Magog is a little town in Quebec's Eastern Townships. This region of French Canada with the very English sounding name is sandwiched between the Saint Lawrence River's southern shore and northeastern U.S.
Once a haven for United Empire Loyalists, today the largely Francophone Eastern Townships has a population of about 330,000 people and is a swanky getaway for Montrealers and New Englanders due to its quaint heritage buildings, lakes and ski resorts.
Magog has a long history as a hub for textile production, but this industry dried up with the influx of imports. In the late 20th century, the deprived town began to attract artists who moved in and breathed new life into the community, which currently thrives mainly as a tourist destination. If you want to discover a new side of Quebec, or experience a more laid-back destination with something to offer most travellers, here are a few must-dos in the area.
If you're looking to get a little soft adventure under your belt while in Magog, Mont Orford is a perfect getaway 10 kilometres outside the city.
At once a mountain, ski resort and national park, Mont Orford affords some of the most beautiful views of the Eastern Townships. It's no wonder back in the mid-2000's, developers were licking their chops at the idea of turning the area into an unabashed tourist pit with no thought for the environment. Instead, Mont Orford is managed by the Quebec government and remains an understated and protected park.
In winter, Mont Orford is a popular ski destination. The hill boasts three peaks and the steepest vertical in the Eastern Townships. In more seasonal weather, activities include camping, hiking, paddling and rock climbing. During the fall, when the leaves are changing colour, take in some epic views from the Mont Orford gondola.
Eat, and then Eat Some More
Colonists from France brought their traditions of fine food and drink with them when they arrived in Canada in the early 1600s and today, some of the finest foodie destinations are in Quebec, including in the stylish and cultural town of Magog.
Be sure to visit a restaurant featuring authentic local food, which is a satisfying blend of French culinary elegance and heartier working class fare, like stews and meat pies, using the abundant local ingredients.
This is the only museum in Canada devoted to displaying and interpreting naive art. Many of the artists represented are from Quebec but painters and sculptors from all over the world are displayed, giving a global picture of this engaging art form.
Naive art is unfettered by traditional art conventions and rules. It is simple, usually colourful and may be described as childlike in its rendering.
Whether you're a fan of this style of art or not, the good news is the Musée International d'Art Naif is free to visit. A tour of the exhibits - both permanent and rotating - should take less than an hour.
Pamper Yourself at a Spa
In a region known for its well-heeled regulars, it's no wonder that spas and luxury treatments are in good supply. Magog has several spas, including its most celebrated, Spa Nordic Station, which offers visitors the pain / pleasure style of aquatic relaxation known as cold plunging. Icy water dips are quickly followed up by your choice of a dunk into warmer waters, a steam or sauna. The effects are therapeutic and calming. These "thermal stations" are located within a tranquil wooded area aside a running river.
Just steps away from downtown Magog is an area of woods, marsh and bog that comprise an impressive biodiverse network of paths called the Marais de la Riviere aux Cerises.
Wooden footbridges, boardwalks and forest trails wind through a variety of terrain, each offering its own special natural beauty. This is a birders haven!
Though each season blooms in a unique way, fall is an especially scenic time to visit. Be advised there is not much shade so prepare yourself with a hat, sunscreen or an umbrella when you visit on sunny days.
Parking is free every day on either end of the trail as is the small but informative interpretive center and gift shop.
The trail is about 3-kilometres and can be accessed from either end or done in conjunction with part of the Trail Verte which makes for a longer, 5.5-kilometre walk.
Another option is to bring your kayak or rent one from nearby Vie de Plein.
What better way to get to know the locals than through their wines, right at the source. Several wineries in and around Magog welcome visitors in French and English for wine tasting and tours of the vineyards and production facilities.
As long as you're not expecting Sonoma or even Niagara-on-the-Lake, Magog wineries are a pleasant and scenic way to get to know the people and a bit of the region's history, plus taste some decent wine while you're at it. The terroir is still relatively young, but the people are friendly and informed and the backdrop sublime.
Head to Lake Memphremagog
Magog sits at the northern end of Lake Memphremagog, a long and narrow fresh water glacial lake that spans both the U.S. state of Vermont and Canadian province of Quebec.
Considered a jewel of the Eastern Townships, Lake Memphremagog began as a mere canoe route through the region but by the 19th century was an esteemed vacation destination. Many resorts and cottage rentals line its shores.
Start your visit at Parc de la Baie-de-Magog, which has paths, beaches and of course, water. Swimming in the lake is possible when the water is warm enough, usually by mid-June.
Consider hiring a boat tour to explore the lake and surrounding area, while learning about its rich history.
The Quebec lake even has its own fabled sea monster: the Creature of Lake Memphremagog, Memphré, who reportedly looks like an alligator or a sea horse. This aquatic serpent has been sighted by hundreds of people with the first record of its existence dating back to 1816.