While you could easily drive long and hard on your way to the Gaspé coast, you’ll miss some wonderful places on and off the beaten path.
First, however, is a hint that will save you time and lessen the stress of being on the road in the late summer .
Just after the Ontario-Quebec border, look for the sign for Autoroute 30 and it will take you along the south shore of the St. Lawrence, past Montreal, to where it hooks up with Autoroute 20. For $1.50 – the cost of the toll – you won’t have to navigate your way through Montreal, and you will save an hour’s worth of driving.
Once past Quebec City, here are places you should look for:
Great farmers’ market
Marché public in Montmagny: Montmagny is a town of about 12,000 located about 50 kilometres east of Lévis, which is across from Quebec City. The marché public (public market) is located in the centre of town, across from a massive church you can’t miss. The locally grown fruit and vegetables are crisp and fresh and the apples, especially McIntosh, are delicious. Not to be missed is the award-winning Cheddar de L’Île-aux-Grues cheddar cheese from a fromagerie on an island just off the coast. The accordion festival in early September is wonderful.
Wood carvings in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli: Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, 80 kilometres east of Lévis, is home to some of the world’s top woodworking artisans, and if you want a distinctive souvenir (not a why-did-I-buy-this lobster trap), this is the place. Take an hour to visit Église Saint-Jean-Port-Joli to see the beautiful woodcarvings. It is a feast for the eyes.
Best rest stop
La Pocatière: Take the exit for La Pocatière, hang a left and head to the water’s edge on the St. Lawrence. There is nothing fancy about this spit of land but the stunning view of the majestic St. Lawrence, looking upstream and down, is not to be missed.
Best for cyclists/runners
Bike paths along the St. Lawrence: The trip to the Gaspé coast allows you to take advantage of one the top places on the planet for cyclists. The Route Verte trail – which covers about 5,000 kilometres throughout much of Quebec, made National Geographic’s list of top bike trails in the world a handful of years ago, and there is no shortage of entry points heading east from Quebec City. The section of trail by La Pocatière is exceptional as it snakes along the St. Lawrence close enough to taste the saltwater. Continuing east, the Route Verte flows into Kamouraska, famous for its medieval festival and the archipelago off its shores. Get off your bike to check out the coastline. The water retreats so far at low tide that some of the islands can be reached on foot. Try not to get caught by the rising tide.
Cantine D’Amours in Trois Pistoles: Cantine D’Amours has been hailed as the best poutine in Quebec because it is simply artery-cloggingly delicious. Poutine, a bed of French fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds, has gone from fare for the late-night beer-swilling set to a delicacy served at awards parties and gatherings of who’s who. There are other items on the menu at Cantine D’Amours but don’t waste your money.
Best unknown town to visit
Kamouraska: 42 kilometres southwest of Rivière-du-Loup, Kamouraska has been named one of the top 20 most beautiful villages in Quebec and is a “must-stop” destination. The picturesque coastal town is gorgeous and you should take your time strolling through the streets, stopping at the local museum or the art centre. The Boulangerie Niemand on the main drag is an artisanal bakery that serves up delicious breads and pastries – and the chocolatines are mouth-watering. Next door is the Café du Clocher, where the menu is outstanding. Grab a bite to eat and head to the terrace overlooking the St. Lawrence. Just down the road is a splendid microbrewery, Brasserie Breughel à Kamouraska, a Belgium-style pub. In addition to the workingman’s champagne, try its smoked salmon, smoked bacon and spiced duck.
Best place to camp
Parc National du Bic: On Route 132, east of Rivière-du-Loup, this park is a gem. Book early and bring your kayak, bikes, hiking boots and binoculars. Outstanding scenery showcasing capes, bays, islands and small mountains. You can launch your kayak and minutes later be entertained by seals. While it is considered a maritime park, Bic has biking and hiking trails, which range from easy to strenuous.
Best lobster joint
Le Capitaine Homard in Sainte-Flavie: It’s all but impossible to miss Le Capitaine Homard on Route 132 at Saint-Flavie. The menu is seafood-heavy and lobster is its specialty. Get a table overlooking the St. Lawrence. If you are looking for the perfect kitsch souvenir, it’s here.
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