Montreal: In Montreal each spring, an epic bicycle festival demonstrates how 25,000 people can let the good times roll without bumping into each other too much. In Quebéc City and its hinterlands, cyclists plunge into a history shaped by French explorers, the Roman Catholic Church, aboriginal culture and British conquest — plus a quite unexpected taste of Teddy Roosevelt on a trail into the wilderness.
In Charlevoix, an island provides a perfect loop for lovers of quiet roads, gentle hills, flats along with the water and eye-candy vistas of mountains you don’t have to climb. Then there is the south shore of the St. Lawrence, where the panorama of river, sea, sky and flowers defines the magic of bicycling in Québec in ways that words cannot.
Montreal bike festival and rail trip
Montreal’s cycling culture turns into a rolling party, May 26-June 2 this year. The Go Bike Montreal Festival is anchored by two family-friendly rides that close downtown streets to traffic and take over the city-island.
The premier event, Tour de l’lle on June 2, typically draws 25,000 people on bicycles and countless more cheering them on from neighbourhoods along the 50-kilometre (30-mile) route. Music, dance and acrobatics (Quebec, home to Cirque du Soleil, specializes in the circus arts) are part of the mix.
The Blueberry trail
Veloroute des Bleuets circles Lac Saint-Jean, a lake so big you might think it’s the sea. In late summer it makes good on its promise of wild blueberries for trailside scavenging. The lake circuit runs for 256 kilometres (160 miles) on trails, quiet roads, village pathways and occasional paved shoulders.
Signed as Route Verte #8, it meets the standards that are the hallmark of all designated routes in the network: Inns with Route Verte accreditation must offer healthy food choices, safe storage for bikes and tools for repair while campgrounds must make room for cyclists even if full.
Quebec City and rail trail
Quebec’s historic capital, like Montreal, has extensive bicycle paths for commuters and several of prime interest to visitors. Starting at the ferry terminal, the Promenade Samuel de Champlain path going west borders the riverfront for 12 kilometres, looping onto a narrow walkway on the bridge crossing the St. Lawrence and joining with another trail in the town of Levis.
The Levis trail offers a spectacular view of Quebec City and a chance to return on the ferry, closing a 30-kilometre loop, or to go longer. Another trail runs out to Montmorency Falls, a higher-than-Niagara waterfall and recreation area with zip lines and via ferrata climbing.
On Route Verte #1, spread over more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) cyclists can go along the south shore of the St. Lawrence for days, a week or more, seeing the river widen going eastward into the wild beauty of the Gaspe Peninsula until the far shore disappears and the sea, somewhere, begins.
In the mountainous Charlevoix region, cycling tours are for huffing-puffing people but there’s an exception: a jewel of an island 15 minutes by car from Baie-Saint-Paul, an art and tourist hub. Isle-aux-Coudres is reached by a free 15-minute car ferry sailing hourly in summer.
The road hugging the shore is 27 kilometres and quiet once ferry traffic dissipates. A restored windmill and water mill gives tours and sells its stone-ground whole wheat and buckwheat. The scenery is stunning....