10 AUG 2012: Next time a guy taps you on the shoulder and offers you advice, take it. The other day traipsing through some lavender fields in the bucolic Eastern Townships, it happened to me. “The smell only gets better the further down the slope you go,” the voice from behind coaxed. I took the advice.

Bleu Lavande

The lavender scent was so aromatic I had to step back for a second. Claude Boulay wasn’t kidding. One of the new owners of this flagship agri-business, Boulay, a former Montrealer finds cultivating lavender his new hobby.

Now in his ‘retirement’ years Boulay got his second wind after he left a successful advertising career to pursue the new past-time. (Incidentally Bleu Lavande is the second busiest tourism site in the region after the Granby Zoo).

Admittedly the terroir around Fitch Bay was not the most ideal but that didn’t seem to bother Claude. “People thought this was crazy but look,” he says fanning his hand over the lush lavender field.

Visitors from all over the world and as close as the 1.5 hour drive from Montreal, come to immerse themselves in the fragrance of this illusive plant loved by Cleopatra.

Business Boon

With the wave of the entrepreneurial wand, the Eastern Townships has been transformed into a magical mystery tour.

Surrounded by gentle slopes with winding roads meandering along lakefronts that lead to Victorian hamlets from the old Loyalist days, Cantons-de-l'Est could be the setting of a historical drama or the background for a perfect country holiday. You can stop and smell the lavender, hike through important wetlands, snack on biologique chocolate, drink a cold glass of your favourite libation (local sparkling water called Saint Justin or try Domaine les Brome if you fancy) then proceed to dine on organically grown products used to make some of the best meals between there and the nearby foodie capital, Montreal.

The Cantons L’Est is even home to a magnificent old abbey that is watched over by a couple of legendary water monsters who live in Lac Mempremagog and Lake Massawippi.

In May The Eastern Townships won the lion’s share of awards at the 26th Grand Prix du Tourisme Québecois gala, garnering 12 prizes. Who knew the Eastern Townships was at its zenith?

Let’s scratch the surface on some:

Granby Zoo

Hands down, every age group will find a favourite spot at Quebec’s largest zoo. Mine was at the Hippo’s River. Sure I’ve been to Africa and observed this vicious predator from the luxury of a Range Rover. But, hey, in Granby you are up close and personal. It feels like you are making a connection watching hippos via a custom-made ultra-thick glass bay window. It allows for incredible underwater views mere centimeters from the hippos sharp choppers. I happened to witness a brawl among three massive ones with one of them eying me very suspiciously indeed.

To boot, Granby’s just introduced a new South Pacific pavilion called Oceania mirroring the marine critters of Australia and the South Pacific. Watch for a huge octopus too. Kids will enjoy tickling sting ray in a touch and feel tank.

Musée du Chocolat de Bromont

Michel Bilodeau used to be elbow deep in publishing ink – that’s because he was ‘the’ copy checker of his day for magazines like Reader’s Digest. But when he got a phone call from a good friend who wanted to partner in a new cocoa bean venture, Mr. Bilodeau couldn’t resist.

That was decades ago.

Since then, the seasoned communications guy has been featured in local and national media, and has a nice international calling of visitors who pay a special visit to his shop and museum. (Over 1 million visitors since 1994). There’s especially a huge draw of chocolate lovers during la Fête du Chocolat de Bromont, an annual festival he created over 10 years ago. There are so many cool finds at his quaint shop, and the kicker: you can linger over a ‘real’ cup of hot chocolate on the outdoor patio surrounded by green and an old barn house.

Trains and Boats

All the senses get a work-out on board Escapades Memphremagog, a new culinary sightseeing cruise inspired by André L’Espérance. His other two business ventures are sure to be familiar among agents.

There’s the Orford Express Tourist train and the Auberge Aux Quatre Saisons in Orford. CBC French TV airs a weekly show, “On prend toujours un train pour la vie,” filmed on board the refurbished train. The popular rail journey between Eastman and Sherbrooke is hosted by Josélito Michaud. Totally delightful to watch (For English viewers just switch on the English subtitles for easy translations).

Sleep over

A sweeping view of Mont Orford makes Auberge Aux Quatre Saisons a sweet place for some shut eye. Neutral tones with slick minimalist furnishings give the standard suite interiors that slumber feeling you are aiming for.

Over by Estrimont Suites & Spa, this weekend getaway is big for the R&R crowd from nearby Montreal. Great food, and leisurely activities like a pool, hot tub and a spa. Guests can even roll up their sleeves and participate in a cooking class if inclined. Currently the renovated 91-suites resort has ample summer packages available.

As I discovered, The Eastern Townships certainly awakened the senses and is definitely a holiday pleasure spot not to be missed.

For more product info, agents can contact the Eastern Townships www.easterntownships.org or call toll-free 1-800-355-5755

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

Read more from Ilona Kauremszky

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