This Canadian Town Is A Wholesome Retreat
WHILE MONTREAL THRUMS with all the energy you would expect from a city famed as a cultural juggernaut, life in its near neighbor tends to move as sedately as the flow of the lazy Yamaska River, which it overlooks.
But that’s not to say that St Hyacinthe isn’t dynamic in its own unassuming way. Known around Canada as one of the country’s leading agri-food centers, it possesses a treasure trove of draws that includes a wealth of outdoor activities, historic buildings and intriguing boutiques.
As the fulcrum of a vast agricultural region, meanwhile, the city is deservedly winning kudos for its culinary scene with the abundance of fresh produce from the area showcased at some of Canada’s most enticing markets as well as a clutch of excellent dining venues. In fact, gastronomy in all its many delicious permutations is the theme of arguably the biggest highlight in St Hyacinthe: the historic Le 1555 Marche Public, the city’s mouthwatering public market. In operation since 1830, the attraction is one of Canada’s finest markets. A cornucopia of edibles is available to sample or purchase from merchant food shops that include a fromagerie, fruit expert, butcher shop, fishmonger, artisanal bakery and pastry shop. Be sure to try the freshly made ice cream featuring seasonal fruits and flavors.
Outside Le 1555 Marche Public.
While it’s possible to spend hours browsing and grazing at the various outlets, many in-the-know locals use the market as a staging post for picking up the makings of an extravagant picnic to take to another of the top stops in St Hyacinthe, Parc Les Salines. A haven for outdoor enthusiasts, the park shines in all seasons. In spring and summer, an expansive picnic area abounds with families taking advantage of the various spots for play. In winter, possibilities include skating, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Parc Les Salines in winter.
It’s not just local gastronomic goodies that can be stowed away in any picnic hamper. Quebec is also known for the quality of its viticulture and there are several excellent wineries in the immediate vicinity of St Hyacinthe. Most of these are open to the public, making them a fine option for a half-day or full-day look at Canadian wine culture. Among the most renowned of these wineries is Vignoble Chateau Fontaine (vignoblechateaufontaine.ca). Founded in 2001, the vineyard produces a variety of award-winning bottles.
A BREAK FOR LUNCH
Indeed, in this land of plenty, there are multiple options for indulgence of the culinary variety. And this adage is also applicable to the compact but creative dining scene in St Hyacinthe. While high-end dining gets short shrift in this redoubtably unpretentious place, St Hyacinthe excels at laid-back casual dining with everything from old-school French bistros to authentic Vietnamese food available. For those who like to push the boat out just a little bit, one of the most elevated culinary gems in town is L’Escabeche (lescabeche.com) where a small but daily-changing menu of tapas is accompanied by a formidable selection of wines.
ENJOY ARTS AND CULTURE
While you could be forgiven for whiling away much of your time in St Hyacinthe in a food coma,plenty of other highlights.
Enjoying the performing arts in St Hyancinthe.
For the culturally inclined, the Centre des Arts Juliette-Lassonde (centredesarts.ca), a must-visit on any itinerary in the city. Each year, the center presents nearly 150 artists or productions from across the spectrum of performing arts disciplines. Everything from theater, dance and music, to popular song, circus arts, comedy and variety feature on the annual program.
Another need-to-see sight is the city’s spectacular main catholic church, St Hyacinthe Cathedral, built in 1880. Its ornate interior underlines the lasting prominence of the church in the daily life of Quebec.
The ornate St Hyacinthe Cathedral.
EXPERIENCE THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Nature lovers and active types too will find a lot to love about St Hyacinthe. The beauty of the outdoors is showcased to full effect at the Daniel A Seguin Garden (jardindas.ca), a 4.5-hectare floral oasis by the Yamaska River that is both a teaching garden and as a tourist attraction with a number of themed gardens providing ample scope for a stroll.
Kayaking at Centre Nautique.
More adrenalized diversion is on offer at the city’s Centre Nautique where visitors can rent kayaks, rowboats and canoes. In fact, there’s no end to the possibilities in the place, which combines all the unassuming charm of a rural idyll with the comforts and convenience of a major city. Montreal may have the global fame, but its near neighbor revels in its status as one of Canada’s most appealing under-the-radar revelations.