Road tripping Quebec
Quebec is Canada’s largest province and certainly one of its most rewarding, featuring everything from city thrills to jaw dropping landscapes, enthralling marine life to captivating history, culture and traditions. With so much to offer, Quebec is ideal for exploring at your own leisure, whether on a classic self-drive tour or on a motorhome holiday that makes the most of the province’s splendid natural areas and countless campgrounds. For the truly ambitious, Quebec is also ideally positioned to combine with other equally enticing destinations, including the maritime province of Nova Scotia or even a hop across the border to explore the neighbouring states that make up America’s region of New England.
Cites, old and new
Quebec’s urban hub and Canada’s second largest settlement, Montreal is a bustling city that seamlessly blends the old with the new. A contemporary metropolis boasting a hip youthful vibe, it’s also a place that cherishes tradition, as reflected in its well-preserved architecture and strong French influence. Start your explorations with a stroll around the cobblestone streets of the Old town, home to impressive eighteenth-century buildings and the inspiring neo-Gothic Basilique Notre-Dame. You’ll soon find that the city takes its culture seriously, whether it be on the stage, in concert halls, in its copious museums or simply reflected in the striking street art. And of course, the unique blend of European and North American influences makes it unlike any other place on Earth. Montrealers themselves are renowned for their joie de vivre, which comes out in full force during the cities countless parties, events and festivals.
Downton Montreal boasts all the attractions and diversions you’d expect from a major hub, with glitzy designer shops, big brand stores and restaurants sharing space with heritage churches and innumerable French-inspired terraced cafes. Take a breather by heading up to Mount Royal Park for sweeping views over the cityscape. Alternatively, head out onto the St. Lawrence River for a different perspective and pass notable sights like the Old Port with its landscaped parks and urban beaches and the nearby Boucherville Islands. Last but not least, Montreal is home to one of the most exciting and innovative culinary scenes on the continent. Whether you want tantalise your taste buds with innovative concoctions or indulge in comforting Canadian classics, you’ll find the food here truly hard to resist.
Quebec City may not offer the sheer abundance and diversity of urban offerings of its larger cosmopolitan neighbour, but it more than makes up for this with its quaint character and undeniable European charm. Come for the magnificent history and architecture and to witness the distinctive French Canadian identity at its most proud. This is North America’s only walled city, harbouring a UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town steeped in fine 17th century buildings and countless landmarks, churches and squares. Spend the day touring the Citadel, the Notre Dame Basilica, the National Assembly and the must-visit Plains of Abraham, a sprawling public park offering endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Admire stunning views of the splendid and much-photographed Chateau Frontenac towering over the St. Lawrence River. Stroll picturesque cobblestone streets, pop into a museum and clap along to street performances. To refuel, stop by a Parisian-style café for a croissant and a warming bowl of café au lait or enjoy a takeout poutine in a neatly manicured square. There’s plenty more to explore beyond the walls of the Old town as well – the outer neighbourhoods such as St. Jean Baptiste and St.Roche boast excellent dining, shopping and nightlife catering to all tastes.
Less than a 2 hour drive from Montreal is the spectacular outdoor playground of Mont Tremblant. Situated in the Laurentians, it’s home to one of the best renowned resorts in eastern North America, rivalling the likes of British Columbia’s Whistler. It’s the perfect choice for active family holidays with summer being an especially great time to take advantage of the long daylight hours and countless outdoor activities.
The expansive National Park features a dizzying mix of verdant forests, rolling mountains, pristine lakes and gushing rivers. The park is Quebec’s largest and oldest and home to an astonishing diversity of flora and fauna including prolific birdlife and over 40 species of mammals including deer, moose, wolves. Base yourself at the Lac Monroe campground for easy access to hiking and canoe routes, along with opportunities for fishing, swimming, and the chance to traverse a dramatic via ferrata route across a sheer rock face. Lake Tremblant and River Rouge are popular destinations for water sport enthusiasts, whether you fancy wakeboarding, water skiing, tubing or any number of thrilling experiences.
The resort itself features still more activities, ranging from white water rafting, rock climbing and winter sports to more sedate pastimes like golfing, horse riding and sailing. The village harbours a pedestrianised shopping area filled with independent and designer stores, as well as spas, bars, trendy patios, cosy cafes and plenty of fantastic dining options.
The Gaspe Peninsula
The stunning Gapse Peninsula is one of the province’s most popular vacation destinations with local Quebecois and international visitors alike flocking to the region to enjoy the diverse seascape, gorgeous mountain terrain, dense pine forests and endless potential for outdoor adventure. The deeper you venture into the peninsula, the wilder the landscapes become and the more atmospheric the fishing villages dotted along the way, to say nothing of the proud maritime heritage and legendary local hospitality! Making a loop around the peninsula has been rated as one of the best scenic drives in the country. Stick to stunning sea roads and embark on thrilling ocean excursions, or head inland to explore remote routes and wild backcountry.
It’s here that you’ll find one of Quebec’s most prominent natural landmarks: the impressive Perce Rock that rises steeply from the lively ocean waters just off the tip of the peninsula. You can catch a cruise that will take you up close to the dramatic landform. Wildlife lovers will also want to extend their trip to Bonaventura island, with its 300,000 strong seabird sanctuary (especially notable for its thriving population of northern gannet) and abundant marine life (including the chance of spotting whales). The village itself, backed by the lovely Perce Bay, is also well worth exploring. Spend an afternoon strolling the boardwalk along the beach, browsing artful boutiques and tucking into some delicious fare, not least the mouth-wateringly fresh lobster. For a bird’s eye perspective, head up to the glass viewing platform at the summit of Mont Saint-Anne, where you’ll also find several rewarding hiking trails that offer a brilliant perspective over the expansive coastal scenery.
Active types can try their hand at everything from canyoning to negotiating a subterranean via ferrata, deep-sea diving to thrilling fishing expeditions in and around the gorgeous Baie de Chaleur, rated as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. Along the region’s rivers there’s also salmon fishing, white water paddling and kayaking on offer. The peninsula also boasts a rich history, subject to centuries of diverse cultural influences from the Basque, the Irish, Acadians, Jersey Islanders, First Nations peoples and more. You’ll find the entire area awash with copious museums, heritage attractions and fascinating historic sites, some of them UNESCO listed.
Forillon National Park, located on the north-eastern tip, is another must-visit with its looming cliffs, copious beaches and peaceful coves. Take the opportunity to learn more about the region’s vibrant fishing history and rich ecosystem at various interpretation sites and don’t forget to pay homage to Cap-des-Rosiers, Canada’s largest lighthouse. The drive along the coast, passing lighthouses, windswept cliffs and lookout points is a spectacular one and you can break up the journey with opportunities for hiking, whale watching excursions and birdwatching.
Last but not least should be a visit to Parc de la Gaspesie located in an area delightfully known as the Chic-Chocs. Sainte-Anne-des-Monts is the principal gateway to this wild hinterland featuring dense forests and mountains that tower 4,000 feet above the banks of the mighty St. Lawrence. There are walking trails aplenty, traversing spacious valleys and scaling grandiose peaks, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for caribou, moose, and wild-tailed deer along the way. Meanwhile, during the chillier months the area transforms into a veritable winter wonderland with snowshoeing being especially popular.
This spectacular region is another of Quebec’s most popular tourist destinations. The town of Tadoussac is the gateway to the region, located where two of Quebec’s major waterways meet – the Saguenay and the Saint Lawrence rivers. It’s a fantastic destination for wildlife enthusiasts, especially for those keen on whale watching: the confluence of the two rivers creates an ideal spot to admire several whale species. Smaller varieties including belugas and minke can often be spotted from the shore, whilst zodiac tours organise excursions further out in search of the larger species.
The highlight of this area is undoubtedly the Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay which protects a large swathe of pristine nature along the breathaking Saguenay Fjord, the most southerly fjord in the northern hemisphere and also one of the world’s longest. The deep blue waters of the fjord are framed by dramatic cliff walls, stretching some 500m high, encompassing numerous bays, coves and lakes and surrounded by wild pine forests. Make the most of the scenic surrounds by taking a hike along the fjord atop its capes, surrounded by mountains and forests on one side and the vast ocean on the other. There are over 100km of trails to explore across a vast expanse of backcountry, with the Des Caps trail being especially popular. The park also features three via ferrata circuits – exhilarating guided climbs that offer staggering views of the beautiful Baie Eternité.
Alternatively, take to the water in a kayak or boat cruise for a different perspective and for the chance to spot yet more whales which congregate in the warm waters of the Saguenay. If you’re feeling really adventurous, there’s the option to don scuba diving equipment and delve into the mysterious waters of the fjord. Learn more about the geology of this awe-inspiring landscape at the park’s interpretive centre that’s packed with practical information, exhibits, hands-on activities and theatrical presentations. Accommodation options abound, so you’ll be well-serviced whatever your needs -whether you’re in search of a cosy log cabin for two, a primitive backcountry campsite or something a little fancier in one of the picturesque villages along the fjord.
Next on the agenda should be a visit to the nearby Lac St Jean, so large it’s easily mistaken for an inland sea. The circular shores of the lake are perfect for a range of exciting outdoor activities, including hiking, biking (along the fantastic paved Veloroute des Bleuets) and horse riding, and of course you can take to the water itself to enjoy sailing, canoeing and fishing. The area encompasses the picturesque Pointe-Taillon National Park that protects more than 40km of shoreline and sandy beaches. The warm waters of the lake are great for swimming and water sports in summer and especially popular with families. Kids will also enjoy the wonderful wildlife park at Saint-Felicien, whilst the area’s settlements are known for their quality locally-produced foods and fun-filled annual festivals such as the Traversée Internationale du Lac Saint-Jean and the Festival du Bluets.