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Even though it weaves its way across a few cities and towns, among these, Sherbrooke, this 52 km itinerary also takes you across many wooded segments and waterways, while passing through the edenic village of North Hatley. The Grandes Fourches cycling circuit? Pure Happiness!
By Yvan Martineau
Grandes Fourches links Sherbrooke, Lennoxville, North Hatley and the Rock Forest sector. All along the route, we cycle by the Massawippi, Magog and St-François rivers. A bit of history: Grandes Fourches was the name originally given to Sherbrooke back in the early 1800s.
Of intermediate level, it constitutes a loop, which gives us the freedom to choose from where we want to start. Most people choose Sherbrooke, but I opted for North Hatley and its postcard decor. We recommend taking the route counterclockwise; I did the opposite. Beginners, beware! As you leave the town, by taking this itinerary, you’ll need to confront a succession of steep and difficult hills for about five kilometres. In the opposite direction, this must really be a lot of fun to do!
Arriving on the evening before in North Hatley, we’re amazed by the mountain and lake panorama. We relax at the Pilsen, a restaurant and bar set inside a building dating back to the 1800s, and where they used to make horse-drawn carriages. Close your eyes and imagine … you’re sitting in front of Lake Massawippi, or by the river, vacationers float by on their paddleboards, kayaks or yachts. You savour a beer or a glass of wine from the owner’s cellar, tartare, mussels, beet gnocchi, or maple-flavoured blood sausages… SU-BLI-ME.
As we start out on our ride the next morning, we’re already excited when we think about how we’ll feel when we’ve completed our loop! Once we surmount the North Hatley hills, on the Axe des Sommets, from atop the ridge, to the right, we’re offered all these spectacular views overlooking the region. Our leg muscles are burning, but it was really well worth the effort.
After several bucolic meandering segments inside a forest, through farm fields and along the river, then, cycling across a residential sector, we enter the city of Sherbooke, by way of a wide foot bridge, the Promenade of the Lac des nations, the terraces and the public market of the Vieille Gare. We take our time and have a snack before we get back on our bikes and cycle across the city on steep streets lined with heritage homes.
We then head towards Lennoxville and its Bishop’s University campus. We suggest that when you reach the Capelton Mine, you opt for an underground visit, especially if you have kids with you. You’ll really appreciate this tourist attraction, I guarantee it! This copper mine opened in 1863, and minors would go down below the surface as far as 1500 metres! From Lennoxville to North Hatley, by following the Massawippi, we take the old railway through a succession of wooded segments. We can cycle at a good pace here.
We’re back in North Hatley with the Auberge La Chocolatière as our drop-off point. Of course, there’s cocoa, but also maple products from the owners’ sugar shack and artisanal soaps made by one of the couple’s … seven children!
In the evening, the gastronomical experience of our lives was waiting for us at the Manoir Hovey. The Manoir Hovey is part of the Relais et Châteaux Association, with a five-star rating, plus being named Canada’s second-best resort hotel and 17th in the world. The cuisine is an absolutely exquisite refinement. The chef works in collaboration with the region’s farmers and producers. From the appetizers and main course all the way to the dessert, although I tried there were no flaws to be found!
You’ll understand that, for me cycling has little to do with performance, but more with the landscapes, new discoveries, emotions, meeting people and the complicity of my better half!