About two hours south of Montreal, Sherbrooke is a town with a university that’s almost as big as its downtown. In fact, it’s so far south that it’s a mere 40 minutes from the U.S. boarder. But that doesn’t mean it’s anything like the States.
I got to know the little town of Sherbrooke very well. I lived there for four months!
Montreal is a wonderful city (and still one of my favorites). But if you’re looking for something off the beaten path, that still captures a young crowd, and is a bit more québécois, then Sherbrooke is a good place to start.
Now, this isn’t just exclusively a Sherbrooke thing. You can find Tim Hortons pretty much anywhere and everywhere in Canada. It’s the equivalent of the Canadian Starbucks, but 10x better. Don’t even go to Starbucks in Canada. Always Tim Hortons. And they have fresh donuts every day.
Oh, how I miss Tim Hortons.
2) Browse the outdoor market at Marché la Gare
The market really flourishes in the warmer months and there are dozens of booths and tables set up outside selling home-grown fruits, veggies, herbs, and freshly baked bread. Inside there are shops that sell everything and anything related to cooking, spices, and just general food. There’s a separate section for local meats and cheeses. There was a very nice young blond man who was always behind the bread counter that I rightfully named Peeta – but that’s as far as it got because my awkward self couldn’t even flirt in English, let alone French.
3) Taste le phénix at Boquébière and share a beer (or two) with friends at Siboire.
There are a few bars downtown (It is a college town!). My favorite drink was at bar called Boquébière. It’s a smoked beer, so the first few sips taste a bit meaty – literally. It is brewed right there at the bar and have yet to find something even remotely similar.
Siboire is a restaurant/bar across the bridge that brews all of the beer on site in giant steel towers that stretch for 2 stories. They also have amazing mac n cheese, something that’s pretty hard to find outside of the States. Mac n cheese and nachos are kind of a novelty thing once you leave the U.S. that will fuel your homesickness rather than cure it because 9 time out of 10, it’s going to be awful.
4) See a French movie at La Maison Cinéma.
It’s the biggest, any maybe only, theatre in Sherbrooke. They have many movies, from native feature films, French films, and even movies you would find back home. I saw a dubbed version of American Ultra with Kristin Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg.
But you have to see a real French movie, not a dubbed version. Those just make my head hurt. I’d rather have the subtitles anyday.
5) Attend a festival
I didn’t mean to go to a renaissance festival. It was more like I happened to stumble upon some tents in the dark – and then suddenly there were men in tunics singing, dancing, and beating on drums. We found a table in the back and spent the next 30 minutes watching this strange, yet interesting, performance. After that we followed the masses through the dark forest, lit only by torches and candles. Then they set fire to a wooden dragon and everyone cheered. There was probably a point, one that I still don’t really get, but some of the best things happen when you just go with it.
Of course this depends on the time of year. I’ve noticed that festivals tend to be in the fall (when the freezing Armageddon that is the Canadian winter hasn’t settled in yet) and then again in the summer. There was a bohemian market in October and, more recently, a Christmas parade. Seeing things that only Sherbrooke has to offer gives the city a distinct character.
6) Find a coffee shop
Coffee culture across the world really intrigues me. There are many coffee shops in Sherbrooke, and not necessarily downtown. However, if you are downtown, I would recommend Kappeh. There’s also another cafe that translates to “the eye of the cat” that sells bubble tea. You can read French mangas while you wait.
My favorite is called Café du Globe. It’s down the hill from campus, about a 15 minute walk, and has amazing food as well as coffee. And, unlike some of the things downtown, it reasonably priced. The people of Sherbrooke take their coffee very seriously so, no matter where you go, you won’t get a bad cup.
7) Take a nap in the plush courtyard of Hotel de Ville
In the summer, of course. On both sides of the hotel are large lots of soft green grass that are just begging for someone to nap in them. Plus, there’s the best poutine right across the street at Le Snack.
It’s western themed, meaning it’s decorated to look like a saloon that was built on an indie budget. It has two TVs that play the movie Hostiles with Christian Bale on repeat. Murals of savvy cowboys and risqué cowgirls cover the walls. The menus picture a tanned man on the back of horse lassoing cattle – a 10 gallon hat perched on his head, of course. We walked in the first time and the hostess greeted us with an accented “howdy!”
As a Texan, born and raised, it was very amusing. Life is too short to be offended.
And Americans get chastised for large portions. But I guess poutine is on a different level.
8) Dance the night away at Commission Des Liqueurs
It’s probably one of the more well known bars downtown, especially for the younger crowd. There’s a dance floor big enough for everyone’s ego and they blast music all night long. While my favorite bar is the more, rather homely, Boquébière with it’s mismatched chairs and church pews, Commission Des Liqueurs isn’t a bad place to get your groove on.
Until next time,