“Un, deux, trois….” a 10 year old girl, her mother, and grandmother counted as they waited for the boiled maple sap poured on snow to harden. I am at La P’tite Cabane d’la Côte, a sugar shack not far from Montreal, about to indulge in a true Canadian delicacy – maple taffy. I’ve never eaten it before so I followed their lead. It takes 30 seconds for the sap to harden enough to form maple taffy – sweet, chewy, sticky goodness.
Lunch at the traditional cabane à sucre was a pit stop on our way to the Laurentians. Cozy comfort food is served family-style on long tables piled with heaping plates of pea soup, smoked ham, pork and beef tourtiere. There is an endless supply of oven-fresh bread and bien sur, we drizzle small batch maple syrup over everything. On winter weekends families enjoy sleigh rides, forest walks and sap collecting at La P’tite Cabane. There are over 200 sugar shacks scattered across Quebec and each one offers a unique experience for their visitors. The alpacas, sheep and sociable dog are a bit hit with kids at this family friendly farm.
I had teamed up with FORD Canada to test winter safety handling of their lineup of SUVs. What better place to take a winter road trip than in the heart of the Laurentians? Picturesque villages dot winding roads and meandering rivers. A smattering of ski hills adds to the charm. This region lives up to its reputation as having one the prettiest drives in Canada.
Our first night kicked off with a meal at Le Serpent, a contemporary Italian restaurant in Cite Multimedia. Montreal turns 350 this year and I love how previously derelict buildings like this one have been restored to house eclectic art galleries and hipster cafes. Le Serpent is in a reclaimed metal foundry with high ceilings, exposed brick and industrial touches.
After a full-nights sleep with dreams of tiramisu and al dente pasta dancing in my head we hit the road the for lakefront Estérel Resort on Lac Dupuis. A four-season resort, Estérel has two hotels, three restaurants and a massive outdoor Nordic Spa. My suite had a kitchenette, floor to ceiling window overlooking the lake, a double-sided fireplace and an oversized soaker tub. Let’s be honest, any hotel that has an in-room Nespresso machine automatically gets a 5 star rating from me.
The Activity Centre Lido rents all sorts of boats and boards for the outdoor enthusiast. With 35 km cross-country skying trails, 16 km snowshoe trails, 8 km ice-skating ring and access to 2000 kms of skidoo trails there is no shortage of winter fun here.
In my twenties my definition of outdoorsy meant ordering a cocktail on the beach rather than in a cabana. I’m more of a sun worshipper than one who enjoys stacking on layers to embrace the cold. I used to hibernate in the winter sipping hot cocoa and flipping through Islands magazine counting the days until I hit a beach or at the least everything in my backyard thawed.
When I had kids, I didn’t want them to be stuck indoors with a winter-adverse and whiny mom so I bought myself a pair of skates, strapped on the skis and started venturing outdoors. Over the years I’ve acclimatized myself to colder temperatures but I was grateful for the balmy weather when we hit the skidoo trails. At L’Estérel we snowmobiled through the trees bordering the lake on a dedicated trail.
The next morning we headed to Mecaglisse, a motorsport complex, located 90 minutes from Montreal. Mecaglisse is a race track, rally and riding school as well as a winter driving school. We teamed up with professional drivers to do some fancy winter driving in the Escape, Edge, Flex and the Explorer. Sharp turns, hard braking and high speeds on icy conditions were part of the winter handling training of the day.
More Ford fun included racing around in the Focus RS race car and testing the vertical climbing capabilities of the FORD Raptor on a off-road course.
Although so much fun, I don’t want a car that verges on mach speed or a truck that can climb a mountain, but I NEED that clever hands-free lift gate. The trunk opens by waving one foot under sensor at the back of the vehicle. Kid in one arm, groceries in the other? Yes, please. This hands-free feature is offered on the Edge, Escape and Explorer. And did I mention the Explorer has built-in seat massagers?
Our last winter adventure has been on my bucket list for years. Dog sledding. Dating back hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years dog sledding was once a significant method of transportation in Canada. Nowadays, dog sledding is primarily a racing sport and tourist experience. It’s also a unique way to take in the gorgeous winter scenery in this beautiful region. As lovely as commuting by canine coach can be, I opted for a four wheel drive FORD to get my back the airport to catch my flight home.
A big thank you to Ford Canada for organizing and hosting this amazing winter adventure in Quebec.