20 Apr Your Guide To Epic Quebec Martime RoadTrip
Road trips are coming back in vogue and places like Quebec Maritime are built for this kind of travel. Even though there are a handful of airports linking the region, driving lets you cover more ground and take advantage of seeing the scenery up close. It also lends itself to spontaneity and there is automatically more flexibility worked into a schedule. The Quebec Maritime is split into four regions, and I want to see as much as possible in my four days, so my friends and I end up covering a lot of ground. That said, we never drive more than three hours between stops, making this also a doable look weekend adventure. Here’s a layout of our trip.
I meet my group of five friends I will be road tripping with in Quebec City (if you want to spend some time there check out our video and post here) to rent a car and then head towards Bas-Saint-Laurent. We choose this region first because it’s closest to Quebec City.
Because its winter, what should normally be a three-hour drive takes closer to five hours thanks to snow-covered roads. But they are plowed and easy to drive. Our excitement stays high even with the extra drive time because we came here for winter experiences and know this means fresh snow for the days ahead.
Along the way, we make a quick stop after seeing a cluster of fromageries side by side. We head into Fromagerie Des Basques, an artisanal cheese shop where we pick up a bag of cheese curds (the kind of cheese that tops poutine) and round of smoked maple cheddar, both of which are creamy and delicious.
Within the next hour, we pull up to a log cabin deep in the backcountry where we are staying for the night. Domaine Valga, which is in the city of Saint-Gabriel-de-Rimouski, is the only log cabin in the Eastern part of Quebec. It sits high atop a hill overlooking the frozen Lac des Frères, which is surrounded by trees so covered in snow we can’t see any green on them. Out here, it’s easy to feel relaxed because we are in a remote location completely surrounded by nature with no other businesses in sight.
Inside the Inn, the friendly owners, a husband and wife team Éric and Chantal, are busy cooking dinner in the kitchen for our group and other guests, but take a moment to step away to greet us. They tell us they first opened Domaine Valga 12 years ago after more than two years of constructing it with wood from the area.
Our group rents five of the nine rooms inside the inn, which are all located on the upper level. After claiming our rooms, we head back downstairs for dinner. Right away, it feels like we are staying in a cabin with a bigger group of friends than we started with. Other guests who join us are on a multi night self-guided snowmobile tour. They are staying at private cabins down the road and have snowmobiled up to join us for dinner.
Eric and Chantal serve a dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes and salad. We take a look at the wine menu and decide on a Quebec wine to accompany it. We linger at dinner laughing and chatting before winding down the night with a snowy walk through the woods, stepping aside occasionally to let snowmobilers headed back to their cabins. At one point, we stop to take in the kind of silence that you can only find in the backcountry. We top of the walk making snow angles right outside the Inn before turning in for the night.
Before bed, I usually flip through the channels, but rooms here have no TVs, which make for an old fashioned kind of night reading a book to wind down.
Come morning, I wake up off and on to the noise of guests coming in and out the lodge. But when the smell of breakfast travels to my room I pop out of bed instantly. Eric greets me with a cup of coffee and asks how I would like my eggs prepared, which are served with bacon, sausage and toast. Our group fuels up before meeting our guide, Samuel who takes us to the onsite rope course, Forêt de Maître Corbeau, built and designed by Eric in an old growth forest.
After gearing up in harnesses at a nearby cabin, Samuel leads us to the course for a safety briefing. With rain starting to fall, I realize none of my clothing is waterproof but am too excited for what’s ahead to think much about it. In total, there are 94 obstacles divided among 5 courses. We start on course 3, which is about 10 feet off the ground, to get the hang things before moving onto more challenging obstacles on course 4.
Along the way, we make our way through several different challenges like a tight rope where we walk with one foot in front of the other while holding on the sides. Others include ladders with steps that get further and further apart forcing us to hang tight to balance and focus hard to make the next step. There are also several ziplines mixed in and while they aren’t as fast or long as some ziplines I have come across, they are equally as thrilling because these don’t have a break system built in which requires extra focus and a few funny landings into the bright red crash pad tied to the tree. (Don’t worry; it’s not as scary as it sounds). By the end of the 4th course and three hours outside, our entire group is soaked from the rain, with many of us wringing out our gloves and coats.
Back at the inn the cold is catching up to me but after a warm shower and warm salmon pate lunch, I am ready to continue the adventure. If we had more time, we would enjoy some of the trails for snowshoeing, backcountry cross country skiing (no groomed tracks) and snowmobile trails but know we must hit the road.
After about an hours drive we arrive in a new region, the Gaspe Peninsula, and head to the Hotel Riotel in the city of Matane. It sits on the banks of the icy St. Lawrence River and is the perfect spot to enjoy a relaxing night in with a pool, hot tub and comfortable and spacious and comfortable rooms. After a recent renovation, the hotel was styled to be a mix of modern and industrial.
The onsite restaurant, Cargo, plays homage to the shipping industry in the town. For a classic Canadian dish, we recommend the poutine, which is served with local Nordic shrimp. And for something lighter and also local, try the Raoul Roux smoked salmon which is a welcome treat because it tastes much less salty and much more flavorful than what I am used to in the states. At about 10:00 live music starts and is the perfect way for us to end the night dancing to 90’s music that we grew up with.
Come morning, there is just enough time to walk through the colorful town and main street area before heading to the port to board the F.A. Gauthier ferry which takes us and our car to the next region on our list, Cote Nord, which means North Cape in English. On board,it’s a comfortable ride with plenty of seating options to watch as beautiful views of the St. Lawrence River pass by. In the winter, it’s especially beautiful because the river is filled with patches of ice. After a two-hour drive, we arrive to Ferme 5 Étoiles, a spot that started as a family farm and later expanded to offer lodging, a dining cabin and activities.
We start our day by meeting rescued wild animals, like Jacob, a wolf abandoned by his pack. The owners of the farm took him in and placed him with a dog that taught him to be friendly to humans. Our guide, Derek, hops over the fence into Jacob’s fenced off area where he is greeted by the wild wolf with a big kiss. We lean over the fence too, where Jacob comes over to greet us. I crack up after I feel a tug on the top of head as he tries to take off my hat. Afterwards I ask for a kiss, and am rewarded. I’m shocked how friendly and playful he is. We also meet rescued beaver and a moose that were abandoned by their families. There are several farm animals inside a barn that we are able to feed. Including goats, rabbits, roosters and baby chicks.
Next up, we team up with partners to dogsled towards the Saguenay Fjord, which is a national park and makes for some of the most beautiful scenery we have seen so far. The trail starts on a wide-open snowfield before winding through areas where trees narrowly line both sides. After some rolling hills, we climb a steep one and get out to run with huskies. At the top, the beautiful Fjord comes into site just as the sun starts to move from under a cloudy sky. The most intimidating part was the steep downhill on our way back to our home base. I hang tightly to the sled, and can hear my dog sled partner, Colin, stand sturdy on the brakes to slow us down. We wind through more trees in the forest before we make our way back to the base camp.
We warm up with a homemade lunch of chicken potpie and maple taffy that we make outside for desert. It’s a simple process of pouring hot syrup onto snow and rolling it up with a popsicle stick. It’s my first time trying the sweet treat and loved the taste and texture. Usually, taffy is too tough to chew, but this almost melts in our mouths.
Next up, we head snowmobiling back towards the Saguenay Fjord, but this time we are able to get much closer to the water. Derek leads our group through tight turns and over some rolling bumps along the way before cutting a path that leads us about 10 feet from the water. He tells us that in summer, this is one of the best spots to see Beluga Whales, especially if you are in the water sea kayaking. Even with snow falling and an overcast night, it’s beautiful to look across the patchy frozen water towards the mountains in the distance. We head back on a few more trails, rolling back at night just in time for fondue at the dining cabin.
We cook a mix of buffalo, beef, cheese and vegetables that tastes incredible with our wine. We enjoy every last minute knowing tomorrow we are headed back to Quebec City in the morning. From Ferme 5 Etoiles, it’s a 3.5-hour drive but this time on the West Side of St. Lawrence River making a complete circle and a new perspective on the gorgeous landscapes. It’s never easy to come home for a trip that leaves you centered and relaxed, but I leave knowing there is much more to explore on a trip back.