gnarled old trees bear witness to generations of Lafleches. Indeed five generations have worked and farmed these lands, which have seen French settlement since the 1600’s.
Of course, after satisfying your appetite for food it’s time for a drink! Happily only a few miles up the road you come to the Vignoble Riviere du Chene (Chestnut River Winery) in St. Eustache. Using a number of different grape varieties and even the local apples, visitors can sample their Phoenix label of red and whites wines, so named for the mythical bird which rises from its own ashes, when the winery was rebuilt a few years ago after a devastating fire. The winery’s ice wines and ice ciders are made from grapes or apples that freeze before picking, deliciously concentrating the juice. Those will a sweet tooth will quickly become addicted!
And if you sweet tooth is still not satisfied, carry on to the town of Mirabel and to Intermiel. One of the largest apiaries (the formal term for bee-keeping operations) in Canada. Intermiel not only makes numerous types of honey but also ferments wine from their product. Ranging from dry to sweet, my favorite mead, or honey wine, was the Medieval label in crockery bottles, dark and satisfying to quaff, redolent of the all the nuances of honey.
But this is not just a tasting, but a hands on experience. I actually got to pet the bees! Bee-keeper Anthony, an amiable young man with an obvious passion for his work, had my associate Dale Dunlop and I suited up in proper gear to open up a hive. The only exposed part of our anatomy was the hands.
Venturing out to the hives Anthony placed a smoker in my hands so that I could send a little vapour into the hive. This doesn’t harm the bees but they assume where there is smoke there is fire and start trying to save their honey. Thus too busy to bother with us humans we had time to remove and inspect the trays in the hive, viewing the octagonal cells and spotting two egg cells where new queens were gestating. The queen is fed royal jelly, a hormone packed substance that makes a female bee grow to huge proportions and live for up to five years, much longer than the usual 30 to 45 days the average worker survives. Besides honey, beeswax can be use for candles and other artisanal products. Anthony showed us how to stroke the backs of the bees, feeling the heat welling up from their activity in the hives. Bees are normally quite non-aggressive and if you make no sudden moves they are unlikely to attack. This is a great experience for kids (including big ones such as yours truly!), though one best enjoyed from a distance by those with bee venom allergies.
We left Intermiel laden with honey, mead and new knowledge of these important insects, so crucial for pollination and agriculture.
So, don’t forget. If you are travelling travelling through the Laurentians, take the Chemin de Terroir and sample the “route of agricultural delights” along the way.
Article by George Burden
Photos by Stella van der Lugt
IF YOU GO…