DYR: The Gaspesie

I know quite a few English speakers who get a little nervous about riding in Quebec. Most do not even have a marginal command of French and the thought of making an arse of themselves is enough to see them stick to the tedious highways and get through the province as quickly as possible.

I can understand this, but if you are one of these riders, then let me implore you to take a chance. Grab a French phrase book, be prepared to ask for sautéed bull’s testicles when you really meant meatballs, but making this effort will generally see you greeted with a smile, some broken English and access to some of the best riding roads in eastern Canada.

map
The Gaspésie Peninsula does not have many roads, but what it does have are pretty damn good. Courtesy Google maps.

A prime example of a bucket-list worthy Quebec ride, is the Gaspésie peninsula. Situated on the south shore of the St Lawrence river where it merges into the Gulf of St Lawrence, the Gaspésie boasts some of Quebec’s best roads – both paved and gravel. It’s the size of Belgium but with a mere 140,000 inhabitants, mostly around the perimeter and on the south shore, it’s sparsely populated.

Here's a good view of the Chic Choc mountains. Sadly we didn't find any chics or chocs.
A few years back we did a ride through the middle bit on the trails. It was truly spectacular. Photo; Rob Harris

The peninsula is the final thrust of the Appalachian Mountain chain, that extends all the way from Georgia. Sadly, few roads cut through the spectacularly hilly middle section, though adventurists can explore it via the extensive network of logging and ATV trails, as we did back in 2012.

Instead, the main road (Route 132) circumnavigates the peninsula, and for many sections literally sits between the St Lawrence and sheer cliffs, giving the rider a very rare experience of a genuine coastal road.

For this DYR, we’ll take you around the circumference, starting and stopping in the town of Matane – the gateway to the Gaspésie circuit.

The Ride

matapedia
The Matapedia River Valley makes for a great road. Photo: Rob Harris

Heading south out of Matane on the 195 and you find yourself following a wide river valley before zigzagging across rolling farmland. It’s all pleasant enough, but the real fun starts when you get to the town of Amqui and onto the 132.

countryside
The countryside south of Matane is pretty but lacks the drama of the coast. Photo: Rob Harris

This is the Matapedia Valley – a steep-sided affair that forces the road to follow its tune, winding above a picture postcard stone-clad river that invites the thirsty traveller to pull over, strip off and take a refreshing plunge.

The fun carries on till close to the New Brunswick border where it opens up but is peppered with small towns that sadly serve to break up the flow.

At the town of Matapedia, the 132 swings east and hugs the shores of the Bay of Chaleur (warm waters), which also sees the most urban section of the loop. Ideally there would be another road option to bypass this stretch, but the 132 is THE road and it’s not until the town of Paspébiac that it sheds the speckled suburbia and the road speeds up, getting better and better as you narrow in on the town of Percé.

south-shore
The south shore is not missing some good views but is quite urban and slow going. Photo: Rob Harris

Percé is the tourist centre of the Gaspésie – mainly because it has a rather large and striking rock just off its shores, that even comes complete with a hole through it. But it’s more than that, and with the surge of tourists, come amenities such as fine dining, bars, hotels and, well, civilization. It is, for all intents and purposes, the start of the really fun roads. Here the Appalachian Mountains come right up to the sea, so the road has no choice but to either roller coaster over them or cling between cliff and shore.

perce-rock2
Percé rock! Photo: Rob Harris

Having said that, there is a section up to the town of Gaspe that is a little flat but with plenty of ocean views it’s perfectly acceptable. You have to be careful to not leave the 132 (it turns off) as it sweeps around Parc National Forillon. When I was there in 2014 the road was all ripped up, which wasn’t much fun, but it means it’ll be all new asphalt now and it is a twisty mother too.

Once past the park you are now riding the north shore – the gem of the ride. It reminds me of the Cabot Trail and is well worthy of the comparison, the steep cliffs and rugged climate keeping the towns small and uncommon – often nestled in river exits where the land offers a ribbon of flat to build on.

Sadly, the fun ends when you hit Sante-Anne-des-Monts as the increasing number of towns and villages break up the flow. For the more adventurous, you can slip down the Cascapedia road (hwy 299) to just beyond the park and take some easy gravel roads through Réserve Faunique de Matane (read about our adventures there, here).

NorthShore1
Lovely. Photo: Rob Harris

The Options

The main tourist trail is to circumnavigate Gaspésie, but there are a couple of roads that dissect through the middle:

1) Highway 299

chic-chocs
The Chic Choc hills are some of the highest in eastern Canada. Photo: Rob Harris

The Cascapédia road (hwy 299) cuts right through the middle and is a dramatic ride along the Cascapedia river and through Parc National de la Gaspésie. Although from the southern end it starts out a little dull, it gets better as the Cascapédia valley narrows and twists.

Toward the northern end you hit the park, situated in the spectacular Chic Choc mountains with their steep scree sides and rounded tops – some of the highest peaks in eastern Canada. If you have time, take a moment to visit the park’s HQ and/or the very fancy Gite du Mont-Albert nearby.

The road ends rather abruptly in Sainte-Annes-des-Monts. From here you can head left and back to Matane, but you’re missing the glory of the peninsula if you don’t head right and ride the ocean hugging road.

2) Highway 198

Murdochville
Murdochville. A bit of a hard sell unless you like pizza. Photo: Rob Harris

The Murdochville road is pretty remote but hilly and quite twisty. The town of Murdochville is an old mining town and is struggling to find a reason to exist but I did have a very, very good pizza there in a restaurant on the main street, which might tempt some.

Of course, that may not be enough to warrant using this road though, especially since it bypasses some of the most striking coastal section to the north, but it isn’t boring by any stretch of the imagination. Oh, and if you do, be sure to have a full tank of gas as there is literally nothing between Gaspe and Murdochville.

Good to know

lighthouse

Hazards – There are a lot of moose in the Gaspésie! So the usual warnings apply – be careful at dawn, dusk and if you get stuck on the roads at night. Moose are big and tall so although your bike may go under, you, sadly, will not.

Police –  They do seem to be light on the ground – especially in the off-season, but beware, the Quebec police have a bit of a reputation for not being … accommodating.

Timing – Because it’s a bit of a tourist destination, it’s always best if you can avoid the peak summer times. Personally, I find that the early summer can still be pretty cool but September is just perfect, especially after Labour Day (just dress for cool starts). The hordes are gone, prices come down and the trees are just starting to change colour.

Direction – After several trips and going round in both directions, I find that counter-clockwise is by far the best way. For some reason the hoards tend to go the other way around and it also means that end with the glorious northern section and are traveling on the sea’s side of the road.

The Google Map

Here’s the whole route with options. Once you open in full screen it you should have the option to download the KML file which can then be loaded up into a GPS or smartphone. Enjoy!

Thank Yous

QuebecMaritime.ca – for helping make the several expeditions to the Gaspésie region possible.

La Belle Plage, Matane – A motel set up with a very good restaurant attached, it’s situated close to the ferry terminal and ideal if you are planning to get that early ferry to the north shore.

Le Mirage, Percé – you can’t throw a rock without hitting a hotel in the touristy town of Percé, but Le Mirage is well situated up on the hill to give you a great view of the famous rock. Rooms are motel set up and as seems common in the area, there is a restaurant attached which served a simply amazing breakfast – well recommended.


GALLERY

Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.

10 thoughts on “DYR: The Gaspesie”

  1. Just ran across this and had a good laugh on the language issue.

    I guess you drove right by those big signs for The British Heritage Museum in New Richmond?

    Didn’t stop at the Timmy’s in New Carlisle.

    Completely missed Hopetown, Chandler & Bridgeville.

    Drove right past Irishtown road, crossed over the York river, didn’t stop at Atkins’ or Robins’ or McInnis’. Completely missed the signs for Haldiman Beach and the Irish flags flying in Douglastown.

    Didn’t notice the Baptist or Anglican churches.

    And never met anyone who spoke english to you?
    Not quite sure how you can manage that…. 🙂

    Sincerely,
    A Gaspesian

  2. My friend Dave and I were planning the Gaspe, and I’ve done it a couple of times in the past, but fortunately I ran across this article and map just prior to leaving, and found time to play on a road or two that I’d missed previously.

    You’re nailed the routes down perfectly, as I would have suggested all of these to someone planning this trip for the first time.

    Murdochville and endless gravel on 198 over to 299 (I got worried at my fuel “halfway” point on the KLR) was a trip highlight for me. That Boulangerie served a memorable smoked meat and poutine. 🙂

  3. Great call on the 3-day ride. Great camping at Forillon and Sugarloaf, but more importantly the ride up to Percé had great scenery, and the ride on 132 from Gaspé to St Anne de Monts, then the 299 across was one of the best days road rides I’ve had in Canada.

  4. In Gaspe and New Brunswick the French spoken is more akin to Cajun than Parisian – don’t forget all those sorry blighters that were kicked out of Louisiana. As for Franglais as she is spoken in some parts of La Bell Province – fuggedaboudit….

    1. “– don’t forget all those sorry blighters that
      were kicked out of Louisiana. “

      They were kicked out TOO Louisiana. (Well,
      actuellement, Louisiana was a safe haven to
      which they were allowed to retreat).

      “What the bloody hell was the point of Louisbourg?
      Or the 1755 expulsions?”

      The Acadian (or, certainment, Les Acadie)
      expulsion of 1755 (dix-sept cinquante-cinq) resulted
      in the Acadie diaspora spreading to such far-flung
      exotic locales as Louisiana (as you said), northern
      Alberta, Manitoba, northern Ontario, Boston and my
      bedroom.

      Read up on the history of this, yet another group of
      people we abused. Quite interesting. Sadly, too many
      English were involved and there are still pockets of
      these folk, such as Cheticamp, Moncton, Shediac
      and my bedroom.

      1. You are ( once again) correct sir – I got it backwards. Language is a fascinating thing, especially when trying to translate native Newfoundlander into the King’s English.
        You have a pocket of Acadians in your bedroom ? Too much information…

  5. As usual, excellent write up!

    For those who don’t speak the lingo, there are a lot of phone apps that do an excellent job at translating, including the free app from the big “G”. As Mr. ‘Arris said, just the fact that you try to mutter a few words in their language is usually enough to get people all friendly – just like in the rest of the world.
    Reminds me of a totally Frog buddy of mine that had broken down in the U.S. of A., could only speak “yes, no and Canadian Tire” and was looking for a parts. After a few : “Canadian Tire, yes?”, some one figured out that his bike was pooched and all of a sudden there was help coming in from all directions.

    And as mentioned, be weary of the over-paid, union-driven whiny little wanna-be bullies that very few people refer to as “police”, here in Quebec. Most people hate them, and for good reason, but I have met a few good ones – usually of the older generation.

  6. Avoiding Quebec because your French skills are lacking is just silly, IMO. To start with, in many places you’ll find people who at least have a better command of English than you do of French (if they aren’t fully bilingual, as you’ll commonly find in the larger cities and touristy places). Learn a few common phrases – hello, goodbye, thank you, you’re welcome, how much?, sorry, etc, and try to use them – it goes a long way with the locals in my experience if you at least make a little effort to speak their language.

    The pay off for going a little outside your comfort zone is access to some great roads, beautiful scenery, historic areas (Quebec being pretty much the oldest populated part of Canada, at least the mainland), and a little cultural variety. I’ve travelled a fair bit in Quebec and never had the experience of rude or unfriendly Quebecois that I’ve heard some complain about – and of course you could run into rude or unfriendly people anywhere in the world. Again, making a small effort to use a bit of the local language goes a long way. If you’ve grown up in Canada and aren’t more than a few years older than me (47), I don’t know how you can’t have at least a rudimentary knowledge of French.

    1. “… making a small effort to use a bit of the local language …”

      What? Pay attention, son.
      I’m British!

      My people did not create an Empire so that trips across it’s
      broad sunlit uplands may be ruined by some poodle-pushing
      surrender monkey traipsing about parlez-vousing gibberish!

      Next, you’ll be wanting us to speak German in Frankfurt! Well,
      I never. Try telling that to Barnes-Wallace.

      What the bloody hell was the point of Louisbourg?
      Or the 1755 expulsions?
      Or Louisbourg?
      Or Waterloo?
      Or Normandy?

      This is British land, and we should not have to put up with these
      dirty sorts, I tell you. Why, they are just as bad as those middle-
      eastern types. Slopping all that sand on our oil!

      This place should be avoided. Nae bloody Scotsmen. Try to find
      a tottie scone. They are as rare as Editor Harris’s hand in his pocket.
      A shyte state of affairs.

      ♫♩ Rule Brittania! Brittania rules the waves! ♬♪

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