| October 8, 2010 | 1 Comment

Old Town (Vieux Montreal)

Bike-friendly Montreal and Eastern Townships of Quebec – A Draw for Active Tourists

by Ann N. Yungmeyer

“I live on the island,” my tour guide said to me. Seeing skyscrapers all around, I thought my mind was playing tricks, but indeed, I am in Montreal.

Hearing the local perspective, I learned that ‘the island’ is how Montrealers identify with the boot-shaped city of 1.5 million, surrounded by the waters of the St. Lawrence and the lesser ‘back’ river.

My ears perk up again when she tells me that she bikes everywhere and Montreal has twice been named ‘Best Cycling City in North America’ by Bicycling Magazine. My husband and I like to make cycling part of our vacations, so we were seeking out biking opportunities in the city and nearby countryside.

Montreal and the entire province of Quebec boast a bike-friendly culture with an extensive trail system developed for urban use and touring. The city has a public bike-share program called BIXI (BI for bike, XI for taxi), which offers 300 stations to conveniently rent a bike for short hops. The program has been hugely successful.

For exploring Montreal’s vast array of cycling paths and parks, several bike shops offer guided cycling tours and rentals. We rented bikes at Montreal on Wheels in Old Town (Vieux Montreal) and rode the popular nine-mile Lachine Canal path. From the linear canal trail, numerous cycling circuits are possible including crossing to the nearby islands of Ile des Soeurs and Ile St. Helene. Along the canal path, the Atwater Market is a fun stop for picnic supplies and browsing its famous flower market.

With the quiet countryside beckoning, we headed to the Eastern Townships, an area touted for picturesque landscapes and ‘New England charm with Quebecois flair.’ The Townships are a destination for enjoying the outdoors, and fall is a prime time to take in the scenery along a variety of cycling and hiking paths. In winter, the area is a mecca for skiing, snowshoeing and skating, while summer buzzes with festivals, water sports and golf.

An hour’s drive east of Montreal, the town of Granby is a good place to access one of North America’s greatest cycling routes, the Green Route, with a convenient rental shop (Velo Gare) in an old train depot on the trail.

The Green Route

Ski Bromont provides a back drop along the Green Route in the Eastern Townships.

The Green Route crosses the province of Quebec, and 140 miles of it pass through the Townships. The well-marked trail combines designated bike paths, converted railway lines and country roads, joining with other local cycling circuits. A new section of the route designed for experienced cyclists begins in the town of Bromont and leads across the border into Vermont (don’t forget your passport).

Long stretches of smooth pavement in the Granby area make the path ideal for cyclists of all skill levels and popular for rollerblading. Also near Granby is the Yamaska National Park, with beautiful lakeside trails.

Although it’s possible to ride from Montreal to Quebec City on the Green Route, we opted to experience some other trails, shuttling between stops in our rental car. A bike taxi is available, however, for cyclists needing a shuttle for any reason.

In the southwest part of Quebec we discovered the Route des Vins (designated wine route) and some of the most beautiful country roads in the Townships. L’Orpeilleur, one of the first wineries in Quebec, offers tours and has a small museum and a fine restaurant for lunch. From their parking lot, cyclists have a choice of loop rides that pass more wineries open for tours and tasting. Along the way, one can find the acclaimed ‘best’ maple pie at the General Store in Frelighsburg, considered one of the prettiest villages in Quebec.

A relaxing stay at the Auberge & Spa West Brome was a welcome retreat before we headed towards the heart of the Townships through the storybook village of Knowlton and the lakeside town of Magog. Quaint shops and eateries line Magog’s main street, and a linear park along the lakeshore stays lively with walkers, joggers and cyclists.

From the hillside village of North Hatley, we rode another portion of the Green Route on a rail trail leading to Sherbrooke, the commercial hub of the Townships. North Hatley was originally known as a popular summer vacation spot for U.S. southerners after the Civil War, and the area offers many attractive inns and spa resorts.

Sherbrooke has an impressive promenade and urban bike paths that meander along either side of the Magog River, some serving as a cross-country ski track in winter. A more laid back option for enjoying the scenery around Sherbrooke, however, is a trip on the Orford Express tourist train, which is sure to provide a memorable, gourmet dining experience.

Back in Montreal for our departure, we were reminded that the ‘island city’ is far from the island mentality. A multi-ethnic city, Montreal proudly embraces its cultural mix. The Quebecois heritage remains strong, and although French is the official language, English is readily spoken in the city and parts of the province. The birthplace of the famous Cirque du Soleil troupe, Montreal highlights the arts and healthy living, offering unique expositions, exquisite local markets, international cuisine and outdoor activities for all seasons.

Getting there: Montreal’s Trudeau Airport is served by many U.S. airlines, and Eastern Townships can be reached in an hour by rental car. The trip affords travelers an active vacation and the chance to experience a vibrant foreign culture without ever leaving the continent.

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  1. James says:

    I really love a bike-friendly spots in Montreal as a Biker I hope to have one like this in our country, aside from the love of bike it will make our people fit and encourage some of them to exercise as well.

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