Cycling the Gaspé Peninsula, May-June 2016
The Gaspé peninsula lies northeast of Quebec City, along the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River. The landscape has a coastal feel, becoming dramatic as one travels toward Gaspé. The pièce de résistance is the rock in Percé, a massive formation rising out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The southern part of the route meanders through Matapédia valley and offers gentler but lush, green views. The peninsula is dotted with picturesque villages that can be seen from quite a distance thanks to their dominant feature, the silver-steeple church. There are many lighthouses that form a travel theme for lighthouse enthusiasts.
The Gaspésie tourism website has a wealth of information, the most important for us being accommodation. The La Route Verte guide which costs USD20 contains maps and other useful information.
The starting point for our tour was the town of Rimouski, 314km NE of Quebec City. We flew into Quebec City, the bicycles arrived undamaged thanks to EVOC travel bags. The next morning we walked across the street to a Bell store and purchased a pre-paid phone. It would be handy for making calls on the road, to hotels if we needed to. The same afternoon we hopped on an Orléans bus to Rimouski. We had purchased tickets on the Orléans-Website a month prior to departure.
We arrived in Rimouski at 5:30pm. The bus station has a direct phone specially for calling taxis. I ordered one and specified that we needed a large vehicle for our two bicycles. The taxi arrived, and was ready to transport bicycles but on bike-racks! It was a small car and certainly not large enough for our EVOC bags. The driver was unfazed and suggested two trips; it worked. After checking into the hotel, we set out to assemble our bicycles, careful to check everything; after all these would be our transport for the coming two weeks.That took an hour and a half, finally at 8pm we were able to sit down to dinner.
May 23, 2016: Rimouski to Matane, 101km
Just past Rimouski is the maritime historic site of Pointe-au-Pére, home to a decommissioned submarine and a lighthouse. The next major town was Sainte-Flavie which is the gateway to Gaspé. Here we saw a cantina and stopped for an early lunch. Cantinas are shacks that serve sandwiches, hot food, soft drinks and hot beverages. They would be our regular stop for hot cocoa on cold mornings and lunch later in the day.
May 24, 2016: Matane to Cap Chat, 75km
The day began in fog but cleared up late morning. The ride felt difficult with stiff headwinds and countless hills, a taste of things to come. Early afternoon, cycling through Les Méchins we noticed a nice spot resembling a town center, an invitation for a break. The platform at the top of the church steps was clean and uncluttered, the perfect place for lunch. Based on timing and availability, lunch breaks were at cantinas, churches or simply by the side of the road.
While cycling through villages we had noticed that many B&Bs on our list were either out of business or not open because late May was still too early in their tourist season. Our intended destination for the day was Cap Chat and Auberge Micho, recommended in the La Route Verte book. We called ahead to be sure it was open and were glad to hear the enthusiastic owner say that he would be waiting for us.
Auberge Micho turned out to be a highlight, mostly because of the charming Monsieur Michaud. The inn was not quite open for the season and we were the only guests. He showed us the property and told us to help ourselves to the washer and dryer. He even offered us beer; the charge would be Jerry's help in moving a swing in the backyard. Even though it was time for Mr. Michaud to go home, he hung around to make certain we were comfortable. He suggested the nearby cantina for dinner and that we should hurry for it closed at 6:30pm.The following morning he donned on a chef's jacket and cooked us a fabulous breakfast.
May 25, 2016: Cap Chat to Mont-Saint-Pierre, 67km
Today was a fantastic day of cycling. The scenery seemed to open up. There was a slight wind, mostly on our backs. We had an early lunch at a cantina in Marsoui, a pretty village with a red lighthouse. Here we ran into the couple from Toronto, also cycling the peninsula. This was their second bicycle tour; they told us they were hooked! We know how that goes...
Mont-Saint-Pierre is a town that is basically a cluster of motels and businesses catering to outdoor activities. We chose the accommodation in the middle of the half-moon shaped bay. The motel was basic and had seen better days. The grocery store next door saw us thrice over the course of the evening, the 'au revoir' each time seemed quite literal.
Dinner at the motel-restaurant was very good. The owner had gone out and bought fish specially for us because I had made a comment during check-in that I was looking forward fresh fish from the Gaspé waters. The fact is, after a day of cycling we will eat just about anything.
We returned to the restaurant the next morning at the pre-arranged time of 7am, expecting an equally good breakfast. There was no sign of life, the door was locked and lights were out. Upon calling the owner we got the feeling that she did not want to be there that early. When she did come, we had a hot and hearty breakfast.
May 26, 2016: Mont-Saint-Pierre to Grande-Vallée, 60km
Every tour has to have at least one repair. Today brought us the first one and luckily the only one. On the previous day we had noticed the front tire of Jerry's bike being slightly low. We pumped it up and it was fine the entire day. This morning we checked and it was low again. We knew we had find find the cause; the repair would be much easier in the warm, dry motel room than on the side of the road. We found the leak and sealed it successfully, saving the spare inner tube. The culprit was a tiny strand of cable wire.
This day was our introduction to Gaspé's steep hills. We had read about them and felt ready, having trained hard for several months. In years past we had toured the Alps, Pyrennees, Dolomites and Ardennes and thought we knew hills. Gaspé hills are steep.
Grande-Vallée is a pretty village, the centerpiece being the church on a high plateau. Hôtel Motel Grande Vallée des Monts was beautiful, a class above the typical roadside motel. Our room was nicely decorated and had a gorgeous view of the water and the church. This evening too we had dinner in the hotel restaurant and our meals were excellent. I had the best dessert of the entire tour.
May 27, 2016: Grande-Vallée to Rivière-au-Renard, 66km
Today was also pretty tough, steep hills as well as strong headwinds. One time going downhill I even had to downshift and peddle hard against the wind. We popped into a restaurant for a cup of hot cocoa. While waiting at the table we saw the owner run out, get into her car and drive away. She returned five minutes later and with a sheepish grin explained that she had run out for the cocoa. Her employee came out of the kitchen and eager to practice English asked about our bike trip and Florida.
We had made a reservation at Auberge le Caribou in Rivière-au-Renard since it was the only lodging on our list. As we entered the town and breezed down the last hill we could see the hotel buildings from quite a distance. When the giant sign with the caribou announced that we had arrived, it was a relief. We were ready to rest after a day of seemingly endless hills.
Walking into the hotel's restaurant for dinner that evening we met the young man with whom we had talked earlier in the day while enjoying the cocoa. We chatted like old friends.
May 28, 2016: Rivière-au-Renard to Cap-des-Rosiers, 23km
We decided to make today a rest day. Staying two nights in the same town however is not a lot of fun unless the place has something special to offer. Typically even on a rest day we prefer to go further even if it is a short distance. Today would be such a day, Cap-des-Rosiers was just 23km away.
On approach we could see Cap-des-Rosiers from quite a distance because of the beautiful, 32m tall lighthouse. Gîte au Pied du Phare as the name suggests is at the foot of the lighthouse. It had been praised in the reviews so that is where we wanted to stay. We arrived at 10:30am, a little early for hotels or B&Bs to accept guests. Seeing us on our bicycles the owners Agathe and Robert welcomed us in the middle of their cleaning routine. We were even treated to homemade carrot-potato soup for lunch.
In the afternoon we visited the lighthouse. It is beautiful and situated in a stunning setting but sadly endangered because of lack of funding for the upkeep.
Dinner was across the street in a restaurant which opened that evening for the first time in the season. The talkative chef gave us the history of the restaurant with a lot of personal stuff thrown in. The fish soup was very tasty and I had no difficulty polishing off the large portion.
We were awake at 4am which happens when you fall asleep at 8pm. The soft morning light was inviting, we got dressed and went out to take yet more pictures of the lighthouse. In about 2 hours we would be treated to one of the best breakfasts ever.
May 29, 2016: Cap-des-Rosiers to Gaspé, 43km
Today's ride was beautiful, taking us through Forillon national park. We did not really expect to see wildlife but were surprised when a baby bear made its way to the edge of the woods.
A striking feature in the peninsula is the brightly painted house; below is a small sample.
The approach to Gaspé got busy, noisy and dusty but luckily we had only 5km to the center of town. Our accommodation list for Gaspé was very long but we did not consult it and went straight to the prominent Adam's motel. The advantage to motel type lodging is being able to wheel the bicycles right into the room. The owners don't seem to mind and in some cases even suggested it. We paid for the room but since it was not ready cycled out to have lunch.
A half-mile stretch of Rue de la Reine houses several eateries, a bakery and even a mall of sorts. Here we hit the ATM, the first one after Quebec City. Credit cards are accepted everywhere and we still had cash but since the bank was right in front of us and we thought it a good idea.
Perhaps because the peninsula carries the name Gaspé our expectations for the town were high. We were a little disappointed. Still we walked around taking pictures. Lunch was at a café on Rue de la Reine and afterwards we picked up groceries for the next day or two. Dinner at the restaurant attached to the motel was so-so but the complimentary breakfast was hearty.
May 30, 2016: Gaspé to Percé, 80km
Shortly after leaving Gaspé there was a La Route Verte sign indicating a left turn away from Route 132. We were glad we did not miss the sign and enjoyed a dedicated bike trail for about 5km. Most of the day was easy with gentle hills and soothing views. The big hills were saved till the end of the day, after about 70kms. On the last downhill we were rewarded with stunning views of Percé and the rock. It was worth interrupting the downhill rip for a few photos the dramatic scenery.
This town seemed a lot more alive than the others, clearly a high tourist point on the peninsula. We chose a cheery looking hotel with a view of the rock and checked in for 2 nights.
May 31, 2016: Percé
We spent the day relaxing and walking to the top of the cliff overlooking the rock. Needless to say there are countless photos of Rocher Percé from various angles and in different lighting. Dinner was in a nice restaurant which had just opened for the season as seen by shiny, splatter-free ketchup and mustard jars.
June 1, 2016: Percé to Port-Daniel, 81km
The ride today was pleasant but a bit anti-climactic after Percé. This stretch was more densely populated and we rode past town after town. The shoreline was beautiful but lacked the rugged, remote feel of the northern shore.
In the town of Chandler we left Route 132 for quieter cycling. It led us through some recently constructed roads and a shiny new pedestrian bridge.
We arrived in Port Daniel, pulled into a parking lot and consulted our list of accommodation. As it turned out we were on the property of Motel Villa Anna. The owner came out and greeted us and soon we were checked in. As the main(only?) restaurant option was a bit far away, the motel owner ordered meals for us to be delivered to the room. When we sat down to eat we realized that our eyes had been too big, we had enough food for a family of six!
June 2, 2016: Port-Daniel to Bonaventure, 50km
Tailwind makes a cyclist feel super fit - today was one of those days. The route took us through Paspébiac where fire hydrants were transformed into amusing cartoon characters.
The day was short, we were done before lunch. Because Bonaventure had several hotels and motels, we chose to stop here. The approach from across the bridge was dramatic; the combination of the lighthouse, a marina and the the silver-steeple church makes Bonaventure a very pretty town.
The post-cycling routine was second nature now, check-in, shower, laundry and walk to a grocery store. We did all that and ate salads for lunch in the room. Before dinner we enjoyed a long walk along the marina to the lighthouse.
June 3, 2016: Bonaventure to Carleton-sur-Mer, 63km
Forecast called for rain so we dressed for it but there was rain only towards the end of the ride. We ran into road construction where two-way traffic was controlled with one-way access. As the light turned green we started along with the vehicles, sharing the road as we had done all along. Much to our surprise the cops whistled for the automobiles to hold back to let us have the lane to ourselves. We yelled out 'merci' but felt bad about holding up the cars and trucks behind us. I pedaled furiously, pretending I was doing a Tour-de-France sprint. It propelled me quite a bit - I should try it more often.
The first week of June was still too early in the Gaspé tourist season and nearly all rest areas were closed. As a result there had been no nice spots for breaks. We were ready for lunch and decided to stop as we entered the town of Carleton-sur-Mer. This town was our stop for the day but our hotel was at the far end of it, another 5km. We pulled into a parking lot for a quick lunch. It had begun to rain hard and we took shelter under the overhang of the building. The property turned out to be a hotel and just as we were unwrapping our sandwiches the owners came out and suggested we go into the lobby and make ourselves comfortable. We thanked them but said our wet rain-gear would mess up their floor. They insisted and even offered us coffee. Thank you Motel Carleton sur Mer!
We cycled right up to the steps of the hotel where we had made a reservation that morning. Some patrons stepping out of the building smiled and waved, we exchanged greetings. One of them was personable and in a mood to chat. There were the usual questions of where were we from and how far were we cycling. Jerry joked with his usual flair, thanking them for the nice weather, pointing to rain which was now heavier. We said our goodbyes and walked into the lobby to be told we had just been chatting with the mayor of the city!
After getting cleaned up we went on our grocery errand and checked out restaurants. The pub next door looked festive, the best option for dinner.
We had planned breakfast at our hotel but they chose not to open up the restaurant because of the small number of guests. Our supplies of cereal, fruit and yogurt made an equally enjoyable breakfast.
June 4, 2016: Carleton-sur-Mer to Campbellton, 70km
Today's ride took us along Chaleur Bay and through picturesque countryside dotted with brilliant yellow flower-fields. We detoured through the peninsula of Miguasha; the extra effort was totally worth it.
Later in the day we wondered whether to continue west to Matapédia or drop south to Campbellton, New Brunswick. Campbellton won. Cycling into NB felt almost like a border crossing between countries. There was no passport check but it was strange to see shops on the QC side touting duty-free products. NB felt foreign for another reason, English! Making ourselves understood was struggle-free and conversations a little more meaningful.
Our hotel was at the Campbellton end of the bridge that connects the two provinces. We unloaded the saddle bags and parked the bicycles in the storage room. A short while later when we left for a walk around town we met a cyclist who had just checked in. He had taken three months off and was cycling across Canada.
June 5, 2016: Campbellton to Causapscal, 84km
The southern bank of the Restigouche River seemed quieter than Route 132. From Campbellton we cycled on the NB side; Matapédia lay 23km to the west. We crossed over to the north side on the Interprovincial bridge and were back in Quebec. The Matapédia valley is verdant and beautiful with the river snaking right alongside.
There were two covered bridges, the Routhierville Bridge and Heppell Bridge, 19km further on the outskirts of Causapscal. While snapping photos of the bridge in Routhierville we chatted with a Quebecois who was cycling to Fundy National Park and Prince Edward Island. He was overnighting in 'Warm Showers' homes and said if we had already signed up we could have stayed in his home in Causapscal. That was not going happen but we found a home for the night in a motel on Route 132.
June 6, 2016: Causapscal to Val-Brillant, 40km
Our tour plan includes a few buffer days in case of illness, something going wrong or simply an extra day at some place we like. By now we had not used the days and therefore had some extra time. The tour was not far from completion so we decided to begin using up days. As a result today would be an easy, short day.
On the way to the motel yesterday we had seen a small road branching off Route 132. According to the map there would not be another opportunity for quite some time to cycle on rural roads. So we retraced our steps and picked up the side road; traveling back 2km was worth it. In Amqui we stopped at a pharmacy as I had developed a cough and my supply of lozenges was low. We left Amqui for Val-Brillant, the back roads continued much of the way there.
The B&B in Val-Brillant was very nice, spacious and comfortable. The hosts were also very welcoming. They cleared some space in the shed for our bicycles. We had not yet eaten and felt like a hot lunch and were directed to the local cantina. We cycled over there and being very hungry gobbled up the food. Earlier the B&B owner had offered to drive down and pick up dinner for us at this cantina. Since everything on the menu was fried I decided instead to pick up salad material at the grocery store. Our hosts were very generous and let me have the run of their kitchen and even suggested I use their special Gaspé blend of herbs for my dressing. My salad was one of the best meals of the trip.
June 7, 2016: Val-Brillant to Saint-Flavie, 65km
After a sumptuous breakfast we left for the last-but-one town on the tour. We had such a nice time at the Val-Brillant B&B that we even felt a twinge of sadness. The sun was shining, the wind was on our back and we were on small country roads - perfect cycling conditions.
We meandered through the town of Mont-Joli and took photos of many murals. Just as we were leaving the town the heavens opened up. We donned on the rain gear but were a little nervous for all the lightning. There was a Tim Horton's, it was a sign to stop. We enjoyed soup and coffee and left after the rain let up.
June 8, 2016: Saint-Flavie to Rimouski, 34km
We were barely warmed up when we reached the motel in Rimouski. Soon after checking in we washed the bicycles. This way they would have time to dry before being packed in the EVOC bags. For the flight down Jerry's bicycle(in the bag) just made the weight-limit for an oversized bag. We did not want any water to make it heavier.
Next on the list were bus tickets to Quebec City. We walked to the Orléans office and bought tickets for the 1:45pm bus the following day. It was now time to collect the EVOC bags from the hotel where we had left them. That hotel was fully booked when the tour ended so we had to pick another place i.e., our current motel. It worked out very well, the owner of the present motel was so nice that he insisted on driving us to the bus station the next day.
Two hours later the bags were packed. The tour was done.
Gaspé is truly beautiful with a rugged north shore and the verdant Matapédia valley in the south. People were nice, we were quite surprised by unexpected acts of generosity. Knowledge of French is definitely handy.
The ride is mostly on Route 132 which can be busy and is of poor quality in many places. There were many rest areas but sadly almost all of them were marked Fermé; early June is still too early in the Gaspé tourist season. The plus side of traveling in the shoulder season is that there is less traffic and the area is far less crowded.