Text & photos — Léa Beauchesne
It’s summer vacation time. Those two weeks that you’ve been waiting for ever since your last two-week vacation. The ones you’ve been waiting for since your last 48 hours off, your weekend in the middle of an intense stretch at work. But then there’s also the forced weeks off, the ones that should have only been a little break from the office, but which have been ongoing since March. Whether your vacation is involuntary or chosen, it will be in Québec City this summer. And it will be sweet.
Here are seven itineraries to enjoy our province’s capital.
Portneuf: For the love of fresh air
Just 30 minutes east of downtown Québec lie the first vast fields heralding the region of Portneuf. The rural landscape forms a sharp contrast with the nearby city. In this region that extends from the St. Lawrence River all the way to south of La Tuque, there are infinite possibilities to explore. Between its right-angled mountains, enticing rivers, and lush fields, the steeples of Portneuf hide wonders. In Pont-Rouge, enjoy the Jacques-Cartier River at Les Galets and gather your strength with a meal at Pizzeria Paquet.
Take a bike ride along the country roads, stumbling upon local growers like Fraisière Faucher, which offers strawberry picking. Stop at the Jardins Atsenti Auarata to try the herbal teas and medicinal plants carefully tended and prepared by the owner, Hélène Mathieu. In Saint-Raymond, slowly and gently follow the Bras-du-Nord River. And I do mean slowly, so that you don’t miss the Delaney Falls and its lovely meanders or forget to marvel at the surrounding mountains and admire the wildlife stopping at the water’s edge for a drink.
Mountain biking and microbreweries
You can easily spend a full week of vacation in the vast playground of the Parc du Vallée Bras-du-Nord. Mountain bikers, treat yourselves to this staycation as often as possible. Newbies will enjoy exploring the south part of the Shannahan sector, and the most adventurous cyclists will find what they’re looking for on the Neilson trails. The Saint-Raymond sector is also a must, especially since the day inevitably ends at Roquemont Microbrasserie, a microbrewery that will welcome you even with muddy feet. Whichever sector you explore, stop at Ti-Oui to refuel after burning all those calories.
Other possible pairings:
Highlights of the Lower Town
In the true heart of urban Québec City lie the neighbouring districts of Saint-Roch and Saint-Sauveur. They’re worth spending long hours in, wandering around and getting lost. Go on your own or get the help of devoted pros, like the guides at Local Québec City Food Tours, who will help you get to know and savour both districts. The ancient buildings recall the workers and craftsmen who lived here and stand as witnesses to the profound changes that shaped these neighbourhoods’ history. Today, they’re made up of a motley social fabric — students, young families, and the elderly, strewn with new patches of local colour such as La Montagne Dorée, an unassuming Asian grocery store where people line up for their imperial rolls. The neighbourhood’s pioneering stores are worth the detour, like Exo, the oldest skate shop in Québec City. This fabric is also woven from the extensive graffiti, some legal and some not, and the dozens of restaurants with rebellious roots, like Le Diner Saint-Sauveur. For a perfect staycation in the area, go to this gem of a neighbourhood diner and grab literally any of their takeout dishes. An order of chicken and waffles, a veggie roll, and a bottle of imported wine and you’re set for a fine picnic with friends in Parc Victoria.
The park boasts a vast number of hidden corners and open stretches for lounging, playing pétanque, hanging a slackline, or taking a short jog along the river between stops for delicious snacks. If the day turns into evening, go to MacFly to beat your friends at PAC-MAN or the Maelstrom to sip a wonderful cocktail in peace.
Other musts in Saint-Roch and Saint-Sauveur
Feeding your left brain
Of all the things we’re missing out on this summer, the cultural losses might be the worst: no Féria circus show, no “Où tu vas quand tu dors en marchant?” (Where do you go when you sleepwalk?) ambulatory theatre project, and none of the musical performances of the St-Roch XP festival. But there are still many inspiring places, and it’s a good time to revisit some old classics like the Musée de la Civilisation. You may be disappointed that the Goldilocks exhibit is no longer up, but I promise the museum provides other, just as wonderful, experiences. Immerse yourself in the digital revolution with the temporary exhibit Head in the Cloud or learn about the world of the 95,000 Indigenous people who live in Québec thanks to the permanent exhibition This Is Our Story.
If you haven’t set foot in the Musée National des Beaux-Arts since its major renovation in 2016, please make a dash for it! Though its architecture alone is probably enough to move you, many of the works in the museum’s permanent collections certainly will do the same. Soak up Jean Paul Lemieux’s agonizing sweetness, Jean-Paul Riopelle’s destabilizing energy, and Alfred Pellan’s surrealist dreams. If the museums intimidate you, head to the Maison de la Littérature. The church housing it has been completely redone in a refined, pared-down style that bathes you in calm as soon as you enter. Its immense windows will make you wonder if you are, in fact, in heaven. Pick up a book, make yourself comfortable, and enjoy a few hours of reading and photosynthesis.
Timeless Québec City
I know, I know, the Old Town is a place just for tourists from Asia or Europe. But is it really? Enjoy walking in the footsteps of your own history, and do it slowly. No matter what time you start this trip, the Buffet de l’Antiquaire will serve you up the most important meal of the day. Everything on the menu is traditional — and it’s perfect that way. The restaurant’s clientele are mainly locals; just ask the captain who’s having his breakfast before taking his boat back to Les Escoumins. As you leave the restaurant, exit through the back door to wander Rue Sous-le-Cap, just to take in this street straight out of another era. Inspired by the captain, continue meandering toward the port, dreaming of your solo trip on the sailboat you don’t own yet.
Then walk toward Petit Champlain, checking out the art galleries all in a row, just like the street’s uneven cobblestones. If you’d prefer to dine than gallery-hop, get your hands on a tasty burger and fries with truffle oil from Chic Shack. I’m told it’s one of the rare restaurants in this neighbourhood that isn’t a tourist trap. Continue your adventure by heading up to the Terrasse Dufferin, taking an enthusiastic selfie in front of the Château Frontenac, then dropping down into the depths of the castle, a reminder of the arrival of the French on these shores. The Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux houses a fascinating archaeological crypt where you can explore treasures four centuries old. Napping on the grassy areas near the forts is also a great option.
The two frosted shores of Côte-de-Beaupré
If you like to play outside and meet wonderful, inspiring humans, Côte-de-Beaupré will make you want to move there each time you visit it. At the heart of Côte-de-Beaupré, the well-known Mont-Sainte-Anne is a must for fans of mountain biking or trail running, but the region’s attractions are by no means limited to that. One of my favourite staycation options is the Mestashibo Trail, a hike that runs along the Sainte-Anne River. The climbs and descents happily follow one after the other thanks to the winding waterways. It’s a linear trail, so plan to have a second car at the end or ask a kind stranger from Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges to bring you back to your starting point.
A new sector recently became accessible, located on the east side of the Saint-Ferréol church. Rumour has it that it’s just as fun. For meditative or leisurely types, the Canyon Sainte-Anne and Chute Jean-Larose will amaze you, and the trails to reach either are short. If you’re hungry, try the veggie burger at the Shack à Patates. To extend your day of pleasure a little longer, stop by the Microbrasserie des Beaux Prés on your way back. Their patio overlooking the river is hopping, and their well-balanced beers will soon make you forget how close you are to the boulevard.
Wendake: Discover Huron-Wendat culture
I immediately plead guilty here: I visited dozens of historic sites abroad and became interested in a slew of other cultures before paying real attention to the Indigenous peoples on this land. In Québec City, it’s very easy to meet the Huron-Wendat Nation near Wendake. The traditional Onhoüa Chetek8e site is an excellent starting point, offering guided tours that teach you about ancestral Huron traditions, such as the longhouse and the sweat lodge, but also the Wendat’s current way of life in the village of Wendake. For a less official visit, take a bit of time to explore the treasures of the artisans of the community, such as the magnificent Onquata aspen paddles. Lise and Lara, the Wendat mother-daughter duo behind the company, draw their inspiration from nature and Indigenous art to create their handmade masterpieces. Foodies will find what they’re looking for at Les Épices du Guerrier. Discover the aroma of sweet gale and green alder pepper, expertly combined with maple sugar. Dine at La Traite restaurant to beautifully end your day, opting for the more traditional Wendat dishes for a more interesting experience. For a dose of fresh air after your meal, Chute Kabir Kouba awaits you a few steps from the restaurant.
A leisurely day in the cool of the suburbs
The heat waves continue to heap up, but they don’t all have to be the same. Grab two or three people you like and escape the urban heat islands. Travel a few kilometers east to Ange-Gardien to visit the Comte de Roussy farm. Avoid Boulevard Sainte-Anne and take Avenue Royale instead for the countryside landscape. You won’t see a single motel, I promise. A charming fruit and vegetable stand with a view of Île Orléans will soon appear on your right. The stand belongs to the Héberts, a family of farmers who’ve been working the same land for 11 generations.
Take advantage of your visit to pet the goats and rabbits, while pretending to wait for your little one. Laden with fresh cucumbers and sweet strawberries, you’re ready for a relaxing stopover on the banks of the Montmorency River. Just past such suburban icons as the Boischatel IGA (the first built entirely of wood) lies a little network of trails just upstream from the waterfalls. To get there, take Avenue Royale up to Rue Montmorency. The trails are on the north side of the viaduct. Walk until you find the site where you’re most tempted to take a dip and lounge on the rocks. The cool river awaits you, but watch out for the current!
Other great Québec City options:
- An afternoon in the Old Town of Cap-Rouge to play by the river
- A day of hiking or canoeing in Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier
- Another day of mountain biking at the Sentiers du Moulin in Lac-Beauport or at the E47 center in Stoneham
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!
Léa Beauchesne prefers escaping to wide open spaces over walls and asphalt. Journalist and creator, Beauchesne likes to play with words and images to create timeless moments where humans and nature collide. She doesn’t like to worry, except when it comes to the environment. You’ll most often find her in the mountains at the end of a climbing rope, on her bike, or on her skis, surrounded by too many dogs and preferably just one other human.