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It’s little more than an hour’s flight from New York, but the locals speak French, eat pat�, drive aggressively at excessive kilometers per hour, and like to hang out in caf�s and chain-smoke. At the same time, they have a healthy love for sports and the outdoors. And this outdoorsy bent, coupled with their unique joie de vivre, comes together in the low, round mountains north of Montreal, the Laurentians (“Laurentides” in French). If you think of the Laurentians as the Montrealers’ version of the Catskills or the Berkshires, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. But the Laurentians have a charm of their own, with friendly, cosseting auberges and grand resorts, not to mention villages full of boutiques and restaurants. It all seems familiar to Americans, but exotic enough to satisfy the urge to go abroad — without jet lag. And with current exchange rates — $1 U.S. is worth about $1.50 Canadian — going north is a bargain as well. Montrealers don’t need much of an excuse to take off to the country. They flee en masse during the summer, to hike, mountain-climb, swim, and ride bikes. But the old mountains truly come into their own in the winter, when the meters of snow falling on the slopes have the Montrealers grabbing their skis. In the old days, Montrealers used to take Le P’tit Train du Nord, a winding railroad, to hotels and guest houses in towns with names like Ste. Agathe and Val-David. Now they pile into the family Honda, put the skis on a rack, and take the swift Autoroute des Laurentides that parallels the old rail line (now a bike trail) about an hour north of the city. The provincial government has promoted tourism with a zeal almost equal to its championing of the French language. The attention given the Laurentians hasn’t been all benign. Bordering the huge Mont Tremblant national park is the bustling — some would say too bustling — Mount Tremblant ski resort. It exists mainly for downhill skiing, and within the sprawling ski villages are chalets, guest houses, apartments, and slick hotels, with the usual bistros and discos. But the more discriminating, if not agoraphobic, visitor might want to go cross-country skiing at the Hotel Far Hills Inn, high above tiny Val Morin. The quiet, secluded Far Hills was built in the late 1940s and features that era’s stone-and-wood resort architecture. At one point, about 40 years ago, the inn was owned by the Bronfman family of the Seagram Company Ltd. fame, but it’s now owned by innkeepers David and Louise Penbrooke-Smith. Despite its location in the heart of French-speaking Quebec, Anglophones (English speakers) are never made to feel uncomfortable. Far Hills is a prime destination for cross-country skiing devotees. The resort maintains a network of about 62 miles of ski trails that range from level ground to virtual mountain-climbing. The inn also runs a nearby ski club that draws day-trippers and supplies them with equipment and sustenance apres-ski. For all its prominence, however, the inn retains the feel of someone’s very large and accommodating home. Speaking of apres-ski, there’s plenty to do once you’ve burned off the inn’s generous breakfast. The dining room is considered to be one of the best in the province. A recent stay there brought an ever-changing menu with some Asian accents, as well as hearty stalwarts like boeuf Bourguignon. (Vegetarians won’t feel left out; there’s always a vegetarian option on the day’s menu.) The wine list is, as you’d expect, mostly French, ranging from rustic Cotes du Rhone to lofty Bordeaux. There are other ways to thaw out. The resort retains a Swedish massage therapist, and has a large coed sauna and indoor swimming pool. If these don’t do the trick, the friendly welcome and high standard of service will ward off any of the considerable Laurentian winter chill. HOW TO GET THERE There are direct flights to Montreal’s Dorval or Mirabel airports from New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and other airports. Undiscounted fares range from $300 to $400. Amtrak also runs a rather slow day train from New York, the Adirondack, which takes about nine-and-a-half hours. The easiest way to get to the Laurentians from Montreal is by car; it takes about an hour. The Far Hills Inn has its own Web site, http://www.farhillsinn.com/, and you can reserve online. Some sample per-person midwinter rates for skiing packages are $327 Canadian (at exchange rates at press time, about $214 U.S.) for three nights and three dinners, or a “ski week” package for $495 ($330 U.S.). Add your bar and wine tab, plus provincial and Canadian federal taxes, which are refundable at the border or upon your return. Rooms in the main lodge are rustic, with no TV. If you want something more luxurious, ask for a room in the adjacent Spruce Lodge. For more information, call the inn at 800-567-6636.

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