The pandemic has prevented most people from travelling abroad over the past year and a half, with most of us caged in our home and varying restrictions imposed depending on the virus spread. After undergoing through multiple lockdowns, the healthcare situation in Canada has finally started to improve dramatically in June (2021) and the region is classified as “green” – meaning that only indoor mask wearing is being enforced and travelling across provinces is now allowed. Our last trip was in October 2020, when we went camping in the Parc National du Bic on the North of Quebec City, and we felt another vacation was due.
Since travelling overseas is out of the question – due to mandatory quarantine requirement, still poor pandemic situation in South American countries, and us waiting for the second vaccination dose – my girlfriend and I decided to take a trip to the North-East of Quebec’s Gaspesie Peninsula, part of Canada that my French professor once said is the most beautiful place she has ever been. Intrigued, we planned our trip 1.5 month in advance and took the trip at the end of June to early July to benefit from the multiple public holidays during the period.
Day 1: Montreal – Quebec City – Rimouski
We began driving from Montreal at around 9am heading to Quebec City on the Quebec day, expecting the city to be lively and crowded amid the long weekend – which was confirmed when we had our brunch in La Buche, a restaurant in the old city nearby the Fairmount Hotel. We took a relaxing walk after the meal to see the city for the first time after the pandemic and were happy to find some of our favorite restaurants still operating, which we plan to visit at the end of our trip.
Feeling full and ready to drive again, we walked back uphill to our parking spot nearby Abraham Plain and hit the road for another 3 hours before arriving in Rimouski. One thing that we would recommend before going to Rimouski is to book a restaurant in advance when planning to have a nice dinner, as there are few decent restaurants in the city that has table for walk-ins. We tried walking in to Arlequin and Narval only to found both restaurants are fully booked for the night. Hungry and tired, we went to a restaurant we dined a year earlier, Pacini, and had some pasta and wine to close our first day.
Day 2: Rimouski – Jardin Metis – Saint Anne des Monts
I woke up early today to catch the sunrise and was planning to fly my drone alongside the city’s boardwalk only to find that almost 75% of the downtown area is restricted due to its proximity to the airport, so I headed back to the room and read my emails until my girlfriend woke up. For our breakfast, we found a nice bakery called Pâtisseries & Gourmandises d’Olivier in the downtown area, which I would rate as on par with the quality of bakery in Montreal – based on their chocolatine.
Our first stop of the day is Jardin Metis, a private-run garden complex that is also hosting Festival International du Jardin in the Summer months. The entrance fee at CAD$22/person is quite steep but fair considering the size and maintenance they did on the area. Although not a botanist myself, I did enjoy walking around the garden and see the variety of flowers displayed. Going through the whole garden at a leisure pace took us a bit less than 3 hours, but it was already noon, so we decided to eat at the café (not restaurant, which is hosted at a different place) inside the complex. But be warned that the choice of meal they offer might not be to your liking and the portion is rather small – the food quality is indeed very good, but probably better served in a 4–5-star hotel rather than in a tourist area.
We drove for another 2 hours to Saint Anne des Monts, initially thinking that we could do a short hiking on the Gaspesie National Park. But we felt tired already and the weather was a bit cloudy, so we did an early check in instead. This time our hotel, Village Grande Nature Chic-Chocs, is located not in the city/town but is on the mountain, which requires another twenty minutes drive on an unpaved road to reach. It is located on top of a hill facing the big mountain, which is perfect for me to fly my drone, and the air is much cooler than in Rimouski. There is very little signal/wi-fi coverage in the area, leaving us with few options but to have a pleasantly long 3-course dinner with a wine until the sunset at the hotel’s restaurant. Surprisingly, despite being the only restaurant in 5 Km radius, the food is decent and well-priced.
Day 3: Saint Anne des Monts – Forillon National Park – Gaspe
Today is the beginning of our trip in the Gaspesie peninsula and we were excited to finally be on the oceanside of Gulf of St. Lawrence. Trailing the unpaved road passed yesterday, we found ourselves back on the road to Forillon National Park – probably the only national park located next to an ocean in Quebec. We did few stops in between and took pictures on the landscape before stopping for an early lunch at Cantine du Pecheur, a small seafood stores recommended by my girlfriend’s colleague.
There is a large building worth visiting on the entrance to Forillon National Park where we did a toilet stop and bought our tickets and few souvenirs. But more importantly, there is a short walking trail behind the building with beautiful landscape of the ocean and peninsula that should not be missed. Our guide at the ticket booth recommended two hiking options for us, Mont Saint-Alban and Les Graves trail. The former will end up with the peninsula view at the top and the later is the trail alongside the coast; we chose the later and did not regret it.
Due to its proximity to water and nice weather, it was probably one of the most pleasant hiking experiences in Quebec we did so far. After reaching the end of the big trail where a lighthouse is located, there is a smaller trail to go down to the bout du monde about 15 minutes away. I flew my drone there to capture the surrounding landscape.
For sunset, we drove to a beach and hiking trail still inside the national park called La Taiga. From there, we could see the downtown area of Gaspe across the bay. That, in retrospect, was not a good decision. Initially the trail was nice and paved with a giant wooden bridge crossing the swamp area. But as we walked further, not only there are more worms hanging from the tree on the hiking path, but there are also significantly more mosquitos! My girlfriend and I are two large meats there for their dinner. We ran our way to the end of the trail and back, but still found numbers of mosquito bites afterwards. The bottom line is to wear long-sleeve shirt and trousers when visiting.
It took us less than 30 minutes drive from La Taiga trail to downtown Gaspe, but on our way there we found that many of the restaurants are closed before 10pm, so we have only 2-3 hours to find one if we want to avoid eating instant noodles in our hotel room. As we checked in our hotel, we found good and bad news. The good news is that there is a very nice restaurant facing the canal called Tetu in our hotel. The bad news is they are fully booked until 9pm, which we took on the spot. Again, we found ourselves regretting not booking any of the restaurants in advance, preferring more flexibility on our schedule.
It was Saturday night, which explains why so many locals are also dining there and when our reservation time comes none of the waitresses are available to seat us despite having many empty tables – everybody was busy serving seated clients and the waiting line was getting longer and longer. We were told to come back in 15 minutes, but when we did it is only after we got slightly mad that we got seated. Luckily, the service becomes much better once we ordered our food. The food was amazing and the beer choice was equally interesting. Despite earlier trouble, we both agreed that it is the best meal we had during the trip. It was so good that plan to find similar short beef brisket in Montreal once we got back home.
Day 4 : Gaspe – Perce
Our comfortable hotel room does not stop us from waking up early. Since there is no use staying in bed and the sun is already high at 6am in the summer months, we decided to take a morning walk and stumbled on McDonalds just five minutes away by foot. The cool but nice weather, cloudy sky, and canal on the city center remined us both to a city 5.200 Km away – Zurich. When we tried to buy our McMuffin we found that the store was closed but the drive-through is open, so we waited in line between cars and then walked across the street to the “Birthplace of Canada” landmark and have our breakfast there facing the canal. After a short walk alongside the canal we were back in our hotel and showered, ready to begin our short drive to Perce, a small coastal town that becomes the highlight of our trip.
Pro Tips: you might want to fill your gas full tank in Gaspe, since there are only limited options for higher octane gasoline nearby Perce.
The weather in Perce was extremely foggy and windy when we arrived, which leaves us with few options but to go from stores to stores. One thing that surprises us is how touristy the place feels. The town has only one main road and on the left and right side is full of either restaurants, souvenir shops, or hotels. We parked our car on a large parking lot belonging to the Geopark building and headed to the pier to only see the famous Rocher Perce covered in fog, passing a very nice restaurant named Maison du Pecheur where we have our lunch after and wait for the foggy weather to pass. I would recommend trying their seafood chowder while in town.
Unfortunately, the fog proved to be stickier than anticipated, hence our decision to go to our hotel – Hotel La Cote Surprise – and rest. The next four hours was spent on unpacking our luggage, taking shower, and enjoying the ocean view from our balcony. Once the sun sets, we went back to town and bought some meal and wine to enjoy for the night. It is truly a day to remember.
Day 5 : Exploring Perce, Hiking, and Kayaking in Mal Baie
Our plan for the day was to catch the sunrise, go back to sleep, and explore the city before our appointment for sea kayaking later in the afternoon. In short, it is going to be a long day for us. Our alarm woke us at 3.45 am. Fogs were covering the waves, but we could hear water crashing against rocks from below. As the fog is gradually blown away by the morning breeze, birds are flying towards the bushes in front of our balcony. Once the sun rises high enough, we made a cup of tea for ourselves and played with our phones.
At 9 am sharp, we were already in the front door of Geopark building alongside other early birds to hike Mont Sainte-Anne and see the suspended glass platform ($15/person). The day before, we learned that there is a shuttle bus to go to the top and due to our time constraint we took that option, costing us our dignity and an extra $6 per person. The platform allows us to see the whole town, Rocher Perce, and Ile Bonaventure from higher perspective. The windless and sunny weather is also supportive for me to fly my drone and make some nice footage. To salvage some of our hurt ego, we decided to walk down the hiking trail instead of taking the shuttle back to town.
Another restaurant we recommend visiting in Perce is Buvette Therese, located in front of Maison du Pecheur where we ate yesterday. The restaurant has a big-city vibe indoor, and a large terrace facing green lawn. My girlfriend had a tasty duck-confit omelette for brunch while I had a smoked salmon omelette, both priced similarly to in Montreal.
Our appointment for sea kayaking is at 2pm, but we have to drive 30 minutes back to Gaspe direction to reach the rendezvous point. We use a guide from Avolo Plein Air for the excursion, and she did a wonderful job educating and navigating us through the whole period. Since we never did a sea kayaking before and only few times experience kayaking in Montreal’s Iles de Boucherville, we were quite surprised when asked to wear a whole diving suit alongside the shoes. After one and a half hour on the sea, four out of eight participants (including me and my girlfriend) were feeling seasick and dizzy, probably due to the heat and waves, so we took a break at a beach near St. Pierre for about 15 minutes.
On our way paddling back to the starting point we saw a seal and couple of whales from about 50 meters distance. It was a cool experience to have, despite being seasick. We were somehow relieved once we touched the ground – and feeling somewhat smelly from top to bottom. My running shoes that I wore were so damp and smelly that I ended up throwing it away after.
Although we were desperate to take a shower and hungry, we first have to drive for 30 minutes to Gaspe to fill our gas before heading back. There we bought some fries and chicken nuggets from McDonalds for our drive back to Perce. We took a very long shower and cleanse ourselves multiple times in the hotel, then with a tired and sleepy eye we went back to Buvette Therese to have our dinner and crashed on the bed after.
Day 6: Perce – Matane
Today is another long-drive day for us, with 350 Km distance from Perce to Matane that took around five hours fully on the road. Instead of going through Carleton sur Mer, we decided to use the same coastal route that we took on the way to Perce on Highway 132 to enjoy the ocean scenery. Although we are aware of our recent high junk food intake, we could not pass the opportunity to have another McMuffin breakfast with a view in Gaspe on our way. My girlfriend also sent a postcard to her friend in U.S.
And for lunch in Matane, believe it or not, we have KFC. Yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken, because I have been craving for it since our departure from Montreal. We passed the opportunity first on our way from Quebec City, second in Rimouski, and I do not want to miss this one again. In Montreal, KFC is not available in downtown, and I have to take 20 minutes trip with metro to buy one.
It was around 3pm when we are done with our meal. Four days ago, on our visit to Jardin Metis we missed the Festival International du Jardin, so my girlfriend wanted to go back. I relented since we have nothing better to do anyway in the city. Surprisingly, we saw new exhibitions, and even some still being built! We even went back to the café and ate a wild strawberry popsicle to close our visit.
We stayed at Riotel Matane for the night, expecting they would have a table for us at the hotel’s Restaurant Cargo, and since the city does not seem to be too touristy, we did not book for one. Again, for the third time, we regretted not booking restaurant in advance. The hotel’s receptionist recommends us to go to La Fabrique – another well-rated restaurants 5 minutes drive away. Apparently, he has been dispensing the same recommendation to other guests, which we saw while waiting for our table. We had a pint of beer each, pork ribs, and poutine.
That day in Matane, we saw the most colorful sunset from the beach on the back of our hotel’s room. I flew my drone while my girlfriend is making a timelapse with her GoPro, before heading back to our room and prepare for an early rise the next day.
Day 7: Crossing Saint Laurent River – Whale Watching in Tadoussac
Having been on the Eastern side of Saint Lawrence River for the past six days, today we are crossing to the Western side of the river by a ferry. STQ, a government-run transport company offers two and a half hours cruise from Matane to Baie Comeau, departing at 8 am sharp. If you are planning to take this ferry, it is highly recommended to book in advance, since they could not guarantee a space is available during peak season.
We arrived around 7.20am at the port and waited in line inside our car to get into the ferry. There are two levels of vehicles deck inside, the lower one for large truck and commercial vehicles, and the higher one for passenger vehicles. Once we parked our car, we were routed to a stair that leads to the ticket booth and passenger area. My first impression going around is that the ship is big! There is plenty of seating space across the main deck, and there is also a section for kids playing room and a restaurant. Taking a stair to the upper level brings us to the open-space area where one could smoke or simply get some air.
We were in a bit of rush in the morning to avoid being late for the ferry, so we have not had our breakfast and decided to try the restaurant’s breakfast menu – toasts, potato, eggs, and bacon. The food is okay but is priced on the higher price range for such meal. There is free wi-fi available during the crossing, but I found the internet access only works 20-30 minutes after departure and before arrival, while my phone’s signal is also out of service in the middle of the crossing. Most of the time, I was reading my book and catching up with emails.
The drive from Baie Comeau to Tadoussac took around slightly over two hours, which allows us to arrive early in the city before our excursion at 4pm. After finding a parking across Café l’Abri Côtier, we went inside and had a small cake each. Since it was raining, there is not much we could do but to visit one of the souvenir shops.
For some unknown reasons, we were confusing the meeting point for the whale watching excursion, which forces us to run from one place to another to avoid being left by the group. But eventually, we made it to the spot and were given set of outer layer clothing to wear while other guests are getting ready as well. Due to the rainy and poor weather condition, the whale watching experience was not a pleasant one for both of us. We were all so wet – especially the shoes – and cold that the only thing we want is to go back and be somewhere warm. Fortunately, we saw the three or four whales from about 10-20 meters distance.
Our hotel for the night is located on the other side of Saguenay River, which requires us to take another 10 minutes (free) ferry to cross. Luckily, there is a small restaurant on our hotel, so we do not need to drive around to find our dinner before going to sleep.
Pro Tips: many of the restaurants are closed at 9 pm in Tadoussac, an earlier booking is suggested.
Day 8: Tadoussac – Quebec City
After a week in travelling on the coastal side of Quebec, we were happy that today we are going back to a city. Due to lack of attractions in the Baie Saint Catherine, we packed up early and drove for three hours to Quebec City, aiming to arrive there around noon to have our lunch.
Going back to a city also means facing the regular problem of trying to find a parking spot. Our hotel, Manoir Morgan, which is in the old town area does not have one, so we took a $20/day option for few minutes walk away under Hotel de Ville. At this point, I was literally walking around in a slipper, as my shoes are all wet from yesterday’s whale watching. So before heading to Restaurant Portofino on the lower plane of the town, we headed to a shoe store next to Simons and I bought a pair of running shoes.
Our lunch at Portofino was fantastic, as usual. We stumbled on this restaurant two years ago, early in our relationship, and rate it highly in our list. This time, we tried their pasta with duck confit and found the taste to be heavenly and the portion generous. I have a feeling that we will visit the restaurant every time we are in the city.
After the meal, we walked down to Rue du Petit Champlain to do our shopping. I bought another flat cap at the same store where I bought one years ago. Next, we visited several antique shops (one of our hobby in Montreal) and my eyes caught on a vintage Omega watch, which I eventually bought for decent price.
We took a rest at our hotel’s room after walking for few hours around the city. Our dinner was at 9pm at Chez Boulay, an upscale French bistro we also ate in two years ago. Both of us were tired after the meal, so we decided to head back and sleep after.
Day 9: Quebec City – Montreal
We naturally woke up around 7am today. Instead of sleeping through the morning on our last day, we went for a walk and have our breakfast at Paillard, a local bakery with decent choice of pastries. Today is our museum day. My girlfriend has been eyeing for a limited-period exhibition of Picasso’s painting that is exclusive in Quebec City’s Musée National des Beaux-arts. We dined on the café inside the museum after and continued venturing to the regular exhibition building of the museum.
At around 3pm we started driving to Montreal, thinking of what we would eat for dinner (Chinese food) and things to do on the weekend (washing our clothes and car). It has been a joyful 9-day vacation for us and although we did not go outside Quebec, it sure feels like another world!