From the magnificent beauty of Canada’s vast natural landscape to the quaint intimacy of a quintessential gîte, by far the best way to explore Quebec is on two wheels.
Go solo cycling in Quebec? Yes, Yes, Yes!
Yes, there was quite a bit of planning involved. Yes, I had to convince friends and family I would be perfectly safe. Yes, there were gruelling spinning classes to get me in shape. And no, before you ask, there weren’t any bears. But as far as solo adventures go, this one goes down as one of my all-time favourites.
It started with a conversation with a fellow solo traveller in the Dominican Republic, and ended with a treasured friendship and an unforgettable cycling adventure through some of Canada’s most spectacular countryside.
This is what happened in between.
Let’s talk travel
One of the wonderful things about travelling solo is the conversations you strike up with other like-minded individuals. Which is when I first learned about Le P’tit Train du Nord; a cycle route through Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, which is where my acquaintance, Lucien, hailed from. My French was rusty to say the least; his English was practically non-existent. But somehow I managed to learn that he lived on a farm near a ‘touristy’ resort, about two hours north of Montreal. And that he was building a ‘cabin’ near a lake, close to a decommissioned railway line that was now used for recreation. Things like biking, hiking and cross-country skiing (charades overcomes all language barriers).
Stop scrolling, start living
Fast forward a couple of years and I was scrolling aimlessly through social media when an article stopped me in my tracks: The 10 best things to do in Canada. Right up there at number seven was “Pedalling Le P’tit Train du Nord.”
The article gave a glowing account of the route along the old railway line. A carefree sojourn through pine-scented forests. Past lakes, farms and quaint villages. With luggage sent ahead to each overnight location – quintessential gîtes serving up gastronomic delights to fuel the calorie-intense adventure.
I was sold.
Several months and a sackful of hand-written letters to Lucien later (no phone, no internet), I booked my Canadian adventure through a company called Cyclo-Gîtes.
A classic choice
There are a number of different cycling packages available for travellers who want to cycle through the region. I chose << Le Classique >>, a 200 kilometre bike tour over four days and three nights. As I only had myself to please (isn’t that the real beauty of solo travel?), I decided to personalise my tour with an extra night’s stay. That way I could meet up with Lucien and have a well-earned day of rest. If you’re not lucky enough to have a friend who lives a stone’s throw from the route to hang out with, the standard itinerary offers ample time to soak up the authentic Canadian experience.
Having flown from Gatwick to Montreal, I had to navigate my way to St-Jerome. Not particularly easy on a Sunday, so do plan your flight times carefully. I stayed at a relatively cheap motel, which was a short taxi ride from Place de la Gare, where I had to collect my bike and kit. Then along with a dozen other adventurers, I boarded a minibus for the 200 kilometre journey north to the start of the route. Driving up Route 15 offers incredible views of the Laurentides’ natural landscape. Even tantalising glimpses of the cycle route that would afford me a safe, traffic-free route through the magnificent countryside. In no time at all, the mini bus reached the old railway station at Mont-Laurier.
The bears only speak French
This was the only point in the journey that my nerves kicked in. I was about to embark on a solo journey through the Canadian wilderness. Who knows what dangers I would encounter, although Lucien had promised me: “The bears won’t be a problem because they only speak French.” Still, I could feel my heart start to race and my cheeks begin to flush. So I enlisted the help of a fellow minibus passenger to secure my hired helmet, had them take the obligatory selfie, then set off – riding hell for leather.
My strategy was simple: don’t be the last cyclist on the route. If I fell off my bike, or encountered a problem, there would be a dozen other people from the minibus who would recognise me and (hopefully) stop to help. It proved to be the right tactic. I had an amazing day cycling through forests and glades in the glorious August sunshine. The next time I saw anyone off the minibus again was as I stopped to take in the sparkling view of Lac Nominigue. Less than half a kilometre later I saw the sign for my first port of call, turned left off the track and freewheeled into a fabulous garden.
Auberge Chez Ignace
Auberge Chez Ignace (link) https://www.ignace.qc.ca/en/ is a quintessential gîte in Lac Nominigue with a beautiful view of the lake and its own private jetty. Oh, how I wish I had known this before I left Blighty! Of course, now you’ll know to pack your cozzie or trunks; I had to improvise rather than go skinny dipping to spare the blushes of other guests! But even if you don’t fancy wild swimming, swimwear will definitely come in handy. Because Auberge Chez Ignace also has a hot tub in the garden, which is particularly welcome if you’re feeling a little saddle sore.
One of the other delightful surprises at Auberge Chez Ignace is the gastronomic cuisine. Hosts Cécile and Tony serve up an incredible 5-course table d’hôte dinner with specialities including home-made smoked salmon and a wild stew with pruned rabbit. In the dining room, a young family from St-Julie invited me to join them, which gave me the opportunity to enjoy some company for the evening and practice my French. I opted for Escargots au Beurre à l’Ail, followed by Filet de Doré with potatoes and vegetables, and Flan Sirop d’Érable. Incroyable!
After an amazing night’s sleep in a well-furnished room with its own private bathroom, TV, air-con and wi-fi, I returned to the dining room. Breakfast was a delicious selection of fresh fruit, maple syrup crepes, croissants and plenty of hot coffee. Then it was time to wave goodbye to Auberge Chez Ignace – and my luggage – before resuming my journey on Le P’tit Train du Nord.
Auberge Le 900 Tremblant
Now is probably as good a time as any to remind novice cyclists that on adventures like this, you need to pack the right kit. I had padded shorts and a gel seat, but that didn’t stop me being eternally grateful that a nice guy in the cycle shop had insisted I pack some sachets of Chamois Butt’r.
I can’t recommend it enough. It made the journey from Lac Nominigue to Mont-Tremblant fly by. The scenery was absolutely incredible; crystal clear rivers and lakes, dense pine forests and beautiful meadows. Interspersed with picture-postcard villages and farms. The temptation was to stop at every insta-perfect opportunity, but the regular distance markers along the route reminded me to resist the urge and stay on track. Having said that, I did find time for a light lunch at Le Cheminot
Post lunch was a dozen kilometres or more of blue-sky cycling. For hours I had endless stretches of linear cycle track all to myself with idyllic views as far as the eye could see. Then glimpses of Rivière Rouge, the river that runs right by Lucien’s farm, before I skirted Lac du Sommet, then hugged the shore of Lac Mercer. The finale few kilometres took me past the lush greens and fairways of Golf Le Maître De Mont-Tremblant until I was in striking distance of my next destination. As the P’Tit Train du Nord crossed Route 327, Auberge Le 900 Tremblant was just a couple of hundred metres off to the left, across Parc du Voyager. I hopped off my bike and wheeled it straight up to the front door where my host was waiting for me.
The accommodation was superb. A spacious, well-appointed room with an en-suite bathroom, air-con, and tea and coffee-making facilities. My room also had a great view of the garden. Guests can also relax in the cosy lounge and bar area, and enjoy table service for a sumptuous breakfast of sweet and savoury delights.
A word of caution: Auberge Le 900 Tremblant DOES NOT serve an evening meal. Instead, I was provided with a voucher for Rôtisserie St-Hubert in St-Jovite – a short bus or taxi ride away. I had no trouble at all polishing off a huge bowl of Spaghetti Vongole. But I had Lucien to reserve a table, pick me up from the gîte and drive me to the restaurant. For solo travellers, it’s not an ideal arrangement. The restaurant is VERY popular and the chances of getting a table for one are practically zero. If you buddy up with other cyclists while on route, I suggest you all book a table together.
Auberge de la Gare
The third leg of Le Classique is the most challenging. Le P’tit Train du Nord is relatively flat, as you’d expect from a former railway line. But from Mon-Tremblant, the route to Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carre is via a long incline. It can be a little hard on tired legs. However, you’ll know you can take it easy on the pedals when the surface changes from asphalt to crushed stone. From then on, you can look forward to cruising downhill all the way to St-Adele where you will find L’Auberge de la Gare on the opposite side of the road from the cycle track.
The most traditional of all the venues, Auberge de la Gare offered delightful accommodation with a fantastic terrace for guests. I had my own private bathroom (albeit down the hall) with a fabulous roll-top bath and an endless supply of hot water and bubbles.
The evening meal was a quirky fondue stew (meat or fish), which created conversation between all the guests. I chose to share a table with a lovely Quebecois couple who kindly endured my French while we each attended to our individual dishes. It was filling and fun in equal measures.
Au revoir, velo
The next day, after an equally hearty breakfast, we said our goodbyes and I hit the trail. At just 28 kilometres, this was the shortest leg of the whole journey and I found myself slowing down to a snail’s pace. Quite simply, this was one cycle ride I never wanted to end and I took the opportunity to savour every view, every bridge, every river, every moment.
For accomplished cyclists, Le Classique would present no real challenge. But as an enthusiastic amateur, it gave me an incredible sense of achievement. Cycling solo 250 kilometres through the Canadian countryside is no mean feat. It is both exhilarating and exhausting (in a good way). The natural landscape is absolutely breath-taking. The food is exceptional; the people a delight – even if you only know a couple of words of French. I also reaped the rewards of having uninterrupted space and time to think and reflect; and my toned legs and glowing complexion would have cost a fortune in a health spa. But the sense of pride I felt as I cycled under the arch into Place de la Gare at St-Jerome. That was priceless.
|Transportation from St-Jerome to Mont-Laurier (200km)|
Cycle to Nominigue
Dinner, bed and breakfast at Auberge chez Ignace
|Cycle to Mont-Tremblant |
Dinner (voucher), bed and breakfast at Le 900 Tremblant
|I chose to personalise my trip with an extra night’s stay at Mont Tremblant|
|I went quad biking, but there are many local attractions – including the ski resort|
|Cycle to St-Adele|
Dinner bed and breakfast at Auberge de la Gare
|Cycle to St-Jerome Collect your luggage and return your bike||27.4k/841kcal|
Cyclo-Gîtes Le Classique
Single occupancy $599+taxes (Double occupancy $459+taxes per person)
Transportation by Autobus du Petit train du Nord
St-Jerome to Mont-Laurier $70 per person/bike
Luggage transport from gîte to gîte $22 per bag x number of days of transportation
Go-Solo Star Rating
* * * * *
The original anti-chafe cream