This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Gaspésie Tour—also known as Route 132—which brings you around the Gaspé Peninsula in Québec.
The Gaspésie Tour is a road trip-must for 2019.
We see the mist shoot up into the sky. My wife gasps—it must be at least seven metres high. My eyes fixate on the location as the zodiac makes a quick turn.
We’re in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, just off the shore of Forillon National Park in Gaspé, Québec. This is the last day of a week-long road trip around the Quebec Maritimes. And, we’re searching for whales.
“Oh, are you going to Halifax?” That response is surprisingly common when I tell friends we’re doing a Québec Maritimes road trip.
“No,” I respond. “We’re following the St. Lawrence River.” It feels like the easiest way to explain where we’re going. And, it’s fairly accurate.
There are four Québec Maritime regions, which boast 3,000 km of coastline, spectacular landscapes, and maritime-influenced food and drink. With only a week to explore, we fly into Québec City from Toronto and keep our road trip to two regions: Bas-Saint-Laurent and Gaspésie.
We load into the all-new 2019 Kia Sorento upon landing and head east.
QUÉBEC CITY TO RIVIÈRE-DU-LOUP
Hugging the south end of the St. Lawrence, we zip along Highway 20 until we arrive in Kamarouska—a little outpost an hour east of Québec City filled with quaint shops, and the perfect stop on the way to Rivière-du-Loup—at which point we drop down to Highway 132 to drive as close to the shore as humanly possible.
Thus begins the game of How Long Can We Stare At The Ridiculously Beautiful Views Before Needing To Pay Attention To The Road?
My wife and I take turns piloting the Kia Sorento to ensure we both have a chance to gawk at the seaside landscapes.
We check into Auberge De La Pointe as soon as we arrived in Rivière-du-Loup. We stayed here eight years ago. The riverside hotel has undergone a wonderful remodel since that time, highlighted by a wraparound deck that overlooks the St. Lawrence, complete with outdoor gas fireplaces, blankets to keep you warm so you can enjoy the incredible sunset, and a lovely offering of cocktails.
This is the perfect resting spot before moving deeper into the Québec Maritimes. I highly suggest getting a room that overlooks the River—you’ll be greeted by the sun rising over the water in the morning, and a flurry of activity in the air as a variety of birds come to life.
BIC NATIONAL PARK & RIMOUSKI
Bic National Park awaits us the next morning.
The map of the region is dotted with National Parks. Our desire is to experience as many as we can.
Sitting on the St. Lawrence Estuary, Bic National Park is known for its wildlife—from seals to plantlife—and views of the entire region. If you’re willing to hike for it, that is.
We are up for the latter. At least, we think we are.
A wonderfully kind staffer shows us the best way to Le Pic-Champlain. It’s the trail that provides one of the best views of the Appalachian countryside and Estuary. Ten minutes later we’ve parked and start the hike. Immediately we’re heading up. And up. And up. The sweat starts to drip down.
The trail starts off well marked, but slowly becomes less and less obvious the higher we go. There are a few signs of life—other people making the hike, birds chirping, and other wildlife that remain hidden from our view.
It takes more than an hour to reach the lookout. We’re not disappointed. The peak allows you to see across what seems to be the entire St. Lawrence area. Silence takes over the moment as we take it in.
We can’t believe the landscape and the views we just experienced—it occupies our conversation on the way down, and continues on the short drive to Rimouski.
We spend the night in the city. While still town-like in its feel, Rimouski is the most built-up spot along the Gaspésie Tour.
Hôtel Le Navigateur is the place to stay. Recently renovated, the hotel boasts spacious rooms that allows us to spread out hiking bags, deal with our sweat-stained clothes from the hike, and repack in a way that has us ready to conquer the next leg of the drive.
REFORD GARDENS—A TRANQUIL STOP
We have Sainte-Anne-des-Monts in our sights, but first we make a highly recommended stop at Reford Gardens in Grand-Métis.
Alexander Reford—great grandson of Elsie Reford, the creator of the gardens—shows us around the impressive grounds.
There’s history steeped into each square foot of cultivated earth—British influence that sweeps across the grounds, Elsie’s defiant character that allows the gardens to begin in the first place,and the incredible ingenuity that supports its current state.
The gardens are beautiful and defy what many may think is agriculturally possible. The International Garden Festival raises the space to new heights. The area encourages designers to think about how play can be incorporated within the gardens. The winning designs are created to spec by Alexander’s team. Expect the zany (full trees on tracks that kids and kids-at-heart—like me!—can literally move around) to the thoughtful (a vision of a flooded landscape is one of our favourites), which change each year.
This is a Canadian gem that deserves every spotlight available.
My wife is piloting the Kia Sorento—Google Maps via Android Auto leading the way through Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. We’ve kept the third row folded down the entire way, housing our luggage, and there’s still plenty of space in the second row to throw our jackets and newly acquired treats from shops along the Gaspésie Tour.
I’m rummaging for something sweet—or maybe salty—when I see the shadow come out from the side of the road.
A moose. Slowly, methodically, walks across the road. It’s in charge. Maybe it’s a warning that we’re on its turf. Or, perhaps, a welcome. Regardless, it has us perked up to see more.
We make our way to Gîte du Mont-Albert—a gorgeous cabin-like hotel located inside Parc national de la Gaspésie. There’s no cell service. We’re simply surrounded by mountains, lakes, wildlife and quiet. It’s perfect.
We spend our days hiking various trails—Le Lac-aux-Américains, La Rivière-Cascapédia, La Saillie—and nights enjoying the high-end menu and cozy ambiance of the hotel. It’s Canadian paradise.
GASPÉ AND PERCÉ
We take the Sorento south to the bottom end of the Gaspésie Tour. Thus far we’ve only filled the tank once. Quite a feat for a vehicle this size. And, we’ve taken full advantage of the panoramic sunroof—the scenery is never-ending and we find ourselves craning our necks to look back every other minute.
Whereas the northern side of Route 132 feels more scenic, the southern end feels more homey. We swing around the tip, which juts into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and land in Pérce.
We’re taken aback by the stunning view of the Pérce Rock from our balcony at Le Mirage. The hotel sits atop a hill and provides the best vantage point of the entire area.
The boat ride with Les Bateliers de Percé around the Pérce Rock and to Bonaventure Island is a must.
Up close, the rock is steadfast in the water—standing there almost defiantly, showing off its prowess.
We land on Bonaventure and immediately hike up to the top of the island, towards the world’s largest colony of Northern Gannet. It’s absolutely amazing seeing hundreds of thousands of birds in one area, nose diving into the water, as seals bob up and down, and lazily swim around.
FINBACKS OFF FORILLON
We’re hot on the trail of the whale. The guide leading this Croisières Baie de Gaspé tour tells us it’s a finback. On cue, we see it surface. Its fin.
We drove the Sorento into Forillon Park earlier that morning. This is the last stop on the week-long trip that is impossible to sum up in one simple retelling.
We continually have to remind ourselves that we’re in Canada as we drive along the shores of the St. Lawrence. The awe-inspiring views from mountain-top peaks, the charming hospitality from each area, the food and drink that transports you into a different world.
The Gaspésie Tour is required travel for every Canadian.
On our first day we drove past a huge sign, highlighted by a beer mug. Sure enough, it pointed to Tête d’Allumette, one of the many craft breweries in the Quebec Maritimes region.
From that point, we made a concerted effort to visit as many of the breweries listed on this map. We made it to seven, highlighted by Tête d’Allumette, Le Bien Le Malt, Auval and Pit Caribou (visit the brewery before their pub). There’s nothing quite like having a few pints as you sit on the shores of the St. Lawrence River.
Epic Canadian Drives