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Canada Travel Guide for Americans - Sugar Cabins 101 featuring Érablière Charbonneau and Le Relais des Pins

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Sugar Cabin Canada Family Travel Guide with Special Needs Kids

Canadian Sugar Cabins for Noobies

Maple syrup lovers of the world, unite! Short of bathing in a giant tub of maple syrup, this may be the next best thing.

During our recent trip to Canada we wanted to experience the unique culture, take in the historic sites and get a better understanding of what our neighbor to the north had to offer U.S. visitors such as ourselves. However, we'd be lying if we failed to mention that maple syrup was also high on our list of priorities (we're New Englanders, we can't help it). Thankfully, maple syrup was also high on the list of Canada's priorities!


While researching for our trip I came across several mentions of Canadian sugar cabins and how popular they were with both locals and visitors. I saw several people mention requiring reservations, which seemed odd to me as you don't typically make reservations in New England when visiting a sugar shack. With little idea of how they could possibly differ from sugar shacks in the U.S. I began researching deeper and suddenly a whole new maple syrup world opened up to me! I'm fairly certain you could hear the breaks come to a screeching halt as my brain fixated on the fact that maple syrup wasn't just produced; it was celebrated through an entire meal in Canada!

After understanding (as best as this American could) what a Canadian sugar cabin really was I shared my discovery with the rest of the family and we immediately resolved to visit a few. We researched some of the top rated sugar cabins in the region we were traveling to and decided to make reservations at two--Érablière Charbonneau and Le Relais des pins. We were a bit overwhelmed at first by the information regarding special menus for different times of year, the need for reservations, etc., but we dusted off my extremely rusty (read: nearly non-existent) French, pulled up Google translate and decided to dive in head-first to experience something we'd clearly never come across before!

You can read more about Érablière Charbonneau on their site.

You can read more about Le Relais des Pins on their site.


Canadian Sugar Cabin Overview 

Sugar Cabin Canada Family Travel Guide with Special Needs Kids
Érablière Charbonneau sugar shack building (restaurant was separate).

Perhaps you're familiar with sugar shacks in the U.S. Being from New England, we've certainly been to our fair share over the years, but they were nothing compared to what we experienced when we visited Canadian cabanes á sucre or sugar cabins! When we first began looking into them, we expected cute little shacks filled with giant vats of boiling syrup adjacent to little shops stocked with Canadian maple syrup products and merchandise. We were wrong!

Canadian sugar cabins were truly their own species. While sugaring was certainly a part of what they did, it was merely the first delicious layer!

Essentially, Canadian sugar cabins had large restaurants on-site that served traditional Canadian fare family-style, ending with maple taffy (boiled maple syrup on freshly fallen snow rolled onto wooden sticks). The meals varied in length at each place we visited and while menu items mirrored each other to a degree, some items varied and common items were prepared very differently!

Maple syrup was a large part of every menu, which was to be expected. Items were cooked with, boiled in and doused with maple syrup from start to finish--delicious! Some of the sugar cabins we looked into were larger than others, but they all seemed capable of hosting large parties. Some of them offered additional entertainment and activities (sleigh rides, playgrounds, activities for kids, etc.). Both of the sugar cabins we visited had little areas where they sold their own maple syrup products ranging from syrup to caramel; sugar pies to candies.


Parlez-vous Anglais?

We found that most people in Quebec spoke French with only a little English--some not at all. Servers at both Érablière Charbonneau and Le Relais des Pins spoke French, but we found they were able to speak some English for us. Le Relais des Pins had slightly more English speakers.

We strongly recommend when visiting anywhere outside the U.S. that you learn at least a few important phrases for safety and out of respect. We all spent a little time brushing up on/learning some phrases prior to our visit and while our French was atrocious, it was helpful. It also helped to understand the flow of the meals as non-native French speakers, especially since the maple taffy was served in areas separate from the dining rooms of each sugar cabin.

Tip: When the sugar pie has been eaten and the meal is done, follow the crowd to find the maple syrup on the snow!


The Restaurants

Sugar Cabin Canada Family Travel Guide with Special Needs Kids
Érablière Charbonneau restaurant interior

The interiors of the sugar cabins varied to a degree, but both were warm, inviting and covered from floor to ceiling in woodsy decor. Érablière Charbonneau had a very bright, new feel to it while Le Relais des Pins had a very homey atmosphere. Tables at both ranged from smaller 2-4 person tables to long tables that could easily sit 12 or more.

Érablière Charbonneau sugar cabin located in Mont-Saint-Grégoire, QC

Érablière Charbonneau restaurant interior

Le Relais des Pins located in Ile de Orléans, QC

Le Relais des Pins restaurant interior
The day we visited Érablière Charbonneau was our first day in Canada and the weather was pretty crazy--plenty of snow and sleet. The night we visited Le Relais des Pins the area had just gotten 1.5 ft of snow, so there was very little that wasn't covered in giant snow drifts! Regardless of the weather, both restaurants provided fantastic atmospheres we were happy to warm up in.

Note: Both had restrooms in their main buildings. Le Relais des Pins' restrooms were located in the floor below the dining room and I didn't see an accessible ramp for wheelchairs, though I may have missed the accessible bathroom elsewhere. Érablière Charbonneau's restrooms were located in the main dining area.


Entertainment & Things to Do

Le Relais des Pins live folk music

As we mentioned above, different sugar cabins offered different things in addition to delicious foods. Érablière Charbonneau was located on a large piece of land and featured a big playground for kids, pony rides and dancing on Saturdays (we visited on a weekday). Le Relais des Pins had live folk music during meals,  outdoor games on the weekends and a live DJ on Saturdays (we visited on a Friday). While both had plenty to offer, you would want to consider the time of year, weather (we drove to each during snowstorms) and ages of those in your party when planning your trip. Personally, we enjoyed both equally and would love to return to each!

We found that the outdoor play area at Érablière Charbonneau really appealed to our kids while the music at Le Relais des Pins and ability to join in (they passed out clackers at the beginning of the meal) kept our kids fully entertained while they ate.

Le Relais des Pins clackers, which are passed out to every guest at the beginning of meals. They sold these in the little gift shop, but Patrick thought it might not be a good idea to bring them home for my sanity's sake. I still think we should have grabbed them as mementos, but I'm clearly insane for even considering it since they really were quite loud!

Note: If you have family members with sensitivities to sound avoid nights with live music. Le Relais des Pins had super lively folk music throughout our entire meal and visitors joined in with wooden clackers. It was nice not to worry about being loud in public (it's always pleasant when your child isn't the loudest individual in a crowd), but we were a bit concerned at first that the boys would find the atmosphere too loud. Thankfully, they were so distracted by the musician and the fact that they could make as much noise as they wanted that it didn't bother them much at all.


The Food

The boys enjoying their meal at Le Relais des Pins!


Both Érablière Charbonneau and Le Relais des Pins offered specific multi-course meals for maple syrup season when we visited and both provided water and coffee with meals (Érablière Charbonneau also provided milk). Guests had the option to order additional drinks as well (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

Meals were served family-style in waves and both started with pea soup and ended with pancakes, sugar pie and other treats.

Both restaurants served:
  • pea soup
  • ham
  • eggs (prepared differently)
  • potatoes (prepared differently)
  • beans
  • sausages
  • meat pie,
  • pork rinds
  • bread
 Érablière Charbonneau also served bacon and meatballs, which we found were similar to Swedish meatballs.

Having two meals that sounded so similar within just a few days of each other, we were curious how different they could really be. We're happy to report that they were nothing alike! Any of the common items we ate were prepared so differently that it didn't feel as though we had eaten the same meal twice by any means. We each had our favorite items from each sugar cabin, but overall enjoyed both meals equally! We now understand how some people can spend maple syrup season eating their way from sugar cabin to sugar cabin, as they are so uniquely different in almost every way.

Érablière Charbonneau ham and eggs

Érablière Charbonneau fried potatoes

Érablière Charbonneau maple soaked sausages

Érablière Charbonneau meatballs

Érablière Charbonneau pork rinds

Érablière Charbonneau meat pies

Érablière Charbonneau sides

Érablière Charbonneau pancakes

Érablière Charbonneau sugar pie and pastries
Le Relais des Pins pea soup

Le Relais des Pins sugar pie and pancakes


Maple Syrup on the Snow (maple taffy)

The boys enjoying fresh maple taffy outside by the fire at Érablière Charbonneau.

While both meals were incredibly enjoyable, I think the maple syrup on the snow at the end was probably our favorite part of each meal! Maple syrup was boiled down and then spread out on fresh snow (it was snowing for each of our trips so it was super fresh!). Once it cooled (we were told to wait 20-30 seconds) we pressed our wooden sticks into the ends of the little maple syrup strips/puddles and rolled the syrup up onto them like slightly soft, maple lollipops! We had so much fun doing it--definitely an absolute must (in our opinions) if you love maple syrup.

It was interesting to see the different styles in which the two sugar cabins we visited delivered the syrup! Érablière Charbonneau poured little puddles of syrup onto snow inside a special trough in their sugar shack, where they also boiled the syrup down. Le Relais des Pins ushered us outside and poured thin strips of boiling syrup onto fresh snow that had collected on narrow, wooden tables outside. Both experiences were super fun and it was amazing to see how quickly and carefully the people handling the maple syrup laid out each wave of syrup to be rolled and eaten!

Érablière Charbonneau sugar shack

Snow waiting for freshly boiled syrup in Érablière Charbonneau's sugar shack.

The man handing the syrup was so quick at Érablière Charbonneau that we couldn't even catch his hand pouring in pictures!

Patiently waiting for it to cool a bit.





Yum! As you can see, the boys really enjoyed their maple taffy at Érablière Charbonneau.

Le Relais des Pins had a different style when it came time to pour out the boiling syrup on the snow!

Me rolling a stick of maple taffy for our youngest to enjoy!


Prices

Prices between all the sugar cabins we looked at were around the same, ranging from $18-$28 CAD per adult for lunch and dinner and $6-$14 CAD for children. Food was all you can eat, though you honestly probably won't have room for seconds on too many items with the amount of food provided in each course!

You can view Érablière Charbonneau's menu on their site.

You can view Le Relais des Pins' menu on their site.


Canadian Sugar Cabin Final Thoughts

Do you love maple syrup? If so, you absolutely have to visit at least one Canadian sugar cabin in your lifetime! The experiences were delicious and unique to anything we had come across before. We now understand why these are so incredibly popular!

While we love visiting local sugar shacks in New England (the smell of sweet maple syrup as it boils down is absolutely intoxicating!), they have a lot to live up to after our last visit to Canada. I'm not sure anything could compare to enjoying an entire meal centered around maple syrup surrounded by fellow maple syrup lovers in a country that wasn't our own!

Overall, the value was quite good (especially taking into consideration the exchange rate), the food was hearty and delicious and the boys really enjoyed themselves (so did we). We look forward to returning to both of these sugar cabins eventually as well as trying out some new ones!

Have you ever been to a Canadian sugar cabin? Would you if you visited Canada?


Note: FamilyADHD received a discounted price on our meal at one of the sugar cabins mentioned above. All opinions above are our own based on our personal experiences.


10 comments:

  1. What a fantastic maple syrup journey!!!! I would love to try and communicate with the locals :)

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    1. My french is nearly non-existent, but I tried! They were very good with dealing with me ;)

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  2. I would totally love a spot like this to vacation! The sugar cabins look so cozy and all of that maple syrup goodness looks delicious!

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    1. Soooo delicious! Especially with the snow outside, it was the perfect time to visit during maple syrup season :)

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  3. I'm not going to lie I scrolled right to the food posts!! I love food and I love seeing food all over the world! I wish I was there to eat with you!

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    1. Totally get it! There are few ways to become better acquainted with different cultures than through their native foods in our opinions. We are true food lovers, too! I hope you get the chance to head up north to a sugar cabin <3

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  4. What a fun trip!! I'm a new Englander too, and we do love our maple syrup in this house. The restaurant sounds like a fun lively place, and great for loud kids. I know our family would fit right in lol.

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    1. New Englanders and maple syrup = match made in heaven! Yes, definitely great for kids. lol

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  5. What a truly cool experience! I didn't even know that places like this exist! :) And how they make the maple taffy is crazy neat- how fun!

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