The insight in this post is based on a virtual trip and additional research, I have not yet visited the location myself due to the pandemic restrictions. The virtual trip was hosted by local tourism experts as part of the Women In Travel Summit (WITS) online, organized by Wanderful* community.
There is a part of Québec you might not know about: nestled at the top of New Brunswick, spanning along the Gulf of St Lawrence. This part of the country is called Québec Maritime.
The four regions that makeup Québec Maritimes are Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie, Côte-Nord, and Îles De La Madeleine. The scenery here is similar to what you would see in New Brunswick, after all, they are neighbors. But QC Maritime stands strong as an individual. The nature of the area serves itself well for slow and sustainable travel and if time permits one can easily spend 3 weeks exploring the 300km of combined coastline. I cannot possibly cover everything there is to do (it could be volumes of typed books!) but here are just a few reasons to add QC Maritime to your travel bucket list:
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Nature & Adventure
QC Maritime is home to 10 national parks, some on the coast, some landlocked. Four of the ten national parks are in Gaspésie and the topography of Gaspésie National Park might feel like the tip of the earth. Here visitors can see the famous Percé Rock and take in the breathtaking scenery that is Chaleur Bay. Bas-Saint-Laurent is a blend of coastal, rural, and forest scenery while Côte-Nord is recognized as one of the best places to see the whales (more on that later). Îles de la Madeleine, on the other hand, is most famous for its white-sand beaches and red cliffs. Anywhere in the region, you can explore coastal beaches, go hiking, discover waterfalls, learn sea kayaking, catch your own dinner, and maybe even shed a tear looking at amazing sunsets and sunrises.
Naturally, QC Maritimes has lighthouses. Many, many lighthouses. Your entire road trip could focus on lighthouses and take a nearly 14 days driving from Rivière-du-Loup to Tadoussac (or just a bit over 3 hours by boat). Lighthouses are part of the local heritage and there are over 40 of them spread out across the coast. Eighteen of these lighthouses offer tourism-related activities or services (like accommodations). Learn more about the Lighthouse trail here.
Tip from the locals: the temperatures changes throughout the day so bring layers and warm clothes if you are planning a water excursion.
Marine life exploration & Whale watching
The Gulf of St Lawrence is a sanctuary for a lot of marine life and especially whales. GREMM centre, located in Côte-Nord, is an impressive research facility where marine biologists focus on studying whales in order to better protect them. The centre also has a very informative visitor’s centre. A must-do while visiting the region, of course, is seeing the whales firsthand and you can do so from many points along the coast.
The Québec Whale Route spans from Tadoussac to Blanc-Sablon along the shore of Côte-Nord. If following the recommended route, this trip would take 13 days driving or 4 days by boat. This is a designated whale route where visitors can observe 13 different species of whales, some even from land!
The best time to observe whales is between May and October; learn more about whales on Whales Online. Book or gift a tour in advance with Tinggly: Whales & Saguenay Fjord Tour* or Whale Watching* from Tadoussac Pier.
Food & Drinks
Farm-to-table cuisine and let’s call it ocean-to-table seafood is one of the many highlights of QC Maritimes. Fresh seafood is something that you would find basically anywhere but much like with any other activity there is a recommended Flavour Trail. The highlights of the local cuisine naturally include seafood but you will also find plenty of game meat, fine cheeses, berries and vegetables, and of course – microbreweries and distilleries.
The Beer Route includes over 100 different craft breweries across all four regions and cant take up to 12 days by car (2 hours by ferry). This is the eat, drink, and be a marry-type of adventure.
Sustainability note: QC Maritime is Smart Seafood certified and is working tirelessly on maintaining sustainable fishing practices.
As one would expect, there is a wide variety of accommodations, from camping grounds to hotels and everything in between. I would like to focus on some of the most unique properties. First of all: lighthouses! Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve has a 4-star lighthouse property, St. Lawrence has a 200-year-old B&B called Maisons du Phare de l’Île Verte, and Gaspésie is home to the restored 102-year-old Pot-à-l’Eau-de-Vie – just to name a few.
Among other unusual accommodations there is a Perched Chalet in Kiskotuk Park, Tiny “Tint Houses” powered by solar energy, floating Yurts, stargazing forest Canopèes, and many, many more.
Québec Maritimes is not just about sightseeing and tasting, it is a feeling and a place to meet (what I was promised would be) some of the nicest people in Canada. This is a place where your sunset conversations around the fire pit might be interrupted by whale songs. A place to recharge after a long and painful lockdown and feel the vastness of the universe under the star.
Some notes from Parks Canada
Due to the global pandemic your upcoming visit will be different than in past years. Some national parks might have limited access to facilities and services, frequent updates can be found here.
Reservations for trips between May 2021 and March 2022 are now open. There is also a Parks Canada Mobile App which can be helpful when planning your travel and has interactive park maps.