How to Practise Slow Travel
Route changes, pit stops–turned-picnics, and alternative transportation: Québec is an ideal place for cultivating contemplation.
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Just before the pandemic started, we published The Short Guide to Slow Travel. As you may have noticed, the idea of travelling differently has been driving our editorial team’s conversations for a long time. Basically, slow travel implies slowing down to really get to know a place: its cuisine, its traditions, its landscapes, and its inhabitants. Throw away the checklist of things you absolutely must see.
Slow travel is definitely a trend, but this trend is becoming more and more embedded in our travel philosophy. By travelling slowly, we move away from itineraries that are too full and too strict. Instead, the movement encourages travellers to reflect and apply the concept to their interests, moods, desires, and environment. This might mean anything from meditating for five hours at the edge of a lake to cooking paella for campsite neighbours.
What does slow and responsible travel mean? How do you focus on quality time over quantity of places, kilometres, purchases, or social media posts? We have all dreamed about a return to normalcy over the past year. Maybe this is an opportunity for us to revisit “normal” ways of doing things, such as our travel habits.
What if the vast Québec playground was an ideal starting point for embracing slow travel?
Slow Travel in Five Steps
Travelling slowly is a muscle that needs to be exercised: stopping to ask yourself questions at each vacation stop can require a little extra effort. To help, here are some strategies and places to consider.
Plan (or don’t)
Make space for spontaneity, for unexpected or unproductive days
Parts of vacations and trips need to be planned, of course. In particular, you have to decide where to go and where to sleep. And these choices are really important: let’s not forget that travel and tourism are some of the most effective tools for the financial recovery of a region. Here are a few tips:
Choose little-known regions
A large part of Québec would benefit from being explored and discovered by tourists. Little-known can mean less traffic and creating your own list of must-see places. Consider, among other things, regional parks, which are often neglected for national parks. Get away from the sightseeing you already know and explore the surrounding areas, such as:
- The Lower St. Lawrence islands: Ile aux Basques, Ile Verte, Ile aux Lièvres, or Ile Saint-Barnabé, to name a few.
- The Lower St. Lawrence’s inland roads are among the most beautiful landscapes between Québec City and Gaspé. There are two interesting loops: Rivière-du-Loup–Pohénégamook–Témiscouata-sur-le-Lac–Rivière-du-Loup and Trois-Pistoles–Saint-Cyprien–Témiscouata-sur-le-Lac–Dégelis–Squatec–Sainte-Luce–Rimouski. This drive is guaranteed to enthrall motorcyclists and motorists alike.
- The Massif du Sud regional park, in the Chaudière-Appalaches region, is less visited than its Charlevoix counterpart on the other side of the river.
- Between Louiseville and La Tuque, the 250-km-long Route des Rivières tourist route offers several ways to enjoy the Saint-Maurice River and a dozen of its tributaries.
- The northern part of Eastern Townships is far from the villages along the border and teeming with picturesque hamlets and hilly roads. Make your way to the regional county municipalities of Haute-Yamaska, Val-Saint-François, and Acton.
Visit friends and family
Take advantage of easing health regulations and plan visits to different regions. Spending time with friends and catching up on the last year over a campfire and a good regional meal is still travelling.
What we don’t plan makes up most of our memories: impromptu meet-ups, sunsets (or sunrises), meals prepared with friends or loved ones, leisurely cocktails on local restaurant patios. Say hello to passersby and learn the wisdom of the locals. Plan ahead, but just enough. Who knows, playing cards in your car on a rainy day might be an opportunity to learn a new game!
Here are some ideas that don’t require planning but could brighten up your trip:
- Take an impromptu swim in a lake or at a municipal beach found along the way.
- Stop at a farmers’ market to stock up on fresh produce and have a picnic at a pebble beach along the river.
- To find the best bakeries, cafés, and restaurants along the road, try asking locals for advice when you show up in a village.
When the time comes to pack your bags, consider grabbing some of our amazing portable culture suggestions: podcasts and books that slip in nicely between your bathing suit and mosquito repellent.
Photo: Tourisme Brome-Missisquoi
Get around differently
Unforgettable roads, mixed means of transportation, and breathtaking landscapes
Viewing travel time as part of the trip rather than a necessary evil can dramatically change the experience. After all, it’s a great time to listen to a podcast, discover a new album, learn a song by heart while singing at the top of your lungs, or play guessing games.
Long drives — the ones that take your breath away — are our favourites at BESIDE. You can fall in love with a region on the road.
Some of our favourites:
- Route 362 between Baie-Saint-Paul and La Malbaie, aptly named the St. Lawrence Route, seems like it’s being swallowed up by the river and the horizon.
- Route 132 eastward, between Sainte-Anne-des-Monts and Grande-Vallée, smells of salt water, and the strong wind whips at your face.
- The stretch of road connecting Saint-Armand to Frelighsburg, especially the last section, offers a commanding view of the village from the top of the hill. And the descent is particularly satisfying on a bike.
- The 117 between Grand-Remous and Val-d’Or: 253 kilometres of forests, lakes, and the overwhelming immensity of the La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve.
- The 138 between Les Escoumins and Baie-Trinité for whale watching.
- The Navigators’ Route, which extends from Baie-du-Febvre to Sainte-Luce, has magnificent sections that can be travelled by both car and bike. Dotted with ancestral houses, it’s a beautiful secondary road to come into or leave from Québec City.
- The section of the 243 that goes along Brome Lake is peaceful and beautiful, in a region renowned for its winding roads and lanes that criss-cross the agricultural landscape.
The train is also a great way to travel, and we often forget about it. You can pay full attention to the landscape rather than to your car’s navigation system. If vacationing on the move appeals to you, check out the packages for the Train de Charlevoix, which links up three stations (Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, Baie-Saint-Paul, and La Malbaie) along the river. They even offer drink-landscape pairings! A one-day getaway without the hassle of traffic and parking, at a super-reasonable price, anyone?
Ferries have the romantic allure of special occasions. You can travel while taking a break and admiring the scenery as you read with the wind in your hair. For all timetables, rates, and ferry options, click here. We especially recommend:
- Isle-aux-Grues to Montmagny
- Rivière-du-Loup to Saint-Siméon
- Matane to Baie-Comeau
Cycling is, naturally, an ideal mode of transportation for those wanting to meditate while tanning their thighs. Some options around Québec:
- Outaouais hides many treasures for those who love travelling on two wheels. With its evocatively named routes (my favourite one: Les cuisses en feu or Thighs on Fire), the region has what it takes to please many types of cyclists. Whether along the Outaouais River, across the hills in Gatineau Park, or on an old ferry route, you can choose the cadence that’s right for your fitness level or your need for tranquility.
- The La Vagabonde tours, from the Route Verte and the Parc Linéaire, make up a cycling network of more than 100 km in the Lower Laurentians. They all include rest stops, some with restrooms.
- A note to adventurers planning a long bike tour: the Vélo Québec checklist is an excellent aide-mémoire to prepare for your trip.
- The yearly Grand Tour cycling event has been adjusted in 2021 for the pandemic. This year, participants are encouraged to discover the most beautiful cycling routes in Mauricie over five days.
Slow travel can also mean going less far. Why not think about your destinations incrementally? Start with exploring your municipality, then work outward through your surrounding area, before heading to places that are farther afield. This could be a great opportunity to become an amazing guide for friends and family who come to visit.
Photo: Parc régional Kiamika
Wireless and webless
Disconnect and soak up your surroundings
Have you ever visited a more-or-less remote region of Québec where you couldn’t use Google Maps or Instagram? Lack of reception can create a small panic, but it’s a game-changer once you learn to see it as a gift. It forces you to see with your eyes, to soak up the scenery, its smells, colours, and sounds. The land affects us. Take time to fully experience a road you’ve never taken, a village you’ve never visited, or a lake you’ve never seen.
What does disconnecting mean for you personally? Setting aside screens, calendars, timelines, and the need to plan everything?
Remote work or study shouldn’t come along on vacation, but if you can’t help it, moving your office to a chalet or even a campsite can definitely increase your motivation!
Slow travel is also about your choice of accommodation. Sleeping in a tent or a van involves tasks that vanish at a hotel, particularly cooking. But the slower pace required for these tasks is a wonderful opportunity to appreciate the present moment. And coffee tastes better after a night in a sleeping bag!
The Laurentians region, which is well known for its municipalities linked to winter activities, contains many other outdoor treasures, such as Kiamika Regional Park: a 184 km2 territory comprising 10 lakes and no fewer than 40 islands and islets where you can camp in peace. This park dedicated to conservation also includes a biodiversity reserve which is home to an exceptional forest ecosystem (EFE). Pets are also welcome, which is admittedly rare in our province.
If you’d rather sleep under a roof, consider establishments that promote silence, such as the Augustinian Monastery, or The Convent in Val Morin, which offers yoga and wellness retreats. And we have to mention Le Germain Charlevoix Hotel & Spa, the perfect place for working remotely or relaxing in a rural setting, steps away from the Baie-Saint-Paul beach.
Don’t be afraid of trips that foster disconnection: go to the beach in Gaspé to gather stones, or tour vineyards at harvest time. If you are visiting a wooded region such as Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Outaouais, or Charlevoix, take time to explore the forests. They’re simply beautiful in Québec. And nothing beats the smell of the forest floor after a thunderstorm.
Consider the possible repercussions of posting your pictures on social media. Avoid geolocating places that are already overidentified, and instead show your subscribers lesser-known places. Among other things, you’ll be helping to conserve natural places.
Photo: Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec
Fill up on culture
Add a dash of culture to your vacation
If you were as relieved as we were when museums reopened, don’t forget to visit the Museums of Québec website to find out everything about the province’s museums, economuseums, and cultural centres. We particularly like:
- Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (Montréal)
- Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (Québec)
- Centre d’exposition de Val-d’Or (Abitibi-Témiscamingue)
- Cap-de-Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre (Côte-Nord)
- Musée amérindien de Mashteuiatsh (Lac Saint-Jean)
- Centre d’art Jacques & Michel Auger (Centre-du-Québec)
- Musée de la Gaspésie (Gaspé, Gaspésie)
- Musée du ski (Laurentians)
- Art-image et espace Odyssée (Outaouais)
- Musée POP (Mauricie)
- Droulers-Tsiionhiakwatha Archeological Site Interpretation Center (Montégérie)
Another great resource is the Société des Économusées (SRÉ), which promotes ancestral skills and Québec heritage through a vast network of member artisans. This year, you’ll be able to visit workshops as well as locals from the region you’re visiting through the Artisans à l’œuvre campaign. This special opportunity will give you intimate access to the human side of the artistic processes of its members.
The Symposium d’art contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul, a popular event with visual art enthusiasts, is returning after a year of forced hiatus. With the theme of Le Temps et les choses, 12 artists from Québec, Alberta, British Columbia, France, and Switzerland will present their work from July 30 to August 29. Find out about the many contemporary visual art symposia taking place across many regions of Québec this year. There’s one happening in the gardens of the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-du-Cap (the octagonal church topped with a pyramid roof is unique in Québec) and another in Danville. This municipality in the Eastern Townships also celebrated the recent opening of the Galerie G de Br. This charming gallery, located in the heart of the village, occupies a former horse saddlery. It brings together under the same roof a gallery of visual art, a commercial boutique called Germaine, and an intimate creation space for artists in residence.
Why not try to incorporate making art into your daily life this summer? BESIDE illustrator and collaborator Florence Rivest regularly offers introductory workshops on drawing or painting in nature. Click here to see the possibilities. It makes you want to lug around a sketchbook in your hiking bag! For botany enthusiasts, the Reford Gardens offers temporary artist expositions on a vast flowery terrain — a must-see in the Lower St. Lawrence region. Visit this exceptional place, one of the most northerly gardens on the continent.
An honourable mention goes to the International Film and Art Festival, Les Percéides. Yet another reason to travel to this region in the Gaspé!
Photo: Greysen Johnson
The slow outdoors
Isn’t being in nature always a slow way to travel? Not if your goal is to climb 28 peaks in two months! Here are some tips for s-l-o-w-i-n-g d-o-w-n:
- Embrace a new passion. Birding, identifying edible or inedible flora, creating a holiday herbarium, cloud gazing, or animal tracking. Finding deer, fox, or porcupine trails during a walk or hike is downright exciting! Most regional and national parks are home to many of these animals.
- Choose outdoor activities that revolve around slowness? Fishing, crossing a lake in Outaouais, a canoe ride with no wind at your back, or conquering the Sentier des Caps on foot.
- Go stargazing. We repeat: the Parc national du Mont-Mégantic ASTROlab is an incredible place to observe the summer constellations or the Perseid meteor shower in August.
Also consider doing immersive activities in nature, for example, canoeing in Abitibi. Parc national d’Opémican et Parc national d’Aiguebelle are of course must-sees in this larger-than-life region. We fell in love with the two wildlife reserves managed by Nibiischii Corporation, which are well worth the trip to the region. Their territory covers 24,000 km2 and encompasses thousands (thousands!) of lakes and several stunning rivers.
Some people might need tools to truly slow down. While checklists may be seen as a productivity aid at work, on vacation they can help us to chill out. For example:
- Invent a “bingo” of things to observe on a hike or at a campground (fauna, flora, insects, etc.).
- On the road, randomly stop at a village marina with a coffee to read an entire chapter of a book.
- Take up challenges that involve taking your time, such as having a picnic on all the summits of Estrie, Charlevoix, or Mauricie during the summer.
- Organize a slow and distinctive road trip following the footsteps of a Québec author.
In this period of significant social and environmental upheaval, we asked the question: how do we travel in 2021? The answer lies somewhere between better and worse. Our choices this summer will have an impact on those we encounter along the way; they will also have an effect on the land we visit. Our approach to travel should be humble, knowing that we are all part of the problem — and the solution. Let’s get a feel for slowing down and cultivating our capacity for wonder.