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The great outdoors

Occupying a sizeable chunk of Eastern Canada, Quebec province boasts more than half a million lakes, more than 4,000 rivers and jaw-dropping scenery to impress even the most seasoned traveller. NICOLA GILL goes exploring

Quebcois really are the luckiest people on earth to live in an almost-empty, natural and pristine water-filled playground of eye-popping beauty. They also enjoy a climate which provides long hot summers for endless messing about on rivers and lakes, hiking in forests and long picnics in huge national parks and then dumps a vast amount of snow over the landscape to give several months of outdoor ice skating, tobogganing, skiing and, of course, never-ending snowman-making materials. 

That is before we even mention the autumn spectacle of thousands of miles of mixed broadleaf, deciduous forest turning in unison from its summer green through various fiery shades of flame red, burnt orange and sulphur yellow before the final leaf drop in early winter. And alongside all this scenery is the call of the wild with wolves, beavers, giant moose, deer, black bears plus the smaller groundhogs and chipmunks which wander freely and can be spotted if you take a road trip to visit one of the three great cities skirting the edges of Quebec: Montreal, Ottawa (just over the border in the province of Ontario) and Quebec City.

The province is not known as French Canada for nothing. Although this doesn’t seem to influence the food here as much as you’d expect, you will hear French spoken everywhere – it’s the first language, though English is also widely spoken – and people dress, think and act in a European-influenced style. The urban areas are chic but the countryside is rugged and magnificent and, alongside the sophistication, a can-do, outdoorsy attitude and sensibility runs through everything. 

First Nations people have occupied this land since time immemorial and their ancient way of life is increasingly being commemorated and celebrated after a troubled history of exploitation and racism by settlers. It’s this beguiling mix of the new world and the old which makes Quebec so unique to explore

FINEST WATER

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Dress for the elements and explore nature as untamed and rugged as it was intended. Try these adventures for size..

Live the lake life

Whenever you visit, you must get on, or in – preferably both – a lake. Many Québécois hotels and lodges are situated on their own private lakes and have complimentary use
of kayaks, canoes, paddleboards and boats in the summer for guests. In winter, they switch to providing ice skates for outdoor skating. Year-round, as long as there is no ice, many also have outdoor spas right on the lake with steps and diving platforms to go straight from hot tub or jacuzzi to water. In addition there are many public lakes with facilities for day hire and cabins for rent right on the waterfront. L’Auberge du Lac Morency (lacmorency.com) is one of the oldest lodges in Quebec’s Laurentian region and here you eat, sleep and play right on the shores of the lake. Bliss!

Canoe like a local

Explore a national park by meandering down a gently flowing scenic river such as the Diable with a guide. You will see beaver dams, stunning views and – if you’re very lucky – other wildlife too. You don’t need to be that fit, especially with the two-person canoes, and learning to steer your vessel around the tight corners and hairpin bends is half the fun!

Explore Mont Tremblant                            

Trembling Mountain – so called by First Nations people who say a giant’s spirit inhabits it – is part of the 540 million-year-old Laurentian chain of mountains. A natural paradise about an hour and a half from Montreal where you can walk, bike or zip-wire in the warmer months, and
ski, snowboard, dog-sledge or toboggan in the snowy ones. The steep cobblestone streets of the town with the vibrant scarlet, kingfisher and sunflower painted shop frontages and distinctive roofs make it look like a mini Montreal. It’s lively and fun year-round.

Three to try…

Want to take things slowly? These laid-back experiences are what you need…

Chill out at Nordik Spa-Nature

In the picturesque village of Old Chelsea is Nordik Spa-Nature (chelsea.lenordik.com). North America’s largest outdoor spa has saunas, pools, baths, meditation and therapy rooms, zoned into silent, quiet and social areas, with stylish sitting and resting sections. Mature palms and trees are part of the gorgeous views from the infinity pool, and there are massage pavilions and bracing waterfalls to cool off under. Pop into Old Chelsea for a coffee or dinner or a wander around Old Chelsea Market for a few foodie treats.

The Canadian Museum of History 

Facing Canada’s capital, Ottawa, across the river of the same name, this is an exciting and challenging museum housed in a curvaceous building designed in the 80s by First Nations member and architect Douglas Cardinal. Controversial at the time, it’s become a national emblem of pride and was ahead of its time in incorporating elements of nature and the landscape in its design. It houses the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles and elsewhere there’s much striking First Nations art and fascinating history. historymuseum.ca

Wander around Saint-Sauveur  

Halfway between Mont-Tremblant and Montreal lies the charming, historical Saint-Sauveur, situated prettily at the foot of the mountain of the same name. It may be quaint but it’s very much a living, thriving town. Its quiet streets are lined with traditional brightly painted wooden buildings, beautiful shops selling local artisan products and stylish restaurants serving excellent food for every budget. In summer, it’s all about the sunshine, while in winter it becomes a bustling ski town. Above the streets soars the shining aluminium-clad spire of the old town church and you feel life here has gone on unchanged since it was established in 1853.

Eat and drink like a local

Don’t leave without trying…

Tourtière – a savoury meat pie made with minced pork, veal or beef and potatoes. Delicious!

Poutine – a messy pile of chips (or French fries) with cheese curds and gravy

Pâté chinois – very similar to our cottage pie, it’s made with minced beef, onions and
sweetcorn, topped with mashed potato

Tire sur la neige – hot, boiled maple sap poured on to fresh snow, making soft, flexible candy that you eat immediately

Where to stay

Quebec province is large and you’ll want to stay in more than one place to explore it
fully. The Westin Resort & Spa Tremblant (lessuitestremblant.com) has chic, modern rooms with terraces overlooking the town. All rooms in the smoke-free resort have pillow-top beds, iPod docking stations and flat-screen TVs and there’s free Wi-Fi in public areas. Buffet breakfast is available for 25 CAD a day and in-room Wi-Fi for 8 CAD a day. 

The Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa (wakefieldmill.com) is a lovely inn about a 30-minute drive from Ottawa on the edge of La Pêche River. It’s a great location if you’re planning on visiting Nordik Spa-Nature or Old Chelsea and the surrounding area.

Factfile

CURRENCY Canadian dollars (US dollars are not widely accepted here)

TIME DIFFERENCE GMT -5

VISA Not required for holidays but you’ll need to get a 7 CAD Electronic Travel Authorisation (known as the ETA and easily done online) before you travel. 

CLIMATE Quebec province covers a large and varied area of terrain with wide seasonal variations from the reliably hot, humid summer months of June to September (22-26°C) and the cold, snowy months of November to March (when deep snow lies on the ground). Between these, autumn is mild and often bright and a lovely time to visit. Spring can be damp and grey with a lot of slush around and unpredictable temperatures. 

GETTING THERE Air Canada flies frequently and direct to the province gateway cities
of Montreal (7 hours, 30 minutes) and Ottawa (7 hours, 50 minutes), as well as to Quebec City with one stop en route (9 hours, 54 minutes).

 

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