Last Updated on December 18, 2023 by Pamela MacNaughtan
I’m not the first person to fall in love with the Eastern Townships, and I won’t be the last. Known as the garden of Quebec, the Eastern Townships has verdant green mountains and rolling hills speckled with wineries, cidreries and farms. There is a city or two, but it’s mostly populated by small towns and hamlets.
In summer and autumn, cyclists careen down the quiet country roads, and tourists arrive from all over Quebec, Ontario, and the US (there are a handful of border crossings spread across the region).
It’s also the backdrop for the Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series written by Canadian author, Louise Penny – which is now Three Pines on Amazon Prime.
the eastern townships have a je ne sais quoi
The first time I drove through the Eastern Townships, particularly Brome-Missisquoi, I was intrigued. There was something unmistakably different here, something I haven’t sensed in other parts of Quebec.
After the American Revolution, loyalists crossed into Canada and many settled here. Colonists from Britain, Ireland and Scotland arrived next. The mix of Anglophone cultures helped shape the region, from its architecture to its food and culture.
After the rebellion in 1837, when French patriots fought against oppression by the British, Québécois flowed into the towns of Brome-Missisquoi. Soon, the French outnumbered the English, and over time the two learned to coexist harmoniously.
This is what my spidey senses picked up on, the marriage of two distinct cultures. There are white wood slat churches, a sign of Baptist and Methodist settlers. Many houses are fieldstone and boxy or second empire in style. And fragrant English gardens can be seen here and there.
Having lived in Quebec City for the last six years, driving through Brome-Missisquoi feels like home. Its English history is distinct enough that I’m easily fooled into thinking I’m driving through the towns near my mom in Ontario.
In my mind, the town of Sutton is the heart of the Brome-Missisquoi wine region. It’s a town of around 4,500 people, and Mont Sutton, a popular ski destination, is nearby. The French and English school boards share a building, and the town draws in Ontarians looking for a life that is Quebec light (I jest, but also, it’s kind of true).
Sutton is quaint and quiet. The white wood slat church across from Le Pleasant Hôtel is an art gallery, and there are wartime artillery guns in a park across the street. The town is a quirky mix of French and English cultures, and my anglophone brain and Québécoise heart are discombobulated and delighted.
Route 139 is the main artery of Sutton. It’s here where most of the restaurants, cafés, gourmet food shops and boutiques can be found. A good place to kick off culinary quests is in the Brome-Missisquoi region of the Eastern Townships.
As a self-proclaimed professional eater, I take pride in trying as many restaurants as I can when I’m exploring a destination. If I can bring along a friend, perfect, I can sample more dishes without imploding (which is always my main goal)!
I have a long list of restaurants, cafés, wineries, breweries, fromageries, and food shops in my notes app that I need to visit in the Eastern Townships.
Spotting a ramen shop in a small Quebec town near the US border is akin to spotting a cappuccino in a blue-collar diner. It can happen, but not often. In Sutton, Kokkaku Ramen is a big hit with the locals, and tourists, too. They make earthy and umami-packed ramen and insanely good crispy fried pork belly bites.
Mollies Dinette is known for serving yummy breakfasts, and Gato is a new Mexican restaurant near Kokkaku. Round Top Bagels is a local hot spot for bagels and wood-fired pizzas, and La Réserve Naturelle is a great place to buy local wines and ciders. Café Yamabiko is a good place for coffee.
Beats & Betterave in Frelighsburg is a music venue, restaurant, and nanobrasserie. It’s a vital part of the community. The food is (mostly) made with locally grown ingredients, and wholesome. The beer is good, too. Over in Dunham, La Bodega serves up tapas in an 1832 fieldstone house.
In Knowlton, go to Chez Moi Chez Toi. On the outside, it looks quite plain and easy to miss. On the inside is an incredibly delicious Indian restaurant. Miam!
a birdie told me it’s wine o’clock
The Eastern Townships is known for its wineries, many of which are located along the Brome-Missisquoi wine route. Vignoble L’Orpailleur (Dunham) is one of the oldest wineries in the region. They have a beautiful outdoor patio overlooking the winery, and quite a few wines to choose from. My favourite is the Chardonnay, a Cuvée signature which is best when served iced cold.
The réserve Baco wine from Léon Courville (Fulford) is a perfect pairing for a dinner of duck leg confit (see below). The winery is set on a hill, with gorgeous views of mountains and Lac-Brome in the distance. A short distance up the road, Domaine ValBrome is another lovely winery and cidrerie. The gewürztraminer is quite good, as well as the vidal.
One of the most beautiful wineries in the region is Château Ste-Agnès (Sutton). The château was meant to be bigger, but the original owner, an immigrant from the Czech Republic, changed her plans. The château and winery, which sit on a slope, are gorgeous. In fact, during the pandemic, Adele came here to record part of her Easy On Me video. I was delightfully surprised by the vidal icewine, which has notes of caramelized honey and is not overly sweet.
buying local terroir
The Eastern Townships is home to quite a few artisans and producers. turophiles (cheese lovers) should make time to visit Fromagerie Missiska, Fromagerie des Cantons, and Abbaye Saint-Benoît-du-lac (the monks make an excellent blue cheese).
La Rumeur Affamée is a gourmet food shop that looks like a 19th-century English general store. The counters are filled with amazing Quebec cheeses, there are shelves with wines, preserves and snacks, duck leg confit, pastries, baguettes, and more. The location in Frelighsburg is in Louise Penny’s mystery series, and there are stores in Sutton and Dunham as well.
In Knowlton, head to Canards du Lac Brome boutique for all things duck. When I’m in the Eastern Townships I like to stop here for cuisse du canard confit (duck leg confit). In my opinion, it is the perfect food souvenir – along with cheese, wine, and some sweet treats. They also have duck sausage, smoked meat, rillettes, and more!
belly up to the bar
In Sutton, the eclectic vintage vibe of Sutton Brouërie & Auberge (27, rue Principale sud) sets my heart a flutter. There is a harvest gold velvet French curved sofa, and square tables with faux mosaic tops. They brew around sixteen beers, and my mouth waters every time I think of the food menu. Cheese beignets with black garlic purée? Yes, please!
Delve more into the local beer scene at À l’Abordage, also in Sutton. the food menu there has salads, wraps, burgers, poutines, and more. For beer, I’m a fan of La Coffee Ride (milk stout café et lactose) and Pagaille (India pale ale).
Brasserie Dunham is a cannot miss. They brew 20 beers in-house, and beer lovers will enjoy the beer tour. After a tour, sit in the restaurant with its tin ceiling, and roll-top windows. There is a large outdoor patio, too. The food menu pairs well with the beer. I devoured an order of fish and chips, and plan to dig into their burgers or pizza next time.
Did you know that the Eastern Townships has a Prohibition Heritage Trail? Read more about it here.
As a road trip addict, sweeping landscapes and small towns are a kind of porn. In the Eastern Townships, I am constantly gobsmacked by the beauty. I’ll pull over for cars to pass me so I can slowly take in the lush vegetation, mountains, lakes, wineries and orchards. The towns and hamlets are filled with interesting architecture (well, interesting to me), gardens, and shops.
I love driving down the quiet country roads, ending up in places like Pigeon Hill (I need to drive through here in autumn!).
This article covers a very small portion of the Eastern Townships. I haven’t talked about Magog (Oh, Ma-gog!), Coaticook, Hatley or the other gems in the Eastern Townships. Those stories are coming.
Have you fallen in love with the Eastern Townships?