At the end of a long driveway flanked by maple trees is a picturesque timber cottage with dormer windows. This typical scene in Québec’s Montérégie is a page out of a picture book. I scoop up the orange-gold leaves with my hands and breath in the fresh autumn air. Ice cider, sugar shacks and a visit to Exporail are good enough reasons to visit Montérégie in Québec. But my heart soars at the sight of Montérégie in autumn. Think of it as autumn in technicolour or autumn on steroids. The trees pop with a decorator’s palette of vibrant red, orange, gold and all the shades in between.
Montérégie – Where and Why
Stretching south from Montréal and the Saint Lawrence River to the border of the USA, Montérégie is a hidden gem packed with Québec’s countryside delights.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Québec shares a border with New York State. Travellers visiting New York can easily hop on a short flight to Montreal or take a meandering scenic drive through Quebec’s stunning countryside.
Montreal celebrates its 375th birthday in 2017 and it’s an exciting year to visit as the city is putting on a slew of events and festivals.
When visiting Montreal, a day trip to Montérégie offers a taste of Québec’s charms away from the big city lights.
What to do in Montérégie
Montérégie is a historical region with several historic sites – Fort Chambly, Fort Lennox, Battle of the Châteauguay and Coteau‑du‑Lac – and two World Biosphere Reserves.
Lac Saint-Pierre Biosphere Reserve in Sorel and Mont Saint-Hilaire Biosphere Reserve are part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves focused on promoting sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.
The Richelieu River Route is a cross-border route in Quebec and the state of New York in the USA, once used by the region’s First Nations people.
A journey along this route is a fascinating way to explore both Canada and the USA at the same time.
Best of all, Monteregie is a region filled with farms, microbreweries, wineries and experiences that are quintessentially Quebec.
Two Quebec institutions not to be missed are the sugar shack and the cider house.
The Cider Route in Montérégie
Touring Montérégie’s Cider Route (Route des cidres) is a pleasurable way to soak up the picturesque countryside views while stopping to taste apple cider.
These days, cider-and-cheese pairings are a trend. It makes sense, as Québec is also famous for cheese. Several Québec cheeses have won international awards.
Quebec’s climate is perfect for growing apples and the Montérégie region has a booming cider industry.
Local cider producers are passionate about their craft and Quebec produces many different kinds of ciders such as still, crackling, sparkling and ice ciders as well as aperitif ciders, mistelles and apple spirits.
However, the one type of cider you need to taste while in the region is ice cider, made from the juice of frozen apples. Ice cider has become Quebec’s signature product exported around the world.
Ice Cider at Domaine Neige
In Montérégie, Domaine Neige is a local producer that is making waves internationally.
A visit to the cider house gives me the chance to taste a variety of ciders, wander through the orchards and learn the secrets of making ice cider.
The first sip of Domain Neige’s ice cider and my taste buds explode. The cider looks like liquid gold. Hints of cinnamon and cocoa linger in my mouth.
There’s a lot of science involved in producing ice cider and, fortunately, Quebec’s cold winter temperature provides the region’s cider makers with a bit of a head start.
There are two main methods of making ice cider. Cryoconcentration is the most common process.
Ripe apples are harvested in autumn and stored until the temperature drops consistently below zero.
In winter, the apples are pressed and the juice is left out in the cold to freeze and thaw.
The water separates from the juice, concentrating the must (unfermented juice), which is later fermented into ice cider.
The other method, cryoextraction, requires the apples to undergo the process while still on the tree.
It takes about 50 to 100 apples to make a 375 mL bottle of ice cider.
Exporail – Canadian Railway Museum
Not far from Montreal, Exporail is the best railway museum I have ever visited and the place to learn about Canadian railway history.
Railway fever hit Canada in the 1830s and railway tracks crisscrossed the country from the Atlantic to Pacific.
It’s fitting that Canada’s first railway was a 22.5-kilometre trip between La Prairie and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu in Quebec travelling at the breakneck speed of 25 kph.
Occupying a massive area, the Canadian railway museum has an impressive collection that will take you on a trip down memory lane.
The Industrial Revolution swept through Canada in the 18th century, and the invention of the steam engine was a significant milestone in the development of the country.
Steam locomotives and steamships were used to transport people, goods and raw materials over long distances.
From steam locomotives, diesel-electric locomotives, electric street cars and trams, you’ll find out everything you need to know about train travel in Canada at this museum.
Exporail’s main gallery is laid out like a train station. The platforms are organised in themes and there are informative multimedia displays.
You can hop aboard some of the historic vehicles and chat to an army of enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers.
Outside the main Exporail building, there’s a short miniature train ride that passes through a tunnel and over three bridges. It’s a hit with the kids and fun for adults too. And there’s a historic Montreal streetcar that circles the Exporail site.
Christina Pfeiffer visited Montérégie as a guest of Destination Canada.
Getting to Montérégie
Monteregie is a region in south-west Quebec. It shares a border with Ontario and New York State and Vermont in the USA.
You can reach Monteregie from Ontario via highways 401 and 417. From New York State, the Interstate Highway 87 is about a six-hour drive. Buses and flights from New York are readily available.
The best way to explore Monteregie is by car, which provides the flexibility to stop whenever you choose.
Domaine Neige is about an hour’s drive from Montreal. It’s open from May to January and is closed to the public from February to April.
Exporail is about 25 minutes from Montreal city.
From Domaine Neige, if you keep driving south, you’ll reach New York in about six hours.
Five other things to do in Montérégie
1-Visit Montérégie’s UNESCO World Heritage World Biosphere Reserves. Lac Saint-Pierre Biosphere Reserve and Mont Saint-Hilaire Biosphere Reserve are reserves that promote sustainable development and biodiversity conservation.
2-Take a leisurely drive along the Montérégie Wine Route for tastings of red, white, rosé, sparkling and ice wines.
3-Visit a Quebec sugar shack, especially in spring, for a gut-busting meal and maple taffy (by pouring hot maple syrup on snow). Visiting a cabane à sucre is a Quebecois tradition.
4-Explore the Richelieu Route and discover historic villages and archaeological sites. The 265km trail follows the Richelieu River along the Quebec and New York border.
5-Experience the awe of seeing hundreds of hot air balloons floating in the sky at the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu International Balloon Festival, which is a big event that attracts over 300,000 visitors each year.
For more things to do in Quebec, here is our list of suggestions from local writers.
Where to stay when visiting Montérégie
Montérégie is a lovely spot to visit as a day trip from Montreal or you can book into a country hotel, bed and breakfast or lodge at a reasonable cost.