Published on February 5 2019

My partner and I share a passion for car trips. Kilometres of road, scenery, new horizons—bring ‘em on!

By a happy coincidence, there’s lots to discover in the Pontiac. Head west from Aylmer for a two-day winter escapade packed with discoveries!

What to do

Book a dogsled ride at Escapade Eskimo

The Australians who had booked the time slot before ours were delighted, with beaming smiles on their faces. And our experience confirmed it: a dogsled ride will whisk you to a place of perfect happiness. The hushed winter landscape, the speed of the dogs, the fresh air … It’s a unique combination of excitement and tranquillity.

The Sprint package, which allows you to drive your own sled for 10 minutes, will make you want to start over and book a longer excursion! You’ll get a warm and generous welcome from Caroline and Sylvain, the owners of Escapade Eskimo. If you’re worried about the cold, they can provide clothing, boots and mittens that can withstand extreme temperatures. There’s no excuse for hiding indoors from winter!

Hit the trails with Ski Pontiac

Just outside Bristol, cross-country ski and snowshoe enthusiasts can explore over 15 kilometres of groomed trails maintained by Ski Pontiac. The organization also organizes free activities, including moonlight skiing expeditions. A few metres from the trails, the Coronation Hall cidery invites skiers to enjoy a meal ($) in a warm family atmosphere. The next moonlight ski will take place on Friday, February 15 at 6 p.m.

Sample local wines

The vines lie dormant under the snow, but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo the pleasure of tasting their products! Little Red Wagon Winery, near Shawville, has more than 5,600 vines and offers wine tastings all year round. Meet the winemakers and sample the Lil’ Red, Lil’ White and Lil’ Rosé! The large event space is the venue for lunches and dinners prepared by renowned local chefs, or shows by talented local artists. Visit their Facebook page and you’ll see that winter is a very active season for these talented artisans!

Where to eat

Café 349 in Shawville is definitely worth a visit. With its displays of artworks, pottery, home-made jams and hand-knit socks, it feels more like a bohemian coffee house in the Eastern Townships. As for the food, the delight is in the details: the freshness of the panini bread, the creaminess of the mushroom soup, the mixture of textures of the butternut squash ravioli … everything is perfect and succulent. Watch their menu: the specials change regularly.

Opened in 2013 in an impressive heritage barn dating back to 1850, Bryson’s Bistro du Bûcheron in Fort Coulonge has already become a local institution. The decor is warm and welcoming, with its huge beams and decorative accents that each have a story. You’re literally surrounded by the Pontiac’s DNA, that is, the history of the lumberjacks and raftsmen. As for the food, the day we visited (in an Arctic cold) it was outstanding. The onion soup was flavourful and comforting, and the fish and chips were among the best I’ve ever tasted. This is high-quality cuisine.

If you’re going further west, stop in the village of Chapeau at L’Ancienne Banque, a lively restaurant and brewpub that’s a hub for local bands.

Where to sleep

Another local institution is the Spruceholme Inn, the former home of Fort Coulonge lumber baron George Bryson. Each room is carefully decorated in Victorian style. If you happen to meet the owner, Jane Toller, she’ll be happy to show you all the rooms of this beautiful home, as well as its modern features. The great-granddaughter of Mr. Bryson, she believes in the vitality and uniqueness of the Pontiac.

Besides renovating the main building, she oversaw the construction of a multipurpose conference centre and Bryson’s Bistro du Bûcheron, which are attached to the Inn. With enthusiasm, she tells us the story of her great-grandfather and of this community, which contributed so much to the lumber industry. As we listen, we realize how little we know about the cultural vitality of this part of the country. Go adventuring in the Pontiac, and you’re sure to discover many treasures!


PLEASE NOTE: Before setting out to visit any of the attractions mentioned in this blog, please check their winter schedule.

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