Travel

We Finally Did It: We Found the Most Fall Road Trip Ever

From apple whiskey to suspended bicycling.

Le Baluchon Éco-villĂ©giature
Le Baluchon Éco-villĂ©giature
Le Baluchon Éco-villĂ©giature

In a world of competing fall destinations-with so many adorable small towns vying for the best apple picking, leaf peeping, and pumpkin chuckin-we found the ultimate fall road trip experience. And it’s in Quebec. That’s right, Canada. Skirting around the countryside surrounding Montreal, even the most experienced autumn aficionados will fall to their knees at the utter amount of beauty, coziness, and adrenaline packed into this northeast province just above New England.

So how did Quebec get the crown? For starters, over half of territory is covered in forest. Time your road trip right and you’ll be swimming in the fiery, amber colours of autumn foliage everywhere you look. But this trip is about so much more than just passively driving through forests of changing leaves. It’s about testing your limits, expanding your knowledge, and immersing yourself in all the traditional fall activities-and a few incredible new ones.

As you bop up, down, and around French-speaking Quebec, you just might find yourself cycling through the forest on a suspended bicycle, foraging during an edible mycology lesson, melting away in outdoor thermal spas, and tasting your way through apple-based spirits and traditional, hyper-local Quebecois foods. Along the way you’ll experience fall in full colours from different viewpoints, ranging from the ground level to hundreds of feet high, and through all five of your senses. Don’t blame us if nothing quite measures up when you get back home. Here are all the ways to immerse yourself up north.

Nordik Spa-Nature / Chelsea
Nordik Spa-Nature / Chelsea
Nordik Spa-Nature / Chelsea

Soak in a Nordic thermal spa surrounded by a forest

Sainte-HĂ©lĂšne-de-Chester
Located 30 minutes from Ottawa International Airport, Nordik Spa-Nature Chelsea is the perfect place to start this fall-focused road trip. Take a dip in the spa’s many outdoor thermal pools as you soak in the season’s brightest colours in the oh-so-slightly-crisp autumn air.

Nordik Spa-Nature Chelsea is North America’s largest nordic-style spa, with 10 pools, nine themed saunas, four restaurants, several melt-worthy spa treatments, and an infinity pool that overlooks the city. It’s an easy way to spend the day and evening, or even just a few hours. The surrounding forest, thermal circuits, and sauna rituals are just what the body ordered after a long flight or car ride.

Nordik Spa-Nature / Chelsea
Nordik Spa-Nature / Chelsea
Nordik Spa-Nature / Chelsea

Day passes include access to the hot and cold pools, sensory rooms, themed sauna rituals, and infinity pool. The German Aufguss ritual (available every hour, on the hour) uses dance and wet towels to move snowballs drizzled with essential oils around the room and shouldn’t be missed.

You’ll have to pay extra to use the salt floating pool or participate in the BaynĂ€, a four-step, 1,000-year-old Russian exfoliation ritual that involves intense heat and a detoxifying birch-branch whipping that is oddly soothing-and it’s totally worth the extra cash.

Sentier des cimes Laurentides
Sentier des cimes Laurentides
Sentier des cimes Laurentides

Follow the Trail of the Peaks and join an edible foraging workshop

Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré
Located about an hour-and-a-half out of the way-but 100% worth the detour through the leafy Quebecois countryside on QC-323-are Gourmet Sauvage and Sentier des Cimes. This is where you feed your mind, body, eyes, and possibly your soul.

On the site of a former fish farm, Sentier des Cimes (or “Trail of the Peaks” in English) is a wooden boardwalk and geometric tower that spirals over 130 feet up into the air. As you make your way up, don’t forget to look down and out across the tops of the Laurentian forest. Along the way, you can stop at various information stations, or just race to the top for the stellar views. Walking at a moderate pace, you can expect to spend about two hours on the boardwalk-but leaf-peeping gawkers may take longer.

Gourmet sauvage
Gourmet sauvage
Gourmet sauvage

Next door, Gourmet Sauvage offers edible forest foraging workshops through the very forest you were just admiring. Fair warning, though, these workshops are extremely popular and tend to book up within hours or days of the schedule being released, so make sure to look ahead as soon as you can. Gourmet Sauvage is working on setting up a shortened version of the experience for walk-ins.

If the cards don’t align for the wild plant and mycology lesson, stopping in the Wild Grocery is the next best thing. You’re guaranteed to find unique food products such as marinated fiddleheads or sea asparagus, Balsam fir mustard, and wild milkweed salsa-all handmade from wild-picked plants and mushrooms from the different regions of Quebec.

Labonté de la pomme - Verger & Miellerie
LabontĂ© de la pomme – Verger & Miellerie
LabontĂ© de la pomme – Verger & Miellerie

Pick-your-own pumpkins, apples, and pears, oh my!

Oka
Heading back down on the A15 South toward the Ottawa River, you’ll find the traditions of apple picking and pumpkin-patch roaming hit prime levels at LabontĂ© de la Pomme in Oka. This family-owned farm invites visitors to wander through their orchards and vegetable patches to hand-pick apples, pumpkins, rhubarb, squash, and more. (We made sure this would be one of the earlier stops on the route, in order to give you enough time to eat through all of the food you’ll inevitably pick but can’t bring back across the border.)

Looking to labour a bit less? On weekends between September and mid-October, the farm offers tractor rides through the orchards with stops so you can pick as you go. Or just peruse the farm store, where you’ll find a seasonal selection of farm produce along with homemade jams and jellies, fruit butters, and honey and maple products.

Labonté de la pomme - Verger & Miellerie
LabontĂ© de la pomme – Verger & Miellerie
LabontĂ© de la pomme – Verger & Miellerie

The farm’s all-season hiking trails lead the way through maple groves, fruit orchards, and sprawling views of the Oka Valley doused in her autumnal best. Those who prefer guided tours or background on where they are visiting can sign up for a behind-the-scenes look. The tour introduces you to the cider house, farm animals, maple kettle, and glass beehive.

Or completely change your perspective with a quick scenic helicopter ride over the property.

Sucrerie de la montagne
Sucrerie de la montagne
Sucrerie de la montagne

Tour a traditional sugar shack and stay overnight in a cozy log cabin

Rigaud
The folks over at Sucrerie de la Montagne have been tapping trees for maple syrup for over 40 years. The 50-minute drive west on QC-342 to this traditional sugar shack includes a trip on the ferry.

Once you arrive, you’ll be engulfed in the ultimate fall hygge-we’re talking rustic wooden buildings, hearty country fare, and a hot iron kettle warming over a fire pit to top it all off. Those in-the-know can also ask for a tour of the maple syrup processing room and bakery. Here, maple syrup, candies, and butter are made using old-fashioned production techniques, from tree-tapping to vintage, wooden maple-butter molds.

Sucrerie de la montagne
Sucrerie de la montagne
Sucrerie de la montagne

It all works as a visual amuse-bouche for the hearty Quebecois meal and show served up in the dining hall, where menus include maple-glazed ham, meat pies, crusty bread, souffle, sausages, homemade condiments and other fare fit for a Canadian country feast. Booking overnight in a cabin is probably the best course of action (ahead of time, of course), so you can get in some cozy log cabin vibes before the food coma sets in.

In the morning, you’ll wake up surrounded by a gorgeous 120-acre maple forest. Life could be a lot worse. Be sure to hit the gift shop for some seriously addictive maple candies and other products before you head back out on the road.

Cidrerie Michel Jodoin
Cidrerie Michel Jodoin
Cidrerie Michel Jodoin

Sample apple-based spirits at a working cidery

Rougemont
A visit to the Cidrerie Michel Jodin will open your eyes to the world of apple spirits beyond cider. The Jodin family has been in the apple business for over a century, starting in 1901 when Jean-Baptiste Jodin bought a humble orchard of 100 or so apple trees. Eighty-seven years and two generations later, Michel Jodin opened the cider house, located right off La Petite Caroline in Rougemont across from an orchard.

Today, it also functions as a tasting room where you can sample uncommon apple spirits like apple whiskey, mistele, and vermouth (to name a few), along with ice cider, apple wine, sparkling wine, and various takes on cider.

Cidrerie Michel Jodoin
Cidrerie Michel Jodoin
Cidrerie Michel Jodoin

You can also tour the facilities to learn more about how they make, bottle, and age their apple-based products.

Spoiler alert: one of the cooler things you’ll learn is that Michel Jodin’s rosĂ© products get their rosy hue from deeply red-fleshed Geneva apples. These apples are absolutely stunning to see sliced in half, and impart a red-fruit, slight acidic flavour profile. You’ll definitely want to check your duty free limits before coming here.

Au Diable Vert
Au Diable Vert
Au Diable Vert

Cycle through the forest trees on a suspended bicycle

Glen Sutton
Swap your ground-level car views for a treetop-level tour of the forest on one of VĂ©lo Volant‘s suspended recumbent bikes-the highest in the world. Hanging 100 feet above the forest floor, you’ll pedal your way along a 3,280-foot circuit strung up through the thick of colourful leaves. It’s an entirely different fall foliage experience, and likely to be one of the most memorable activities on this trip.

To get there, take QC-139 South toward Glen Sutton, a township near the border of Vermont, till you reach Au Diable Vert in Chemin Stains.

Au Diable Vert
Au Diable Vert
Au Diable Vert

After a quick safety briefing, you’ll pedal off of the platform, seemingly into thin air. There’s no turning back; this is a one-way experience. Don’t worry, this ride is 100% pedal powered and you control the speed. You’ll pedal “up” the mountainside and over waterfalls, creeks, and ravines. The every-angle-views mean no matter which way you look, you’ll be surrounded by 100-year-old maple and pine trees bursting with deep orange, bright yellow, and ruby red leaves. It doesn’t get more immersive than this.

If you’re afraid of heights, take it from personal experience that it’s worth fighting through the fear for this truly breathtaking experience. Even the scariest parts of the ride-when you’re forced to come to a dead stop as you wait for the line of people ahead of you to get moving-are completely supported by the rigging system. Plan for about an hour on the bikes, and keep your eyes peeled for the green mountains of Vermont in the distance.

Mont-Orford
Mont-Orford
Mont-Orford

Get a bird’s-eye-view of fall foliage

Orford
An hour north up QC-243 and off of QC-245 North, you can further elevate your fall foliage experience with a scenic lift ride up Mont Orford. Available weekends from mid-September through mid-October, La Flambée des Couleurs escorts you over a half-mile above the trees of Mont Orford National Park in either a gondola or six-seater ski life. At the top, several lookout vistas provide a stunning palette of warm fall colours spread out as far as the eye can see.

Mont-Orford
Mont-Orford
Mont-Orford

You’ll have to plan ahead for this adventure, as tickets are sold for specific time slots (so be sure to arrive with plenty of time to park, grab a coffee or beverage of choice*, and get to the lift on time).

*Pro tip: You can grab a hot, boozy drink for the ride up.

Canneberge en fĂȘte
Canneberge en fĂȘte
Canneberge en fĂȘte

Celebrate the cranberry with a tasting and tour of the bog

Saint-Louis-de-Blandford
Give the humble and tart cranberry some love as you pass through Saint-Louis-de-Blandford. Believe it or not, Quebec has a bonafide Cranberry Interpretation Center, En FĂȘte Canneberge, where you can tour the local cranberry bogs via land or helicopter.

Land tours last about 60-90 minutes and take you out to the working bogs where, from the back of a wooden cart pulled by a tractor, you’ll get to see the swampy red berries bobbing up and down on the surface of the water as they wait for harvest-if you’re lucky you might even witness farmers corralling the small air-filled berries during a harvest.

Canneberge en fĂȘte
Canneberge en fĂȘte
Canneberge en fĂȘte

You may not be able to jump out of the cart and into the bog (which is full of small wolf spiders, if you need a deterrent), but there’s still something gorgeous and giddy about seeing this fruit in its truest form.

Back at the centre, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the cranberry via displays and video presentations-and indulge in a few tastings, if you so desire.

Fromagerie du PresbytĂšre
Fromagerie du PresbytĂšre
Fromagerie du PresbytĂšre

Make cheese your new religion

Sainte-Élizabeth-de-Warwick
A bronzed Jesus welcomes you as you pull up to the Fromagerie de PresbytĂ©re. No need to check the GPS, you’re in the right place. Originally built in 1936, this Catholic church rectory fell into disuse until 2005. That’s when the Mordin family acquired the building with the idea to turn it into a fromagerie. Two years later, Fromagerie du PresbytĂ©re released their first cheese.

The Mortin family believes great cheese starts from happy cows, and considering many of their cheeses are multi-award winners, they just might be onto something. The fourth-generation-cheesemakers’ Louis d’Or has been named best cheese in Canada more than once, and the tangy Elizabeth’s Blue and creamy Country Brie have been crowning them the best cheese in Quebec.

Fromagerie du PresbytĂšre
Fromagerie du PresbytĂšre
Fromagerie du PresbytĂšre

One of the coolest things about this fromagerie is that you can tour inside the old rectory and spy on the aging cheeses-and the resident robot, Pat, who tirelessly works to wash the rinds and turn the cheese wheels as they ripen-through a large glass panel.

The very back of the building actually still functions as a small church. Next door to the rectory lies the fromagerie general store where experts behind the counter will happily pair your palate to the best cheeses on offer-whether to wash them down with water or wine is up to you.

Le Baluchon Éco-villĂ©giature
Le Baluchon Éco-villĂ©giature
Le Baluchon Éco-villĂ©giature

Round it all out with an eco village stay

Saint-Paulin
An overnight (or two) at La Baluchon Eco Village will give you the closure you need to finish up this epic fall road trip. Consider it one last night with nature.

Covering over 6,500 square feet of outdoor area, La Balchon is packed with different ways to immerse yourself in the season. This resort is designed for you to connect with the outdoors whether that’s having an archery competition, joining a foraging excursion, or bellying up to a seasonal 13-course meal.

Le Baluchon Éco-villĂ©giature
Le Baluchon Éco-villĂ©giature
Le Baluchon Éco-villĂ©giature

Fancy a horseback ride through the fall-leaved forest? What about a serene morning kayak down the river? Perhaps you’re ready to come full circle and end your road trip with a steamy soak in the Nordic spa pools? You’ll have your pick of ways to end your ultimate autumnal experience, even if it’s just enjoying the sound of crunching fall leaves on the boardwalk through the property.

From here, it’s just over an hour and 30 minutes to Montreal-Pierre Trudeau International Airport or three-and-a-half hours back to Ottawa International Airport.

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Katherine Alex Beaven is a contributor to Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome
to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree
instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s â€”lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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