The village of Val-David has a very French vibe, yet manages to somehow feel a lot like Woodstock, New York. Yes, that Woodstock, of the famed 1969 concert. A mere 69 miles from Montreal and tucked away in the Laurentian Mountains, the predominantly Francophone locale, however, doesn’t tip toward tie-dye and yesteryear, but bustles instead with a vibrant hikey-bikey crowd in summer and top-notch skiers in winter. The famous ski resort Mont-Tremblant is a short drive away.
If you’ve ever wanted to enhance your French language skills and learn new vocabulary, like how to say fishing tackle or titanium hiking staff in French, this is your kind of place, since as you’ll soon discover many of the locals speak little English. The province of Quebec is heavily Francophone although Canada, an independent country, joined the British Commonwealth in 1931, so Britain’s King Charles III is Canada’s current head of state.
On Rue de l’Église, Val-David’s quaintly cluttered main drag, there’s an abundance of art galleries, eateries, an excellent home goods and décor store, bakeries (try Boulangerie des Rosiers organic sourdough), a grocery store and pharmacy where one can find products not available in the United States, and esoteric as well as little clothing shops heavy on made-in-India fabrics. A charmingly colorful toy store is sure to enhance tots away from the passivity of the ubiquitous electronics screen — guaranteed to enhance their non-creative neural pathways.
If by chance you’re walking past the church on Rue de l’Église on a fortuitous summer night, you can join the ecstatic dancers reveling in the main hall. Drugs, talking and shoes not allowed inside, but instead a lot of swaying and free form self-expression dance that’s heavy on no-judgment, peace, and love. Think: Isadora Duncan meets Techno Trance.
There are plenty of bio-vegetarian restaurants sprinkled along the way and arts and craft shops that showcase pewter and ceramics crafted in nearby artist studios. An abandoned railway track that cuts through town was transformed into the very popular P’tit Train du Nord Linear Park, which the website calls, “a multi-use pathway and 234 kilometer cycling trail.”
Val-David’s lodging and B&B prices are so reasonable, one almost feels time warp transported to the days prior to runaway inflation. The average stay is around $100 a night. As an extra add-on, not only is the country air pristinely fresh and forest bathingly pure, Rivière du Nord sparkles and healthily wends through town the way a picturesque river should.
Lest I forget, and in keeping with the Woodstock spirit that resonates here, only a short car hop away one can find legal cannabis dispensaries that sell an exceedingly organized plethora of the substance, including a couple of sativa pre-rolled joints in a cute carrying case for less than $20 Canadian dollars ($15 U.S.). Not that I’d know.
Best places to see and experience in Val-David
Pichenotte: Jeux Rigolos — a toy and game shop for the young and young at heart. Focusing on a vast array of ecological toys and colorful offerings, the shop avoids plastics and electronics. One can find metal Slinkys, glass marbles, puzzles, wooden horses and alphabet cubes, puppets, and other toys that harken back to the time when all telephones were black and dial up and came with curly-cued cords to match. The store is a stalwart attempt to foster creativity by doing and playing IRL. Jump rope, jacks, toy soldiers, yo-yos, and other simple joys of childhood. Remember them?
Roc & Ride: Sports de Montagne is the spot to rent all kinds of bikes: mountain bikes, cyclo-cross, hybrid bikes, fat bikes, electric bikes and kids bikes, for a four-hour minimum and longer, or join up for a guided mountain bike outing. It’s easy to go for a spin at the local park that’s only a five-minute bike ride away. Or hit the long, converted train track for a peaceful ride on a perfectly maintained bike path.
BioSattva: Alimentation Saine et Biologique might rank as my all-time favorite organic grocery store. Housed in a former garage, one can find artisanal patchouli soaps and the like, bulk item goods, and a monstrous walk-in fridge that houses fresh organic fruit and vegetables all year long. I couldn’t resist buying a large one-kilogram jar of summer honey called Classique Été from a local honey farm. And then I returned the next day to pick up more jars as travel gifts, since a couple traveling friends and I have adopted the fun Japanese custom of bringing back little presents when we return from trips outside the U.S.
Les Legendes de Merlin calls itself a book store, but it leans towards a small selection of reading material on yoga, mysticism, Eastern spirituality and witchy type books. It’s just the place for Merlin and House of the Dragon fans, with wind bells chiming in the breeze and incense wafting as you select your own solid silver dragon pendant or other very affordable pieces of handcrafted jewelry. There’s an ample selection of incense, non-touristy type souvenirs and mementos. Remember mood rings? They’re here too, and for only $5 your ring will tell you how you’re doing.
La Table des Gourmets is a popular dinner spot in Val-David. Serving locally sourced and farmed ingredients, dishes include Quebec oysters, Quebec wild mushrooms, as well as forest sourcings. Along with a varied menu, there’s a $98 (Canadian) prix fixe gourmet dinner that’s a cornucopia of equally delicious and artfully prepared dishes.
Le Mouton Noir is beloved and frequented by locals. The small casual bistro also offers a bucolic outdoor dining space for those optimum summer days, and the lingering warm fall ones, so you can park your rented bike and take a sandwich break. The bistro specializes in fine coffees and exotically named tisanes or teas like Genmaicha, Plaisir Gargantue and Perle de Jade.
Magasin General Val-David is a carefully curated home goods store with everything from Danica Swedish sponge clothes to Bormioli Rocco glassware to carpets, copper pots and pans, and made-in-Canada leather goods. Much of the excellent houseware items are imported from Europe. Be forewarned: If you go there shopping for a gift, you’ll most likely come away with gifts of your own. There’s a mini café in the back for an espresso pick me up or a take away ice cream cone for your amble along Rue de l’Église.