Though the ice trail was quiet, it didn’t take long to find Mauricie’s winter pilgrims. About 30 miles northeast of town, I checked into Le Baluchon Eco-Resort behind a dozen exhilarated French snowmobilers who were sledding inn to inn.
On the Rivière du Loup, or Wolf River, Le Baluchon offers 89 rooms in a mix of inns and chalets on 1,000 acres featuring about 25 miles of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, a tubing run and an ice rink with supplied equipment for broomball — a hockey-like game played with brooms and without skates. The sledders headed straight for the Nordic spa to steep in a series of hydrotherapy pools indoors and out.
Later that evening, a full moon lit the riverside trail to the inn’s restaurant — acclaimed for its menu using local ingredients in dishes like walleye with Quebec seaweed butter — and waterfalls stilled by ice.
Agritourism on ice
One winter, when Jean-Pierre Binette and Madeleine Courchesne, beekeepers in rural Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, about an hour north of Trois-Rivières, had three children under the age of 9, they flooded a small section of woods on their property. Excited by the frozen forest playground, their children invited their friends, who invited their friends. In 1997, the seasonal diversion became a secondary business as Le Domaine de la Forêt Perdue, or the Lost Forest, opened to the public, keeping a form of agritourism alive in winter (in summer, they offer a high-ropes course).
“We were the first skating path in Quebec and now we are training people who are opening trails around the province,” Thérèse Deslauriers, the managing director of the Forêt Perdue, said, as she worked the rustic entry house that doubles as a retail shop for honey products.
Outside, beyond the skate rental tent, 15 kilometers — more than nine miles — of iceways wove through pine and hardwood forests dotted with farm pens occupied by goats, sheep, ducks, deer and more exotic animals, including an ostrich. Next to the alpaca enclosure, a repurposed phone booth dispensed handfuls of animal feed for a Canadian quarter.