In this four-week special series, Wheels takes a road trip through eastern Quebec, learning more about the people, culture and history of the region. We learn why La Belle Province is “Ours to Discover” this summer and beyond. In our final installment, we explore the Gaspésie.
Full of dramatic landscapes and natural wonders, the Gaspésie region of Quebec will inspire you with every twisting turn of its main highway, Route 132. During your stay you can visit spectacular national parks, tour former fishing villages and discover the unique geography that makes the Gaspe Peninsula so stunning.
In the morning:
Prepare a hearty breakfast at the Chalets Nautika Gaspésie before starting a busy day exploring the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula. These small cottages located on a cliff overlooking the Baie de Gaspé come equipped with cookware, plates, cutlery, and a selection of coffee beans, jams and peanut butter.
Begin your adventure by heading underground at Fort Peninsula, about a 30-minute drive away. These fortifications are the remains of a shore battery created during the Second World War to protect against possible German U-boat attacks. You can walk through the facility and learn more from its interpretive plaques.
Next, drive further along Route 132 into Forillon National Park. Among the places to visit are the Hymans & Sons General Store, which used to service local fishermen in the 1900s, in historic Grande-Grave, the four-kilometre-long Les Graves Trail to the Cap Gaspé lighthouse (and the official end of the International Appalachian Trail) and the 17-metre waterfall on the La Chute Trail.
Be sure to stop at Cap-Bon-Ami, a scenic lookout with stunning views of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and dramatic cliffs, as well as the nearby Cap des Rosier Lighthouse, which is the tallest in Canada at 34 metres.
In the afternoon:
Back in Gaspé, visit the Musée de la Gaspésie, a history museum that chronicles the story of the region. Using 250 artifacts and archival documents, its exhibits span its geological origins and the story of its Indigenous inhabitants through to the arrival of settlers from the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey.
After, stop at the Birthplace of Canada Historic Site, an outdoor space on the waterfront that uses an original heritage building and six reconstructions to recreate what Gaspé looked like in 1900. The site includes a cross dedicated to explorer Jacques Cartier, who is believed to have come ashore in the area in 1534.
In the evening:
back at Nautika, grill up some hamburgers or steaks on your chalet’s outdoor grill before sitting outside at the fire pit and admiring the views of the Baie de Gaspé. Before you head to bed, be sure to do some stargazing, as the area experiences little light pollution.
In the morning:
After breakfast, begin driving south on Route 132 to Percé to explore the Parc national de l'Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé. This park is the largest migrating bird sanctuary in North America, attracting more than 200,000 each summer.
Leave your car at the paid-parking lot next to the Club Nautique de Percé and walk toward the wharf. The roadway and waterfront are full of restaurants and stores to pop into before heading on your excursion to Rocher-Percé and l’Île-Bonaventure with tour operator Les Croisières Julien Cloutier.
Be at the end of the wharf about 30 minutes before the departure of the tour boat. It will first shuttle you around Rocher-Percé, a limestone rock from the Devonian period that rises nearly vertically to a height of 88 metres and features an arch carved by the water.
After, the boat will visit l’Île-Bonaventure, an island nearly encircled by high cliffs that attract a variety of sea birds that nest along its crevices. The national park was created in 1985, but before then 35 families lived on the island. Some of their homes have been preserved, while others have been left to the elements. You need to have park permit to access the island.
Two popular hiking trails on Bonaventure are Les Colonies, a one-and-a-half-hour roundtrip hike across the middle of the island, and Le chemin du Roy, a three-hour hike across the southern shore past the abandoned homes. Both trails take you to the nesting grounds of the Northern Gannet, where the birds cover the top of the cliff and its face.
In the afternoon:
Boats back to the mainland are frequent during the summer months and take around 15 minutes. Once back on shore, visit the Percé UNESCO Global Geopark. Start your experience at Tektonik, where you can learn about the geological history of the region. A series of multimedia experiences uses projected videos to explain the effects plate tectonics and water has had on the Gaspe Peninsula and the formation of Rocher-Percé
Follow your experience by hiking – or using the courtesy shuttle – up Mont-Sainte-Anne to experience its glass-floored observation deck. It is suspended off the side of a cliff 200 metres above sea level and offers panoramic views of the Percé region and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Back in your car, drive two hours west along to the community of Bonaventure. Along the way you may want to stop at the Site historique national de Paspébiac, an open-air museum where you can learn the history of cod fishing, or the boardwalk and Jean-Paul-Dubé Bird Sanctuary in New Carlisle.
In the evening:
Check into the Riôtel Bonaventure, a seaside-themed hotel full of blue and white accents located on the waterfront. A number of its rooms face onto Chaleur Bay, with views across the water of New Brunswick. For dinner, drop into the on-property Kano Restaurant and try a plate of its seafood poutine – topped with lobster, shrimp, scallops, cheese curds and a bisque sauce – or lobster linguine in white wine sauce.
In the morning:
Leave Bonaventure and continue driving west along Route 132 to Carleton-sur-Mer, a small town founded by Acadian families exiled from Nova Scotia in the 1750s. Horizon Park on the waterfront features a monument to the families as well the art installation “Dig Into our Roots.”
It features a checkerboard, engraved with significant dates, events and symbols associated with the history of the community, with the sculpture of a tree in its middle. Access a virtual version of the tree online, where its roots lead from the park to important historic and cultural sites in the community.
As you continue driving, you will soon find yourself leaving the coast and following the Restigouche River to where it meets the Matapédia River in the township of Matapédia. The community is home to the Belvédère des Deux-Rivières, a twisted wooden tunnel at the top of a cliff that offers scenic views of both rivers and the surrounding hills.
In the afternoon:
Route 132 now follows the Matapédia River into the heart of the Gaspe Peninsula, winding its way between the tree-covered hills that roll into the waterway. Be sure to stop near the community of Routhierville to enjoy the sight of its red covered bridge, before taking a break in Causapscal.
The city is home to the Site patrimonial de pêche Matamajaw, a heritage spot that chronicles the history of Atlantic salmon fishing. During the early 1900s, wealthy businessmen set up a salmon fishing club in the community, operating it for more the 60 years. Today visitors can tour the grounds and its buildings and observe salmon in their natural habitat.
From here, Route 132 continues to cross the peninsula, merging back with Autoroute 20 in the city of Mont-Joli. Once there, you can opt to stay a night in Rimouski or Rivière-du-Loup, which are 30 minutes and an hour-and-a-half drive away respectively, or continue on to Quebec City, about three-and-a-half hours away.
For the drive
Be sure to listen to the music of Mary Travers, a popular Quebec singer in the 1930S known as La Bolduc or Madame Bolduc. Travers was born in Newport, in the Gaspésie region, and recordings of about 100 of her songs still survive.
DISCLAIMER/TAG: The Toronto Star has partnered with Bonjour Quebec to bring you this road trip series. The writer travelled as a guest of Bonjour Quebec, which did not review or approve this article.