A frequent contributor to the Pedalcover blog, author and filmmaker Markus Stitz has spent the month of June in Gaspé with his gravel bike. The town has a population of about 15,000 people and is situated at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in eastern Quebec in Canada.
Called ‘The Cradle of French America’, Gaspé is where Jacques Cartier took possession of New France in 1534, and a great base for all sorts of outdoor activities, especially mountain biking and gravel riding. The wider region around Gaspé is called Gaspésie, and some places have unique names based on Mi’gmaq words. The Mi’gmaq people are the ‘people of the sea’, since they are the original inhabitants of the Atlantic region in Canada, who have been present on the territory of Gaspésie (Gespe’gewa’gi) for over 10,000 years. They were the first Indigenous people to establish contact with the European newcomers in the 16th century, to whom they provided help related to their fishing and boating skills.
As Quebec has inspired Markus to ride his bike, and here are a few reasons why it should be on your travel list as well.
Endless miles of superb gravel riding
If you have a gravel bike, put Quebec on your to do list. In my four weeks there I was definitely not short of ideas where to ride. Having researched ‘Great British Gravel Rides’, a whole book about gravel cycling in Britain, I have been to some nice places close to home, but the riding in Quebec is simply in a different league. Some of the country’s state highways are made of gravel and traffic is low: imagine a four-lane gravel road all for yourself most of the time, and some pretty challenging climbs and descents along the way.
Navigation is mostly pretty straight forward, routes are well signposted. The more you venture inland, the more remote the riding gets. A word of warning though – apply some extra caution when planning your own route. While numbered roads are fine, some of the smaller paths can be pretty challenging to ride, at times they will be overgrown. If in doubt, best ask local people, they know their area best and are happy to help.
Stunning National Parks
There are two types of national parks in Quebec – federal and provincial parks. Both offer stunning nature to explore, and a fee applies for entry. Cycling is only allowed on certain routes, so make sure to check before you head off.
The infrastructure in national parks is superb – especially the quality and frequency of the interpretation boards provided, which offer a great chance not only to marvel at the scenery, but also understand more about geology, history and the challenges those landscapes face with climate change. The national parks I visited were Forillion National Park, Gaspésie National Park and Miguasha National Park. And while I was very close to the Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé National Park, I didn’t have enough time to visit it properly.
If you are bikepacking, campsites and refuges (mountain huts) provide great opportunities to stay overnight. The huts are basic, but provide a mattress, fireplace, a communal space and great views. The added benefit of staying in huts, which cost around £25 a night and must be booked in advance, is the shelter they provide from mosquitos. And as black bears are present in parts of Quebec, huts are a safe place to stay without having to worry about your food.
The people are super friendly
While this probably applies to almost every country when you travel by bike, I found that Québécois took friendliness to a different level. This was my first big adventure after Covid, and I was more careful in the beginning of the trip, but the people I met along the way were very helpful and welcoming.
French is the main language in Quebec, so it helps to speak the language or at least have a few words ready for conversations. I must admit that my conversational French didn’t extend much further than ‘Bonjour’, which was no problem. Somehow I managed to eat, find nice places to sleep and connect with the local people. Québécois are curious people with time for a chat, the frequent encounters enriched my travels.
Food and drink are amazing
Travelling in Quebec is a rich culinary experience! Food and drink are amazing. If seafood is your thing, you’ll find plenty of it along the coast, caught fresh on the day. Although I have been a vegetarian for a long time, I have started to occasionally eat fish and seafood, and there was plenty of it in Quebec.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, try fiddleheads. Cut early in the season fiddleheads are the curled, edible shoots of the ostrich fern. They are an absolute delicacy, and look stunning on your plate as well – enjoy a feast for eye and taste buds.
And of course there is maple syrup, which makes almost everything taste so much better. While it’s difficult to carry a can of maple syrup around in your bikepacking bags, you can at least have instant porridge with maple syrup flavour. I couldn’t resist taking three cans home with me, the perfect ingredient for a summer breakfast.
And no trip to Quebec is complete without Poutine – french fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. A celebrated symbol of Québécois culture, you’ll find it in every town that has a takeaway.
To drink, there are two things that stood out for me: Tomato juice and craft beer. While on the flight on a small plane to Gaspe, everyone in close proximity to me ordered tomato juice. You can buy it in shops, and after a long bike ride it is just the right beverage to rehydrate.
At the end of the day a local craft beer will be just perfect. Small breweries can be found in many places, and the variety of different beers is amazing – just about anything from sour to IPA. Most of the microbreweries have a microbrasserie or pub attached, where you can enjoy their beer on tap. Some, like Pit Caribou in Percé, even offer accommodation. If you don’t like alcohol, the choice of non-alcoholic beers is pretty good too.
Travelling in Quebec is affordable
For the trip I used my own bike, an Argon18 Dark Matter, a gravel bike born and bred in Montreal. With a flat fee of 50CAN (£30) for the bike from Edinburgh to Montreal, Air Canada is one of the more cycling friendly airlines out there. You will need to call them in advance to book the bike in. One piece of checked luggage was included in the fare, and two pieces of hand luggage, so more than enough to carry everything for a bike trip. PAL Airlines, which operates between Montreal and Gaspé, was more expensive (about £70 one way for the bike), but if you are on a tight budget, the bus takes bikes for 15CAN (£9).
Other travelling costs were reasonable as well. Campsites ranged from £8 – £25 a night. A stay in a nice B&B with dinner and drinks was around £100. Overall food was cheaper than in the UK, while alcohol was more expensive.
Watch out for the Bienvenue cyclistes! sign when looking for a place to stay. This certification from Velo Quebec is useful to find bike-friendly places. Accommodation providers signed up have to provide an enclosed, locked location for bikes overnight or allow bikes in bedrooms. Campsites signed up to the scheme have to guarantee sites at all times and without prior reservation when visitors travel exclusively by bicycle, and a place where cyclists can eat sheltered from bad weather.
If this list has inspired you, you can find Markus’ route on his Komoot profile, and more information about cycling in Quebec on the Velo Quebec website. Don’t forget, If you are planning an adventure abroad, it’s really important that you take out adequate insurance to cover your trip. Pedal Cover offer cycle specific travel insurance which is designed to cover gravel riding, competitive triathlon and mountain biking (we even cover downhill and Enduro racing at no extra cost! ) The insurance offers emergency medical expenses, trip cancellation, trip abandonment, repatriation and liability cover with worldwide cover available. Additionally, Pedal Cover also offer bicycle insurance which is designed to cover crash damage, accidental damage and theft with worldwide cover available. Head over to our website or give our friendly support staff a call on 0800 121 4424