GASPÉ, QC — Have you ever wanted to visit a dream destination but have been hindered by a lack of a vehicle, or simply dislike driving long distances? That was the dilemma I was facing when I decided to visit Quebec’s beautiful Gaspésie Peninsula a few months ago.
The lack of a personal vehicle wasn’t going to stop me, though. The solution? Public transportation.
For five days, that’s how I travelled through the enchanting Gaspé region, marvelling at the sleepy fishing villages lost in time and the enchanting rolling coastal landscape that makes this area of the province one of the most popular with tourists from around the world.
After making my way to Rimouski from Montreal by bus, I hoped aboard an Orleans Express coach and began my Gaspé adventure along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. The coastal scene framed in my window was breathtaking and only occasionally interrupted by the camper parks that line the route — RVs are one of the most popular modes of transportation in this rugged area where hotels are well distanced.
Orleans Express offers two routes through the Gaspé — the south shore route I took offers continuous coastal views and jaw-dropping sunsets, while the north shore route offers similar views but cuts the journey by about two hours.
One of the advantages of taking Orleans Express is the interesting stops it makes along the way, like Forillon National Park wrapped in a lovely Garden of Eden setting, the historic town of Gaspé and world-renowned Percé, where its famous jagged rock juts out of the bay and, from a distance, looks like a giant ship under sail.
Above: The famed Percé Rock juts out of the sea in the small Gaspésie that's become world famous.
Percé is the most popular spot with tourists, and I see plenty of visitors milling about with their cameras at the ready when our coach rumbles to a stop not far from Quebec’s iconic landmark. The gigantic rock was christened Île Percé (Pierced Rock) by French explorer Samuel de Champlain when he arrived here in 1603. It boasts one of the world’s largest natural arches and its highest point stands 88m above the choppy surf.
Five kilometres offshore from Percé sits another of the area’s natural treasures, Île Bonaventure, a circular shaped island that is home to over 200 different species of birds, the most common being the northern gannet and the black-legged kittiwake.
Because there’s so many tourists, a carnival atmosphere always hangs over Percé and the quaint road-side town offers plenty of accommodation and restaurants.
As with other towns in the region, seafood is a prominent feature of the local cuisine and each of the hotels here offers their own unique charm.
For a luxurious stay, I’d recommend Hôtel Riotel Percé, which offers all the amenities of a business hotel along with a stunning view of Percé Rock and the bay. Rooms here are clean and simply furnished in a minimalistic style. Their restaurant, Le Paqbo, specializes in local seafood dishes, such as bouillabaisse, fish and chips and coquille au gratin — usually made with ingredients that were swimming in the local surf the previous day. Yum!
There’s also plenty on offer for the budget traveller. The affordable Chalets des Plages, for instance, is located on a cliff overlooking Percé Rock and offers guests an excellent vantage point for the area’s mesmerizing sunrises. Each chalet comes with a double bed, kitchenette, TV and wi-fi and the property is within walking distance of the town centre, stores and beach.
Above: People come from far and wide to walk the trails around Percé Rock and see the rare birds that call the area home.
Each morning tourists awake to the scent of freshly baked bread and pastries made in the wee hours at Patisserie Le Fourmand, the local bakery where lineups are the norm. The store’s Croque Madame sandwich — a comforting combination of tomatoes, ham, cheese and egg sprinkled with herbs — is not to be missed. Not to be outdone, their almond croissants are an excellent execution of fragrant almonds and a flaky buttery crust.
The rock is best viewed from a lookout point near the Percé International Summer School, which charges a small admission, but the views are free.
As you’d expect, there’s plenty of water activities, like whale watching and paddle boarding, on offer in Percé.
Les Bateliers de Perce offers whale watching excursions during the peak season between June to October and leaves daily from Percé wharf. Paddle boards and kayaks are also available to rent from various stalls near the beach, and can be used to venture out to Percé Rock.
The GeoPark in Percé, run by UNESCO GeoPark, includes several free hiking trails, one of which leads to a lookout point on a mountain overlooking Percé Bay. La Table a Roland, a restaurant named after the mountain, can be found in the town.
The more adventurous can try their hand at Percé’s exciting zip-line attraction, or visit the town’s glass observation platform, which offers even more stunning views of the area.
One of the best stops along my journey was Forillon National Park, located on the outer tip of the Gaspésie Peninsula. It covers an area of 244sq-km and was opened in 1970.
Various flora and fauna abound in the park, where whales and seals swim offshore, sea birds fly overhead and moose and black bears share trails.
I spent only one day in the park but would recommend a longer stay because there’s so much to see and do here.
Above: Surprisingly, the Gaspésie Peninsula boasts some of the most beautiful, untamed beaches in North America.
Although camping in the park is permitted, there are several hotels and hostels located just outside the entrance. Buses from the region's Le Regim service run in the morning and afternoon, allowing visitors to explore the many other excellent hiking trails in the vacinity.
The quaint town of Gaspé is the unofficial capital of the region and gets its name from the Mi'kmaq word gaspeg, meaning land’s end. Looking out over the town’s remarkable bay that drifts off into the open sea, it’s easy for me to see why the Indigenous people applied the name.
For a small town, Gaspé has plenty to offer. Shortly after arriving, I jump aboard the local No. 24 Regim bus for a 15-minute ride to Haldimand Beach, where I walk along the sandy shore and enjoy the salty air.
Like other towns in the region, Gaspé has several restaurants that offer local seafood, as well as cafés and fast food restaurants that cater to all tastes.
For a fulfilling breakfast, Café des Artistes offers an extensive list of speciality coffees, including a combination of espresso, hazelnut, milk and whipped cream and their own aromatic brews. They also offer house-made daily breakfast dishes such as waffles and muffins.
In addition, the room's unique decor, consisting of local artists’ contributions, plus a magnificent view of the bay, makes for a truly stunning start to the day.
The Hôtel Baker, situated on a hillside overlooking the bay, is another great place to stay. Their rooms are decorated in a modern, clean style with large windows overlooking the water, while their restaurant specializes in local, simple Quebecois cuisine.
The Gaspésie Peninsula is an appetizing alternative to the usual run-of-the-mill tourist destination and will satisfy your hunger for stunning scenery, natural wonders and incredible food.
In fact, it's the perfect busman’s holiday if you use public transportation.