A Wave of Hidden Gems Just North of Montreal

Hidden Laurentians.

Les Conifères

When Catherine Simard found a chalet eleven years ago in Saint-Adolphe-d’Howard, about 90 minutes north of Montreal, she fell in love with the area. The tiny town of 3,700 has become less of a buzzing destination over the years, with a main street that’s long been little more than a grocery store and gas station, but that was a plus for Simard’s budget when she made her next investment: a patch of land and buildings that now make up Les Conifères—a gîte, café, and boutique—as well as Simard’s ongoing passion project.

Les Conifères mixes history—one of the buildings dates back to 1839, reportedly the oldest in the Laurentians—nd Simard’s connections as a publicist for luxury brands and gourmet businesses across Quebec. The café offers home made mignardises, pastries, excellent coffee and small-batch goods like handmade coniferous-scented candles and photographs of the nearby landscape (a favourite of autumn leaf spotters).

“You could easily drive past us if you don’t know about Saint-Adolphe,” Simard says, of getting to the village from the main road. “But that’s really what makes it a hidden gem. People come here for the magic of the place.”

While the region has long been a draw for outdoorsy tourists there for skiing, hiking, and snowmobiling, many travellers always have headed to developed spots like Mont-Tremblant to sleep, shop, and eat. Simard is part of a new wave of business owners taking a chance on the smaller towns and more remote areas, drawing in visitors with an eye for design and a taste for the finer things—and making sure it’s worth their trip.

Here are a few spots, including Les Conifères, worth the stop in the Laurentians.


Les Conifères



Whitewashed walls and refined cabin aesthetics greet visitors at these cottages in the sleepy town of Saint-Adolphe-d’Howard. Four rooms (with a capacity of 12 guests) and communal washrooms make it an ideal rustic luxe spot for family reunions, company off-site outings, and solo travellers seeking unspoilt nature right outside their door. People staying or swimming nearby can stop in for coffee, with tranquil creekside seating in the interior courtyard (the property was briefly a spa). Keep an eye out for outdoor yoga, guest chef dinners, and pop-up vintage sales. And be sure to check out nearby Pizzeria Lupi, a burgeoning cult favourite for Neapolitan-style pizza.


Studio d’Armes




Another sign the neighbourhood is changing: award-winning lighting design studio d’Armes is set to settle there this autumn. Studio d’Armes was founded by Alexandre Joncas and Gildas Le Bars. Creation, Le Bars notes, is about more than just encounters during Design Weeks in Milan or New York: “It needs the quiet of the Laurentians, being surrounded by lakes and forest.”


Clef des Champs



Quebecers may recognize the name from the shelves of health food stores and pharmacies—Clef des Champs has been growing organic, medicinal herbs, harvesting them by hand, and turning them into products like tinctures and syrups since 1978. But for a month every summer, visitors can travel to the company’s Val-David farm for tours of the public gardens’ 150-plus species of plants, plant-based refreshments, consultations with herbalists, and lectures on topics related to wellness and organic farming (plus a boutique stocked with Clef des Champs products).


Maison de Soma




Mont-Tremblant has no shortage of chain restaurants for visiting skiers and hikers, but for a real local, seasonal experience with an alpine edge, try this 600-acre property far from the maddening crowds (and tourist traps) in the heart of the Lake Maskinongé valley. For more casual daytime fare, order a picnic for the field. For fine dining, reserved a spot for the inventive seven-course tasting menu built around the region’s bounty, including ingredients from the property’s market garden, greenhouses, fruit orchards and forest. The Laurentians’ northern growing season may be short, but it’s a forager’s paradise for delicacies like wild ginger and chestnut mushrooms.