The Cultural and Natural Wonders of Quebec

Quiet trail along le P'tit Train du Nord | Nathalie Gauthier
Quiet trail along le P'tit Train du Nord | Nathalie Gauthier
By Robin Esrock

Quebec is nothing if not eclectic. Quebecers invented snowmobiles, baby bottles, Trivial Pursuit, IMAX, 3D puzzles, pacemakers, walkie-talkies and snowblowers. It is home to the world’s premier jazz and comedy festivals, and an actual place called St Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! (exclamation marks in the actual spelling too). Quebecois are proud of being different, which might explain why Stop signs say Arrêt and not STOP, as they do in say, France. If your mastery of French is sticky, so are the pancakes: Quebec produces the vast majority of the world’s maple syrup, and gifted us poutine, tourtières, peanut butter, pea soup and in Montreal, the world’s finest bagels and smoked meat sandwiches. Oui oui, Quebeckers are a crafty lot with a culture that is wholly unique on the continent, whether you’re meeting artists in a village boutique or chatting to locals around a camp stove.   

Gaze beyond urban nightlife and feisty summer festivals and the natural wonders of La Belle Province are hard to ignore. Canada’s largest province has more water, forests and open space than it knows what to do with, and so it’s no wonder the Quebecois take their hiking, biking and paddling seriously. With a fantastic infrastructure of trails scouring the Canadian Shield and lush, fertile St Lawrence valleys, the real Quebec lies beyond its densely populated cities. Sumptuous farm-to-table cuisine, pristine wilderness and active adventure are wrapped in a personality that is somehow distinctly Canadian, yet all its own.  

The old train station in Nominingue, Quebec |  <i>©tourismelaurentides</i>
Cheese, wine and fresh-baked baguettes are only decadent if you don’t work it off. Devour Quebec’s gastronomic delights with all the gusto you can muster, especially during a week of cycling Le P’tit Train du Nord rail trail. Located not far from Montreal, the country’s largest linear park snakes through the majestic Laurentians, crossing the dense forest, babbling brooks, and small, welcoming communities. You might be riding in the shadows of one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges, but the mostly flat, crushed gravel trail keeps things as genteel as the restored former train stations you’ll pass on the way. Two hours north of Quebec City, a different yet just as delicious trail awaits to funnel you around the fetching shores of Lac-Saint-Jean. The flat, paved Véloroute des Bleuets (the Blueberry Bicycle Route) is a 256km/159mi-long peddle through rustic farmland, emerald forest, sparkling waters and bushes bursting with wild blueberries. Whether you choose to indulge your sweet tooth with the regions’ famous blueberry pies, tarts, syrups and pastries or prefer the many microbrasseries, delicatessens and fromageries, fill up your saddlebags but leave space in your luggage (conveniently shuttled ahead) for the treats you want to take home.  

Well-signed bicycle route around Lake St Jean |  <i>Keri May</i>
For those who’d prefer to just follow their feet, head to the rolling hills adjacent to the St Lawrence River north of Quebec City. This is Charlevoix, a region known for its culinary Flavour Trail, whale watching, history, and remarkable scenery. 350 million years ago, a 15-billion-ton meteor collided with earth, resulting in a 56km/35mi-wide crater, and the unique landscape that gives Charlevoix its UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status. The Charlevoix Traverse leads you deep into the woods, crossing boardwalks, bridges, streams and patches of wild blueberries as you hike between the huts that dot the famous trail. Easily one of the best multi-day trails east of the Rockies, immerse yourself in this mountainous hinterland with nothing but a daypack. All your luggage and meals are transferred ahead to the next huts, and a flexible four or seven-day itinerary ensures there’s something for everyone. As for wildlife, keep an eye out for porcupine, moose and various birds and massive mushrooms. Bears and wolves are out there too but are usually too polite to intrude on your wilderness adventure.

Starting off on the 105km/65mi Charlevoix Traverse |  <i>Leigh McAdam</i>
One thing is for sure: Quebec offers an unlimited feast for both outdoor and urban adventurers. In this part of the world, they like to say: “C’est l’fun!” Spend a week exploring venturing out the cities, and you’ll be joining them in an enthusiastic chorus.
nature, rail trail, hut to hut

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