The Best of Off-Season Travelling | BESIDE

The Best of Off-Season Travelling

From reddened trees to the last snow, QuĂ©bec’s seasons are a long ride worth taking.

Text — Juliette Leblanc
Photos — Johany Sergerie

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Life’s ebb and flow: fall and spring lead us from summer to winter and back again. During the off-seasons there are still many opportunities to hit the road and get active. Despite the possibilities that winter and summer provide, sometimes their extremes of hot and cold can be limiting.

Nature is never completely on hold in Québec, and exploring the territory can be done any time of the year. Spring and fall call for contemplation and a slower, more mindful pace. And, at BESIDE, we love to travel in dribs and drabs.

 

 

Mid-season cocoon

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Whether you’re in a fall or spring mood, Nordic steam baths, saunas, and relaxation are just the thing. Here are a few suggestions:

  • LanaudiĂšre—La Source Bains Nordiques
    The steam baths and spa are built right into the mountainside. The view is beautiful and amply rewards the 78 steps it takes to gaze upon it.
  • Lower St. Lawrence—Auberge du Portage
    You have access to year-round hiking trails near the health centre. The inn, located on the river’s edge, has a view that makes you feel like you’re at the edge of the world, especially in spring.
  • MontrĂ©al—StrĂžm Spa Nordique
    Strþm, on Nuns’ Island, located on the shores of Des Battures Lake, is a particularly calm place following the summer heat. The flamboyantly coloured vegetation and shades of light are hypnotizing.
  • Eastern Townships— Spa Bolton
    At the foot of the Missisquoi River and in the heart of a popular tourist region in the fall, this spa offers massages, thermal baths, and accommodations.
Photos: Spa Bolton
  • Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean—L’Éternel Spa
    In the mountains of the Parc national des Monts-Valin, this Scandinavian spa even lets you access the river, which is refreshing in spring and fall! Go visit at the first snowfall — this area is absolutely magical.
  • Laurentians—Eco Spa Highland
    The spa is located at the top of one of the last untouched valleys in the Laurentians, on the border of Outaouais. It has a panoramic view that you’ll want to take in and savour.
Photo: Centre de l'HĂȘtre

Cozy accomodation

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  • Charlevoix—RepĂšre BorĂ©al
    Located in Les Éboulements, RepĂšre BorĂ©al’s microhuts and cabins are nestled in the heart of a forest estate. The homes feature, among other things, large windows that make you feel like you’re sleeping outside.
  • LanaudiĂšre—Ma Yourte au Coeur des Collines
    In the municipality of Saint-Calixte, these yurts and cabins give you access to forest trails and the beautiful Lake BĂ©caud.
  • Upper Laurentians—Les Toits du monde
    Cabins perched in the trees, yurts, mini-houses: the company’s off-the-grid accommodations are places to disconnect, perfect for watching the leaves fall or the buds sprout.
  • QuĂ©bec City Region—Centre de l’HĂȘtre
    Spend a night in the open air in a dome or snuggle up in a yurt or a hut. Spoil yourself with treatments or activities such as massage therapy, yoga, or meditation. The centre is located in Lac-Beauport, is open year-round, and provides outdoor equipment such as paddleboards, snowshoes, and snowshoe skis.
  • Centre-du-QuĂ©bec — RiviĂšre Gentilly Regional Park
    Explore the area, which is beautiful in the fall and ideal for cyclists, after checking into one of the park’s rustic cabins or ready-to-camp facilities.

Fiery foliage and reddened cheeks

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Fall is the season of choice for hiking: the low traffic (in some areas, at least) and the mild weather in September and October are an ideal combination for climbs or long walks. And, of course, the colourful spectacle of the changing leaves makes outdoor activities particularly breathtaking during this period. But November’s greyness also has its charm . . . that little something raw, even dramatic, about the days before the snow arrives. Continue your outings even once fall’s enchanting colours end. The cold air feels like a thorough cleaning for your lungs, and a Thermos of tea is a comforting balm for your efforts.

In spring, the season of renewal, outdoor activities invigorate us after the cold season. Rivers roar with spring currents, sap flows from the trees, and our legs feel like running.

Charlevoix

Charlevoix’s Sentier des Caps has some of the best views of the area. Fall hiking precedes winter snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on the same trails.

Parc national des Grands-Jardins, a place of pilgrimage for hikers in the fall (noticing a theme?), should also be on your list of places to visit in spring, when the landscape is still stripped bare.

Refuge - Sentier des caps
ZEC des martes

Eastern Townships

Parc national du Mont-Orford has over 80 km of trails. The ridge trail will take you to perfect lookouts where you can stop for a hot wine or coffee. Don’t forget your Thermos!

Québec City Region

Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier must be mentioned. In contrast to the high-traffic summers and winters, during the mid-season you can leisurely explore lesser-known areas of the park. 

Contemplate

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Migratory birdwatching

Birds can be observed more easily during the transitory off-season periods. Ornithologists in the making, grab your binoculars! Must-see places:

Centre-du-QuĂ©bec—Baie-du-Febvre

Every year, thousands of snow geese converge on the flood plains of Baie-du-Febvre.

Outaouais—Parc national de Plaisance

The park is located in the middle of a migration corridor — an ideal place to observe more than 250 species of bird in the early spring or fall.

Eastern Townships—Parc national de Frontenac

The great diversity of birds can be explained, in part, by the number of nesting sites in the park. The great blue heron is among the many species.

Lower St. Lawrence—Parc national du Bic

Starting at the end of March until the beginning of June, thousands of birds fly over the Raoul-Roy lookout, a high-up location that’s great for observing raptors. Odds are you’ll see a golden eagle, an osprey, a peregrine falcon, or a rough-legged hawk!

GaspĂ© Peninsula—Île Bonaventure

Home to more than 100,000 gannets, the place is simply spectacular during the migration period.

 

 

Photo: Thomas Lipke

Whale (and marine life) watching

Whales live according to the rhythm of the warm season. The first ones arrive at the end of April and beginning of May, and the last ones leave at the end of October (except for the beluga, who is a permanent resident). Be there to welcome them or to see them leave the St. Lawrence. As the wind whips past, it will remind you that there is something mighty and mysterious about meeting a cetacean.

The peaceful parts of the Gaspé Peninsula

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Saying GaspĂ© immediately brings to mind pebble beaches and PercĂ© Rock. But it’s worthwhile to visit other parts of this amazing place. Among the best off-season destinations:

Seigneurie du Lac Matapédia Regional Park

The park has seven hiking trail loops. In addition to sculpting your calves, the elevation offers a magnificent view of Lake Matapédia and the surrounding valley.

The International Appalachian Trail

This network covers more than 650 km of trails. The route begins in MatapĂ©dia and crosses the valley until Amqui before arriving at the RĂ©serve faunique de Matane. Be sure to consult the maps if you’d like to hike a section of this beautiful and quiet trail in the off-season.

Parc national de la Gaspésie

It’s a pleasure to hike beneath the fall colours in this provincial park — a true gem of the GaspĂ© Peninsula — where caribou herds, salmon-filled rivers, and endless forests meet. The campgrounds are closed in the fall, but the very cozy GĂźte du Mont-Albert stays open.

The Route des belvédÚres

This network of lookouts, which is currently under construction, includes its own breathtaking landscapes of mountains and rivers. We’re taken with the Deux-RiviĂšres lookout, which is the starting point of the International Appalachian Trail. The steep 360 m ascent leads to a magnificent twisted wooden structure. At once a circuit of viewpoints and an architectural project, the Route des BelvĂ©dĂšres is at the top of the list of attractions in the MatapĂ©dia Valley.

Saint-Georges-de-Malbaie

To enhance your Percé visit, stop at the peaceful St-Pierre Pointe before visiting the new ecotourism centre Le Nordet, which brings together a Nordic spa, an eco-friendly hotel that looks onto the sea, kayaking activities (in season), and a lovely café.

Photo: Baie-Saint-Paul par Marie-MichĂšle Bouchard

QuĂ©bec’s quiet roads

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Québec has many great roads for driving with the windows down to enjoy the first and last warm rays of spring or fall. We have too many favourites, so here are some simple suggestions.

  • Mauricie — Route 155 between Grandes-Piles and Trois-Rives is especially splendid in fall. Winding along the Saint-Maurice River, you drive next to La Mauricie National Park. For ambitious types, the road goes all the way to La Tuque, which is also beautiful in October colours.
  • There’s the archipelago of Lac Saint-Pierre in the Sorel-Tracy area. The hundred-or-so islands interspersed with marshes, bays, and channels can’t be travelled by car. But exploring this labyrinth by canoe, kayak, or on foot in the fall and spring is sweet as can be. The park is home to thousands of birds during the off-seasons.
  • Near QuĂ©bec City, the mythical Île D’OrlĂ©ans slips in among the most beautiful routes to travel, from the minute the ice starts to melt in the spring to the first snowfall in November. The view of the river alone is worth crossing the bridge, by car or bike.
  • You can see the river up close and from high up along Route 138, between BeauprĂ© and Baie-Sainte-Catherine. The section between BeauprĂ© and Saint-Tite-des-Caps, very aptly named the Miche coast, is perched at 700 m altitude. Villages, mountains, and cliffs bordering the river appear one after the other.
  • Route 381, between Baie-Saint-Paul and La Baie, is a source of wonder in both directions. The first option takes you to the mouth of the Saguenay River, and the second, straight to the river. In spring, when the current is strong and a fresh wind blows, we love these two viewpoints to see winter on its way out.

 

Photo: Microbrasserie TĂȘte d’Allumette

Eating through the seasons

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There’s a kind of magic to the first and last patio outings. Our picks for bundling up under a warm blanket and stubbornly eating or drinking outside:

  • Saguenay—Bistro la Chasse-Pinte
    Admire magnificent sunsets from this bistro’s patio on the banks of the fjord.
  • Lower St. Lawrence—Microbrasserie TĂȘte d’Allumette
    In the summer, this patio has a well-established reputation. But in the spring, visit for the salty air and the pleasure of drinking a beer brewed on site, even with your toque pulled low.
Photos: Microbrasserie TĂȘte d'Allumette
  • Centre-du-QuĂ©bec—La Grange Pardue
    This farm brewery sits atop a valley and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The outside patio is open year-round for those brave enough to drink a cold hoppy beverage in winter, next to one of the outdoor fireplaces.
  • MontrĂ©al — Labo culinaire FoodLab
    The restaurant, located on the top floor of the Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT), overlooks the chaos of Saint Laurent Boulevard. It offers a 100 per cent organic wine list that accompanies its menu developed directly with local producers. It also has a rooftop garden!
Photo: Anna Kaminova

Fall U-picking

Fruit

  • Cistercian Abbey of Rougement — In addition to its extensive orchards, the location features a 50-hectare nature reserve. Visit in fall to harvest apples and pears.
  • Verger Ferland, in Compton, produces apples, pears, and plums for U-picking.
  • Ferme François BĂ©langer, in CĂŽte-de-BeauprĂ©, offers grape U-picking in fall.
  • The Courgerie, in LanaudiĂšre, is a popular place to pick your own squash, with more than 300 varieties.
  • Ferme Genest, in ChaudiĂšre-Appalaches, is the biggest squash and pumpkin producer in QuĂ©bec. There are more than 100,000 squash to pick in the fall fields.
Photo: Domaine de la forĂȘt perdue

The first snowfall . . .

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Get active outdoors to avoid an extra-long winter. Our snowy land is breathtaking!

 

Skate

  • Domaine de la ForĂȘt Perdue, in Mauricie, has 15 km of icy trails that give you a taste of skating between rows of snow-covered pine trees. Dogs are even allowed on this site!
  • Bois de Belle-RiviĂšre, in the Laurentians, features an ice trail and an area for free skating.

 

Winter hiking

  • Centre-du-QuĂ©bec—Grandes-CoulĂ©es Regional Park
    It’s easy to access this park if you want to walk its trails lined with large snowy spruce trees. Stop long enough to warm your toes at the refuge, where a wood stove roars. If you’d rather build a fire in the open air, use the wood that’s been made available to visitors.
  • Eastern Townships—Mont Ham
    Certain trails require special equipment (crampons, for example), but on mild days, more-or-less experienced hikers can reach the summit and enjoy a breathtaking view of the area.

 

BESIDE Challenge

Journalist Guillaume Rivest has broken down winter camping in this little guide. He makes you want to freeze your nose off for a night — or several. As he points out, “there’s no doubt that the cold complicates the activity, so it’s best to start slow.” For readers looking for a personal challenge, a night spent in cold weather under clear, starry skies is undeniably an adventure.

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