Where we live in Northern California, we assume everyone has seen the Pacific Ocean. If you are a transplant from the East Coast, you have experienced the distinct seasons of snowy winter, the renewal of spring, sultry, hot summers and mind-blowingly colorful fall.

As a Lamorinda local, I recently had an affair. It was short and fleeting, yet it brought up feelings I didn't know existed within me. I had an affair with Québec, Canada.

Its colors captured me like a peacock's feathers fanned in courtship mode. Lipstick reds, pumpkin orange, leaves the color of fool's gold splayed out before me. The aspen, birch, maple and oak leaves shimmered from above, slowly drifting to the ground. Snow follows soon, bringing sugar shacks to life and the promise of amber maple syrup.

Magnificent Montréal

If you want a French holiday without flying to Europe, plan a trip to Montréal and Québec, Canada. Air Canada flies nonstop to Montréal and then it's off to discover the Golden Square Mile in downtown.

Montréal citizens love their public art, parks and gourmet cuisine. Enjoy a city tour, stop at Jean-Talon Market, the largest market in North America, pick up picnic supplies and then visit Mount Royal Park and the Montréal Botanical Garden, or walk the cobblestone streets of St. Paul. But if you want to experience "authentic" Québec, rent a car and head out to the regions of Lanaudière and Mauricie.


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Nordic spas of Québec

Ninety minutes from downtown Montréal is La Source, in the small town of Rawdon. A young couple has taken the Nordic bath concept of relaxation and rejuvenation to a new level. Surrounded by trees and granite, guests soak in large hot tubs; take a quick dip in the icy cold plunge pools, head to the sauna, relaxation room or sway in a hammock while bringing their body temperature back up and then repeat the three step process. Follow this with a spa lunch, looking out into nature and watch the stress melt away.

Auberge du Lac Taureau, with its four-star log-cabin-style inn, reminded me of Lake Tahoe. This is a place where folks go to escape the city, be it kayaking in the summer or snowshoeing in the winter. I tried the maple exfoliation and scrub at the on-site spa and came out with skin as soft as rose petals.

Water flows in Mauricie

As you drive further into Québec, start practicing your high school French. The Kinipi spa in the city of Trois-Rivières welcomes Americans, but all signage is in French. Fortunately, the Nordic bath is similar throughout Québec, with its whirlpools, saunas, hot steam baths and massage; spa is a universal word in Québec. The highlight at Kinipi spa; dining in my bathrobe!

Archipelago adventure

If I were to be stranded on an island, I would want it to be at Auberge Le Baluchon. Located on a site with an archipelago of eight islands, waterfalls and forest lands, Le Baluchon celebrates its unique spirit and culinary gastronomy. With 88 rooms sprinkled throughout the property, couples and families are welcome.

The inn offers every sport imaginable, from horseback riding to sled dog rides in the winter. Personally, I want to come back in March to experience the horse-drawn sleigh ride to the sugar shack. Imagine what it must be like to join in on a folk dance with the locals -- the sugar shacks are not just for tourists -- eat authentic Québec cuisine and see what it's like to taste fresh maple syrup splashed on the snow.

Where have your travels taken you? Send an e-mail to NancyBrownConsulting@comcast.net. For insider travel tips visit Nancy's blog at www.nancydbrown.com What a Trip appears monthly in the Sun.

ONLINE RESOURCES
Auberge le Baluchon -- www.baluchon.com
La Source Nordic baths -- www.lasourcespa.com
Tourism Lanaudi re -- www.lanaudiere.ca
Tourism Mauricie -- www.tourismemauricie.com/en
Tourism Montreal -- www.tourisme-montreal.org
Tourism Québec -- www.bonjourquebec.com