Vineyards, fruit, and vegetable farms, birdwatching, rolling landscapes, and picnics rustled up from fresh local products: the Québec countryside offers pleasures for everyone.
Text — Juliette Leblanc and the BESIDE team
The countryside is defined as a rural area and its landscape, as opposed to the wilderness of forests or mountains. It’s a fairly broad description. Yet just the word evokes Québec’s many farms, fields, and rippling hills, and suddenly, we’re dreaming of travelling over those rolling country roads. Many of the following routes make great road trips, and we highly recommend taking them on two wheels to be more at one with the landscape around you.
Village and vineyard pairings
Rolling hills, cycling, and natural wines
The Eastern Townships are a sure and well-loved bet. The region’s panoramas fit perfectly with city dwellers’ ideas of the bucolic: it’s full of country roads criss-crossing green valleys, lush with varied crops. But whether you’re travelling from near or far, the region’s countryside is undeniably appealing and its villages picturesque.
In the administrative region of Estrie, nearly one out of eight jobs is tied to the agricultural or agrifood industry; the region is dense with producers, particularly wine and cider.
Cycling is your ideal means of transportation for vineyard-hopping. If you choose to travel through the wine country by car, we suggest choosing a designated driver.
Start in the village of Saint-Armand, where you can park your car near the town hall. If you’d like to start your day with a stroll, this municipality is home to the Philipsburg Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Then hop on your bike and take the very quiet chemin Saint-Armand. The descent to Frelighsburg is exhilarating, and the view looking down on the steeple very pretty. The chemin de Richford takes you up the misleadingly named Joy Hill: you’ll hit three deceptive plateaus before you actually reach the top! Happily, the ride back down requires less motivation.
Here are some of the BESIDE team’s favourite spots to stop:
The Pigeon Hill vineyard in Saint-Armand makes biodynamic organic wines. It’s a wonderful place to taste unique, living products. The company sticks to small batches, allowing them to maintain high quality standards. Try the rosé, especially during a heat wave.
Louise Dupuis and Christian Barthomeuf, the founders of Le Clos Saragnat in Frelighsburg, are not only the inventors of ice cider, they’ve also developed a straw wine which only adds to the vinyeard’s reputation. Le Clos Saragnat is also considered exemplary for their adaptation to climate change.
Val Caudalies, a vineyard and cider house in Dunham, produced the very first vermouth in Québec, sweet or dry. They specialize in ice cider and ice wine, and so they harvest late. You can picnic on their land and pick grapes and apples in season.
UNION LIBRE cidre & vin in Dunham is the leading producer of fire cider — but not the traditional cold and flu remedy. Their fire cider is a concentrated cider produced by heat and evaporation. It yields a balanced beverage, less sweet than ice cider and higher in alcohol — so be careful when tasting. Don’t forget you’ll be getting back on the road!
Jonah’s tips: Contributor, journalist, and wine merchant Jonah Campbell has a soft spot for Farnham’s Domaine Les Pervenches‘ spontaneous fermentation wines. The vineyard is not open for tastings and their products often sell out, so he recommends visiting their website to purchase them online or to find out where you can buy them in-store.
Fall road trip and farm tourism
Harvests, picnics, and blazing autumn colours
If Victoriaville reminds you of poutine and that’s it, then it’s time to leave your comfort zone! For a fall double feature, visit a wide range of local producers and go road biking in the Appalachians.
Les Balades Gourmandes is held every fall, right when the autumn colours are at their peak. The organizers offer various routes you can follow to meet local growers and producers. About 100 exhibitors participate each year, showcasing their honey, berries, cheese, garlic, and vegetables. Pick up the ingredients for a spectacular picnic and set up on the banks of the Nicolet River to savour them.
The Véloroute des Appalaches is one of the most beautiful cycling routes in Québec. Work your calves on country roads during the most dazzling season of the year.
Pierre-Philippe’s tips: Musician and composer Pierre-Philippe Côté recommends visiting La Grange Pardue, a co-op brewery located in the charming municipality of Ham-Nord, to enjoy the sun setting over the surrounding valley. They let you bring your own picnic and use their barbecues!
Biking the Berthier Islands
Cycling, birdwatching, and old-fashioned doughnuts
The Lanaudière region makes most people think of mountains and forests. But there are also spectacular countryside landscapes along the St. Lawrence River — and the best way to enjoy them is on two wheels.
The Berthier Islands Loop is an 80-km cycling route through the Lanaudière countryside and villages. It travels through Saint-Ignace-de-Loyola, La Visitation-de-l’île-Dupas, Saint-Barthélémy, Maskinongé, Saint-Cuthbert, Sainte-Geneviève-de-Berthier, and Berthierville.
A ferry service for cyclists is available between La Visitation-de-l’Île-Dupas and Saint-Barthélemy, granting you access to the islands of the Lac Saint-Pierre archipelago, designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
On Île du Milieu and Île de la Commune there are three nature interpretation trails totalling 9 km. Over 200 different bird species have been identified on these trails, running along wetlands and swamps. The land is managed by the Société de conservation, d’interprétation et de recherche de Berthier et ses îles (SCIRBI) and is considered a paradise for birdwatchers.
Juliette’s tips: Our colleague Juliette recommends seeking out the Boulangerie d’Antan in Berthierville — to find it, just follow your nose — and trying some of their potato doughnuts. Have as many as you like after biking all those kilometers!
A floral drive along the 132
Flowers, local products, and contemporary art
Get in the car! We’re heading along the 132 in Bas-Saint-Laurent for a Québec plant observation and identification trip.
First stop, Île Verte. To get there, board the ferry in the town of Isle-Verte — not confusing at all, eh?! When you arrive on the island, take the time to explore its landscapes and wild plants. Its shores are covered with seaside plant species including oysterleaf, beach head iris, sea pea, and thickets of wild roses. Moderately experienced hikers might try a walk in the wild part of the island, along the north shore facing the St. Lawrence Estuary.
When you’re back on the south bank of the river, continue along the 132 to Parc national du Bic. The park boasts seven exceptional forest ecosystems that have been inventoried by the Ministère des ressources naturelles. It’s a perfect place to hike. Families take note: the park now boasts geocaches hidden along a 10-km loop. You can also observe seals, birds of prey, and eiders either while walking along the park’s trails or sea kayaking. After leaving the park, stop by La Brûlerie in Rimouski for a coffee; they roast their beans in-store.
Three hundred kilometres northeast of Québec City, in Grand-Métis, lies a true open-air museum. The Reford Gardens, also known as the Jardins de Métis, are among the northernmost gardens in North America. It’s well worth the trip to wander among the flowers. Time simply stops.
Visionary horticulturist Elsie Reford created the gardens between 1926 and 1958 on what was then a fishing camp. Today, around 3,000 species and varieties of plants are spread out over 15 different gardens, and the Reford Gardens are one of Canada’s national historic sites. They also host contemporary art exhibits and artists in residence every year. You can find the artworks scattered throughout the gardens.
Their restaurant, Villa Estevan, will be closed this summer, but a bistro-booth and pop-up grocery stand will be located at the entrance, featuring products from the gardens, bread, takeaway dishes, and gourmet picnic baskets. A selection of local beer and wine will also be available to make your picnic perfect.
If you’d rather get back on the road right away, you can stop by Ketch, a microbrewery with a patio along the river in Sainte-Flavie. Alternatively, opt for a lobster roll (or a shrimp roll) at Cantine Saint-Flavie and enjoy it on the docks.
Catherine’s tips: Our contributing photographer Catherine Bernier is from Sainte-Flavie and recommends paying a visit to the Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon. The artist’s sculptures along the river’s edge create a landscape that changes with the tides.
Montréal + Laurentides
Bike Tour from Montréal to Oka
Cycling, a flower farm, and artisan cheese
There are many cycling routes that start right in Montréal, so you don’t have to drive hundreds of kilometres to reach beautiful paths where you can pedal peacefully. It’s easy to do a day trip to Oka, and you’ve got a couple of great options to get you there.
Two supremely pleasant loops start at the Deux-Montagnes train station. You can get there by train, gear and all, or drive and park your car on-site. The first circuit, which is about 50 km and the easier of the two, takes you on a bike path and through Parc national d’Oka. The second circuit is more substantial at 84.5 km, but it’s a mostly flat journey through Montréal and Île Perrot that gets hillier as you approach Oka. It also requires a ferry ride on the Outaouais River between Oka and Hudson, giving you a well-deserved break and a chance to catch your breath before getting back in the saddle.
There are many lovely places to stop along the way, including l’Abbaye d’Oka. The abbey’s park hides several mountain biking trails. You can even rent a bike on-site if you want to give it a try! This place is a little getaway in itself and could easily make a separate excursion. Buy a few things to round out your picnic while you’re there. You’ll find cheeses and other products from the abbey in the shop.
Literally minutes away from l’Abbaye d’Oka is Labonté de la Pomme, where you can buy produce from their honey house and orchard.
When you’re ready to picnic and stretch your legs, consider heading for the fields at la Maison Lavande in Saint-Eustache or one of the many orchards in Saint-Joseph-du-Lac.
Maxime’s tips: For dinner, Maxime Lacourse, artist from Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, recommends the to-go menu at La Pomponette in Oka. This fine dining restaurant is owned by two chefs, the couple Jean-Michel Pigeon and Lucie Gustinelli.
The Cider Route in fall
Cider, cycling, and hiking
It’s easy to drink local in Montérégie, especially in the fall. This year, take the time to discover this often-overlooked region that’s so close to Montréal.
The Cider Route, which stretches over 130 km, lets you visit producers and taste their creations. There are 50-some orchards in this region: you’ll be spoiled for choice! Here are a couple of options:
Try Cidrerie Michel Jodoin, whose reputation is well-established, and their neighbour Vignoble et Cidrerie Coteau Rougemont, perched on a mountainside and with a beautiful terrace, sure to tempt you to linger. Next, take your pick from Domaine de Lavoie, Domaine de Cartier-Potelle, Cidrerie et Distillerie C.E. Petch (who’ve been growing apples since 1920!), Cidrerie du Minot, or even Black Creek Farm, where they cultivate apples with a specific tannin profile. It’s also worth checking out Cidrerie Chemin des Sept, where they bring together traditional methods and innovative vision to offer super interesting experimental ciders.
And still in Rougemont, the Cistercian Abbey’s orchard is open to the public: picnicking or simply walking among the apple trees is a joy in itself.
Juliette’s tips: Our colleague Juliette suggests that the athletically inclined visit the region by bicycle via the Circuit des trois Monts. It’s a 91-km loop with a couple of good ascents that takes you to the three Monteregian hills: Mont Saint-Bruno, Mont Saint-Hilaire, and Mont Rougemont.
Vallée de la Gatineau
Cycling, hiking, gastro-tourism, and Indigenous culture
In Gatineau, don’t pass up the chance to go to SOIF Bar à vin, the wine bar owned by Québec’s own Véronique Rivest, who placed second at the World’s Best Sommelier Competition in Tokyo in 2013. SOIF offers a terrace, dining room, or take-out options. Alternatively, take a little detour toward Ottawa, by bike or by car. Eat at the delicious restaurant Datsun, which offers a take-out menu. That way you can pass by Parliament and the National Gallery of Canada, even if you can’t go in!
In Gatineau Park, located a few minutes away from downtown Gatineau, you’ll find Pink Lake. Take the short trail that loops around it to gaze at the meromictic lake — meromictic meaning that upper and lower layers of water never mix. Its spectacular emerald colour comes from overabundant algae.
From there, head to the Mackenzie King Estate (also in Gatineau Park) for a serene nature walk along bucolic trails.
Follow the Gatineau Park Parkway to arrive at the charming Palmier, a café-bar and dinette in Chelsea. La Fab arts centre and non-profit solidarity co-operative is open Saturdays in June and will resume its regular schedule in July to promote local artists.
Higher up on the route in the municipality of Gracefield, the Saveurs de la Vallée farmers’ market is held every Friday afternoon in the summer season. It’s the perfect place to stock up on fresh, local, and seasonal produce.
For those who prefer to explore the region adventurously, check out the map for the Véloroute des Draveurs trail, which stretches over 72 km between the municipalities of Low and Farley, just before Maniwaki. For mountain bike enthusiasts, the MRC de la Vallée-de-la-Gatineau offers several options depending on your skill level.
In Maniwaki, the Kitigan Zibi Cultural Centre features exhibits, artifacts, paintings, and photographs about Algonquin culture and history. The centre also offers outdoor craft and cooking workshops and demonstrations, as well as workshops that raise awareness about Indigenous culture, particularly the history, culture, and contemporary concerns of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and the First Nations.
Catherine’s tips: Our collaborator Catherine Lefebvre suggests getting on your bike at the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre (parking lot P3) and riding up to Champlain Lookout. Your climb will be rewarded with a beautiful view. Make your descent through Chelsea.
Disclaimer: The content in the Away with BESIDE section has been thoroughly verified by our team. Still, in this rapidly changing moment, we recommend that you check the accessibility of activities first before hitting the road!