Both British and American 'royalty' have taken refuge in the picturesque town of Sainte-Agathe-des- Monte in the Laurentian Mountains, 100km northwest of Montreal. Princess Elizabeth stayed as a guest in one of the sumptuous homes around the shores of Lac des Sables in the early 1950s and again as Queen Elizabeth II in 1967 during the Expo 67 World Fair in Montreal, while Jackie Kennedy and her two children vacationed there in the early 1960s.
You will understand why they chose the Laurentians if you take a tour of the region, which is renowned for its natural beauty and picturesque Swiss-style villages. It has been Montreal's four-seasons playground since the1930s when the first ski-lifts were built and snow trains brought tens of thousands of city-dwellers to the slopes.
I elected to take a Grayline Montreal tour of the Laurentian Mountains, which includes a cruise on Lac des Sables (Sandy Lake) and time to explore the famous Mont-Tremblant ski resort.
The tour took us northwest out of Montreal along Highway 15 which is one of the longest roads in the world, stretching 5000 miles across Canada.
Our driver kept us entertained with interesting facts about Montreal and what or who we might see on the tour. For example, residents of the Laurentides - not full-time I suspect - include Bruce Willis, Robert de Niro and Michael Douglas. There is also a recording studio somewhere in the mountains built by Julio Iglesias.
The first thing you notice about the Laurentian Mountains is that they are rounded and covered in vegetation, unlike the Rockies, which are peaked and bare at the top and much higher above sea level. According to our guide the peaks of the Laurentians, which are among the world's oldest chain of mountains dating back 540 million years, were smoothed off by the movement of a 3km thick glacier many, many moons ago.
Mont Tremblant ski resort in the Laurentian Mountains
Covering 22,000 square kilometres, the Laurentides encompass immense forests of pine and maple where you can hike and bike and a myriad of lakes for kayaking, sailing, swimming and doing all manner of water sports. In the Fall, the colours of the trees are fabulous.
After cruising for about half an hour on Lac des Sables, we drove to our final destination which was Mont-Tremblant ('trembling mountain') ski resort, a picturesque hamlet at the foot of the mountain. I took the short, free gondola ride up to the bottom of the main ski slopes where there are cafes, restaurants, a town square and lots of shops and boutiques. For a small fee you can catch another gondola that takes you right to the top of the mountain.
Before heading home we stopped at Lac Trembant with its mountain views and marina, and also at Diablo River Falls to take photos.
This tour, which I booked with Viator, is all about experiencing the scenic beauty of the region and provides a taster of what you can do and where you can stay if you wish to go back for a weekend stay or longer to really explore the area.