PHOTOS BY: TQ
Unique among North American destinations, Quebec’s fully-preserved French heritage sets itself apart from most of its English-speaking neighbours. Beyond its cultural heritage, the province features a multi-faced geography, diverse landscapes and a rich history spanning 5 centuries.
The best way to explore Quebec’s charms is from the saddle of a bicycle, especially along the 5,000km-long Route Verte that stretches from the banks of the St. Lawrence to scenic mountain-side routes, past various attractions and scenic sights.
Some highlights include the Véloroute des Cantons which extends for some 225km across the Eastern Townships, allowing you to discover the region’s villages, natural parks and rolling landscapes. If you’re into historic rides, the P’tit train du Nord linear parkway (200 km) path was created on what used to be the Laurentides railway, taking you past forests and small villages.
For some coastal riding and adventure, the Route Verte travels along the coast of the Gaspé Peninsula, a region that’s dotted with rolling coastal mountains, small seaside villages, plenty of pristine national parks, and about 500kms of bike lanes lined with cyclist-friendly hotels. Located south of the Lawrence River, it can be explored in a week.
One of 5 maritime regions of Quebec, the rugged coastline is not only synonymous with coastal Acadian villages, panoramic ocean vistas, misty mornings and steep cliffs, there are also opportunities for wildlife watching, fly fishing, hiking, canoeing and taking in a little culture. Possessing passable French is an advantage, as this is a mainly French-speaking region.
While the loop around the entire peninsula is about 900km, the 500km that belongs to the “Route Verte” is decidedly the best section. The most common starting point is from Mont-Joli, where you can rent a bike (bringing your own is best). From here, the full-length loop follows Route 132 clockwise around the peninsula to take advantage of the headwind from the west.
The ride starts easy along the north shore past pretty French villages until the Chic-Choc mountains – the northern end of the Appalachians – where the landscape is akin to the Rockies. Halfway through the loop is Forillon National Park, where Route 132 continues to the southern coast.
The easier Route Verte portion follows the southern portion of Route 132, running anti-clockwise and ends halfway at Forillon National Park, avoiding the mountains.
The first portion of the route takes you through forests past small towns before reaching the protected Chaleur Bay. The ride is pretty easy along this stretch of coast, where Basque, Norman and Jersey immigrants colonised what’s considered one of the most beautiful bays in the world.
The bay is lined with a number of towns including Miguasha and Carleton-sur-Mer where you can enjoy kayaking in the bay.
From here, you can ride inland to Parc National de Miguasha, a World Heritage site, where you can ogle at 380-million-year-old fish fossils which display a crucial time during the evolution of life on earth. Further along the bay at the mouth of the Bonaventure River, you may be able to sight some whales just offshore or paddle along the river on a canoe tour.
The route flattens out here all the way to Percé, passing Port-Daniel – a century-old railway port that’s now speckled with fishing boats – along the way.
Percé is a popular attraction where art galleries, comfortable lodging and fine dining can be found. Percé is home to the peninsula’s most famous icon: Percé Rock, an 88m-tall limestone monolith that rises dramatically from the ocean. Close to the rock is Bonaventure Island, which together with Percé Rock form Parc National de l’Île- Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé.
The park is a migratory bird sanctuary for the Northern gannet, with a population of over 110,000 nesting birds (the second largest in the world). In addition, you can also find other seabirds like puffins, razorbills, Black guillemot and kittiwakes.
You can walk up to the rock at low tide (or take a boat tour to include Bonaventure Island) and explore the flora and fauna. Access is restricted between May 28 and October 12 (the top of the rock is not accessible at all times).
From May to December, some species of blue whale, humpback whale, minke whale or fin whale can be seen along the coast.
The final leg of this route rolls past limestone cliffs to Gaspé, a famous artist’s enclave. While it is a city, there are plenty of small communities dotted around. From here, you can opt for sea kayaking just off the coast, go salmon fishing (a popular summer activity) or ride further into neighbouring Forillon National Park.
Forillon features pebbly beaches, moss-covered waterfalls, and sheer cliffs that drop for hundreds of feet. Although essentially a marine park, Forillon is also home to a number of land mammals including the moose, which is very much at home in the park’s rugged wooded terrain. Seabirds are abundant here, and during each spring migration, birds like cormorants, kittiwakes, gulls and razorbills breed en masse on the sea cliffs of the Bon Ami Cape area.
The park is also home to Canada’s tallest lighthouse at Cap-des-Rosiers, and offers opportunities for diving and snorkelling, kayaking and whale watching.
The Route Verte portion of the Gaspé peninsula ends here, where you can opt to leave by rail or air, or continue northwards along the coast (although the headwinds can get pretty strong in this portion).
With its Acadian and French roots, attractions like Percé Rock, as well as parks like the Forillon National Park and Miguasha National Park, it is no wonder that the Gaspé peninsula remains a classic destination for touring cyclists. For those not into the saddle, the trip can also be done in the comfort of a car.
The province of Quebec has 2 major international airports – at Quebec City and Montreal – that are easily accessible from Singapore.
The most common starting point of Gaspé Peninsula’s Route Verte is Mont-Joli, from where there are air, rail and road connections to major Canadian cities like Montreal and Quebec City. At the end of the Route Verte at Gaspé, you can return to Mont-Joli or Montreal by train or air.
As Route 132 is essentially a highway that connects the towns along the coast, having a mirror on the bicycle is a good safety feature, as traffic can get pretty hairy (especially when trucks drive by).
The best time to tackle the Gaspé peninsula is during the busy summer between June and September when campgrounds are fully open (most sites are perched over cliffs with sea views) and the bird migration season is in full swing.
For more on Gaspé and Quebec, visit www.bonjourquebec.com.