For generations, Montrealers have darted for the hills an hour north of the island to relax by a lake in summer and slice through powder in the winter (the world’s first rope–tow ski lift was installed here in the 1930s). The region was immortalized in Mordecai Richler’s 1959 novel (and the 1974 movie starring Dustin Hoffman) The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, where the titular character dreamed of fulfilling his grandfather’s dream of buying land in Sainte–Agathe–des–Monts.
The perfect day trip from Montreal for those seeking fresh air, a boost to their wellness and creative seasonal bites.
But it isn’t Duddy’s Laurentians anymore. In the last few years, there has been a surge of young Québécois opening exciting new businesses in the region, especially around Val–David, which has stolen the spotlight from Sainte–Agathe as the region’s hub. Here’s how to explore the best of the new Laurentians in a day.
MorningGet started at Le Général Café in Val–David, a cute and cozy brunch spot housed in a colourful country home, and order eggs Benedict or gravlax bagels. If you’re taking a beverage to go, their cacao smoothie and pomme latte are both customer favourites.
If the weather’s balmy, go on a river excursion in a canoe or kayak and return via bicycle with À l’Abordage. Or venture into nearby Parc régional de Val–David–Val–Morin, a playground for hiking and rock climbing (Val–David has a storied climbing history, including being the site of Quebec’s first recorded climb in 1932). If it’s winter, weave through the park’s network of cross–country ski and snowshoe trails, which run between 500 metres and four kilometres in length to suit all abilities – there are even toboggan runs for the kids.
On summer Saturdays, check out Val–David’s farmers’ market for fresh produce and local artisanal goods, while any day is a good day to hit the shops. With a population of just 5,000, Val–David might be small, but it’s saturated with artists. Make a stop at Lolipop for glass jewellery and Atelier Bernard Chaudron or Magasin Général for stylish knick–knacks, books, kitchenware and more.
Feeling peckish? Indulge your sweet tooth with a fruit tarte at La Mie Richard, a colourful patisserie–bakery serving up delectable treats.
AfternoonIn 1890, a steam train began running from Montreal to Mont–Laurier through Val–David. But after a century, the rails were dismantled, creating Le P’tit Train du Nord Linear Park, a multi–purpose trail that stretches more than 200 kilometres. Walk it, cycle it or snap on your cross–country skis and take it southbound to Val–Morin.
Lunch at Le Mapache in Val–Morin is a must. This impossibly hip taco joint serves a selection of local craft beers and natural wines in addition to tacos that are arguably the fanciest – think pine nuts and veal tongue – and tastiest in all of Quebec.
After lunch, you can head to the trail behind the taqueria for a 4.8–kilometre loop up to Mount McMaster’s 450–metre summit, or simply stroll through Val–Morin and check out its small municipal beach on the shores of Lac Raymond. Be sure to stop by Brasserie Ayawan, a new microbrewery on the site of a former synagogue. The range of beers, which includes IPAs, pilsners and wheat ales, is tasty, but the brewery is worth a visit for the gorgeous wooden architecture alone – the intricately designed doors with depictions of flowers and birds on them were carved by the brewer’s father.
EveningMake a dinner reservation at L’Épicurieux, helmed by Fanny Ducharme, who was recently named one of the top 100 emerging chefs in the world in the 2021 book Today’s Special. The restaurant has a cozy yet modern chalet vibe, and its seasonal menu changes weekly, with dishes like Arctic char gravlax and duck confit cassoulet.
After dinner, catch a flick at the beloved local drive–in, Ciné–Parc Belle Neige, or see if there’s a show going on at Lost River, an outdoor venue that has hosted Montreal music royalty like Patrick Watson, the Barr Brothers and Leif Vollebekk.
Make it a weekendBook your stay at Les Conifères in nearby Saint–Adolphe– d’Howard. This Laurentians B&B has three charming lodges (the oldest was built in 1839) surrounding a private courtyard with a pool–size jacuzzi. There is also a wellness retreat for guests, with plein air cabins on a calm ravine that are perfect for peaceful yoga and meditation.
A shuttle bus runs from Saint–Jérome, 30 minutes north of Montreal, to Val–David from the end of May or early June until Thanksgiving in October. Additionally, a year–round bus service that operates three times per week connects Montreal to several towns in the Laurentians, including stops in Val–Morin and Val–David.