January 14, 2014
The number one comment you’ll hear from visitors about Quebec City is how European it feels. And with cafés spilling out unto cobbled streets, fine food, boutique shopping, architecture spanning 400 years, and views of turrets and battle fields within a walled city, they are absolutely right. But unlike Europe, visitors can access a vast glacially-sculpted Canadian wilderness in way less time than it takes most city folks to commute to work.
Minutes away from the city centre is Montmorency Falls, where you can watch an 80m waterfall cascade into the St. Lawrence River. A cable car runs to the top of the falls from late April to the end of October. During the winter, the falls’ spray freezes, forming large loaf-shaped ice mounds, which Quebecers call Pain du Sucre (Sugarloaf). Kids bring toboggans to the park to slide down them, adventure seekers climb the frozen falls and the rest of us come any season just to marvel at this natural wonder.
Roughly one-third of the province of Quebec is forested, which is close to the size of France and the UK combined (the province itself is about six times the size of France). And if you’d like to explore a part of it, you only have to venture half an hour away from the capital to Jacques Cartier National Park. Hike, mountain bike, canoe, fish or camp at this conservation area that boasts a 550-metre glacial valley and a forest of yellow birch, sugar maple and evergreens. Come in autumn to be treated to views of the foliage all dressed up in sparkling crimsons and golds.
Valcartier Village is wild in other ways. Only 20 minutes away from Quebec City, this family-friendly resort has water slides and white river rafting in summer, and spine-tingling snow tubing runs during the winter. Grab one of the 5000 inner tubes and whiz down runs that range from the relatively tame to The Everest, with a gravity-defying 110-degree incline and speeds up to 80km/hour. With a 600-site seasonal campground (open summers), it’s an affordable way to experience both an amusement park and Quebec City in one holiday.
A former forestry reserve converted into a year-round outdoor resort run by the province, Station touristique Duchesnay (30 minutes away from Quebec City) offers every outdoor activity imaginable, from snowmobiling and ice-fishing in winter to paddle boarding, rock climbing, bear watching, and even an Inukshuk maze in the summer, as well as all the usual activities like skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and canoeing. Though you’re in the wilderness, you’re in no way roughing it with reasonably-priced quality accommodation, nice restaurants and, best of all, a Scandinavian-inspired spa.
The snow is still on the ground, but Quebecers call this spring. The first sign of this long-awaited season hides within the country’s maple trees as sap waits to be turned into golden sweet syrup and poured onto pancakes across the globe. The “˜Cabanes Ã Sucre’ or Sugar Shacks, attract lively crowds during Maple Syrup season with live music, horse-drawn sleigh rides and feasts with traditional French-Canadian staples like sausages, baked beans, pea soup, and pancakes with very generous pours of the celebrated topping. Fifteen minutes from the capital is the Ã‰rablire le Chemin du Roy sugar shack where you’ll find dancing, music and taffy – the frozen treat made by pouring maple syrup onto fresh snow and wrapping it on a stick is enjoyed like a lollipop, only tastier.
And you won’t find it in Europe.
Header photo: Cross-country skiing in Quebec Forest © Jean Sylvain
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Have you explored the wilds of the Quebec region? Where are your favourite spots near the city for a day trip? Share your thoughts with us below.
Written by Jennifer Merrick