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Cocoa, Croissants, and Killer Hills

Cycling in Quebec

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Quebec’s sugar maples rustle a sweet breeze...Or maybe it’s the cocoa powder puffing off the chocolate truffles we found on our pillow at the end of a day of cycling. In my post-exercise inertia, it’s all I can do to lift the truffles to my face.

Quebec’s sugar maples rustle a sweet breeze...Or maybe it’s the cocoa powder puffing off the chocolate truffles we found on our pillow at the end of a day of cycling. In my post-exercise inertia, it’s all I can do to lift the truffles to my face.

I glance over at my husband, Kevin. He’s got that loopy grin that comes from coasting downhill, or in this case, cycling intensely for 35 kilometres in time to check into a deluxe B&B and eat bonbons.

There can be no better argument for exercise than the guilt-free indulgence of fine food served with French accents and goblets of wine. To do that, it is worth getting out to Quebec’s Eastern Townships on a bicycle.

Friends wondered if we were ready.

“Have you brushed up on your French?”

“What about getting your bike there?”

“With 3,500 kilometres of dedicated bikeways in Quebec, how will you know where to go?”

Our French, like that of most Western Canadians, was abysmal and we had done little to improve it. We barely had time to review the cornflakes box or listen to the French channel before our flight.

Instead of bringing our bikes we contacted a tour company in Knowlton, Quebec to take care of it all: the bikes and the route. They would provide detailed maps, directions, and everything else required...except the evening’s dinners and mastery over French.

All we had to do was smile and say, “Bonjour.”

And cycle.

And swing from trees.

And canoe.

And hike.

It seems we got carried away and booked the multi-sport tour.

Knowlton is in the Lac Brome area, which is known for roast duck served with a mellow Merlot, roasted vegetables, and garlic-smashed potatoes. To me, eating well encompasses the whole shebang: good, healthy food presented in a way that makes you eager to dig in. A fruit flan and espresso is a fitting tribute to a good meal, particularly after a long bike ride and before tucking under a down quilt in a funky B&B.

I’m sure the Townships are enjoyable by car, too. But cycling slows the pace, so the villages aren’t just places that whip past your windshield. Instead, biking allows time to take in the smells of grass, the resin from the pines, and the dusty-gravel odour released from a smattering of fresh rain. With every muscle-burning revolution we had one more reason to revel in a well-deserved meal.

At d’Arbre en Arbre Tree Link, a treetop ropes course outside the town of Sutton, I discovered another inducement to appetite.

Fear.

Shaking knees and clinging to ropes in defiance of gravity can help rationalize the need for the coming evening’s wild mushroom appetizer–just think how all those B-vitamins counteract the stress.

“You’ll progress through four levels of challenge, starting fairly close to the ground and moving higher until you are running zip lines,” said the well-intentioned but remarkably naive ranger, who had obviously never seen me in my Grade 8 gym class.

Yes, I was buckled into a safety harness and had access to carabiners and serious cables. Yet I discovered I could feel very safe and still extremely fearful. I got to Level 2: exhilarated and exhausted. Kevin got to Level 3: grabbing a vine-like rope and swinging face first into a huge net strung among the trees. He looked like a stunned and happy kid when he staggered off the last zip line.

Later, we pushed our canoe off the dock at Knowlton Marina, and the clink of wine glasses and laughter from the marina’s deck bar grew dimmer in the distance. The wind sighed its way through the shimmering trees as we paddled along the rocky shores. Much later in the day we glided back up to the dock in time to join new friends in a toast to the sunset and to living well.

Our French had improved. Quebec had revealed the true meaning of joie de vivre.

If you plan to go cycling in Quebec, visit woodandwestland.com, tourismquebec.com, and arbreenarbre.com.

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