Quaint Escapes

Six charming small towns worth exploring in Quebec

raving a slower-paced getaway that will pick up your spirit? Look no further than small town Quebec. These seemingly-untouched by time French communities will welcome you, then inspire you to get out and explore. Picture tree-lined main streets and family-owned bakeries, vintage architecture with a European flair, friendly locals and blissfully few crowds in gorgeous natural settings.

Each of the small towns we love has a distinctive personality and offers intriguing diversions like whale watching, world-class skiing or a rare colony of gannets, just to name a few. All of them share a wealth of outdoor activities, charming accommodations and global cuisine. And each is accessible from either Québec City or Montréal.

Devote your stay to a single destination or take a road trip and treat yourself to more than one. No matter what you decide, you won’t be disappointed.

Baie-Saint-Paul: Gateway to the flavor trail

Surrounded by fields, rivers and mountains, Baie-Saint-Paul is a tranquil escape not far from the buzz of Québec City. It’s a favorite stop for foodies as you can embark on the “Flavour Trail”—a delectable self-guided culinary tour through the Charlevoix region.

Spend a delicious day visiting local producers and farm-to-table restaurants sampling a wide-range of homemade delicacies. (Most noteworthy: Laiterie Charlevoix’s artisanal cheese, Chocolaterie Cynthia’s creamy all-cocoa-butter chocolates and L’Orange Bistro Restaurant’s mouthwatering fondue.)

Work off your tastings with a stroll down Rue St. Jean Baptiste where you’ll find the largest selection of art galleries per capita in Canada, plus a myriad of charming boutiques. Those looking for authenticity and relaxation will love the uniqueness of Hotel and Spa Le Germain Charlevoix. Steeped in both local culture and modernity, this boutique hotel known for its refined design offers local gourmet fare influenced by an on-site farm as well as a rejuvenating nordic spa. And if you’re yearning for a little beach time or an afternoon kayak, the nearby Gouffre and St. Lawrence Rivers provide ample opportunity for hours of acquatic fun.

Photo credit: Susan Portnoy
Photo credit: Susan Portnoy
Tip: Head east on route 362 about 5 minutes out of town you’ll find an overlook with one of the prettiest views of the city. It’s at the top of a big hill and you can’t miss it. It’s especially nice just after sunrise.
Travel time: Approximately 1.25 hours by car from Québec City or 2 hours on the scenic Train de Charlevoix.

Kamouraska: Relax and recharge where wellness is part of history

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the rich flocked to Kamouraska for the restorative effects of its rural setting and fresh salt air. Today, this resort town on the rocky southern shores of the St. Lawrence River still attracts those eager to be pampered with good food, a kick-off-your-shoes vibe and rejuvenating spa treatments. (We suggest indulging in Auberge La Grande Voile, a 5-room beachside refuge for soothing massages, mud packs and everything in between.)

In September, the annual eel harvest gets underway and if you’re around at low tide, you’ll see tractor-driving fisherman exploring the mud in search of their prey.

History buffs will enjoy a guided tour of the over 150-year-old convent that’s home to the Musée Régional de Kamouraska, featuring artifacts from the village and surrounding area. Or, set your heart racing on a zodiac river tour in search of marine life or try scaling Kamouraska Crag.

At night, end your day at Côté Est, one of Kamouraska’s best restaurants with a waterfront view to match. Ask for a seat on the patio where you’re bound to see one of the most stunning sunsets on the planet.

Photo credit: Le Québec Maritime
Photo credit: Le Québec Maritime
Tip: Indulge your sweet tooth and stop by La Fée Gourmande for made from scratch chocolates, caramels, marshmallows, gelatos, sorbets and much more. You can even take a factory tour but you need to make a reservation.
Travel time: Approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes by car from Québec City

Tadoussac: An underwater lover’s nirvana

From May to October, whales, whales and more whales, up to 13 species (including the blue whale, the largest animal on earth), make the small community of Tadoussac one of the premiere whale watching destinations in North America. It’s the only place south of Churchill, Manitoba where belugas swim year-round.

Tadoussac’s location at the confluence of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence Rivers is a prime feeding ground luring not only the sea-bound goliaths, but seals and seabirds as well. Whale watching tours via boat, zodiac and kayak are easy to find and offer thrilling views. And there’s no need for binoculars: in Tadoussac, the whales come so near you can spot them from the shore. (Try the Pointe de I’Islet trail for one of the better vantage points.) Visit the Marine Mammal Interpretation Center to speak to naturalists and learn more about cetaceans and their fascinating underwater world.

After an exhilarating day spotting humpbacks and minkes, grab a table at La Galouïne, an eatery known for its locally-sourced specialties including seafood and wild game as well as a line of boreal artisanal products. And if you’re too sated to move when you’re done, you can spend the night at the restaurant’s cozy inn.

Photo credit: Le Québec Maritime
Photo credit: Le Québec Maritime
Tip: If you plan to be on or near the water, don’t let the heat on shore fool you—the cold waters of the confluence can make things a chilly proposition. You’ll be much more comfortable if you put on a few layers.
Travel time: Approximately 3.5 hours by car from Québec City

Percé: Home to Percé Rock and the northern gannet

At the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula sits the small coastal town of Percé, named after a massive rock formation that looms large in the bay. Its famous profile, defined by a hole at one end pierced with millions of years of merciless water, makes it one of Quebec’s most recognizable icons and the subject of countless photographs.

Though visible from almost anywhere in town, you’ll need to take a boat tour to get up close. Mont Joli offers another great vantage point as does the year-old, 650-foot suspended glass platform at the UNESCO Geo Park on nearby Mount Saint-Anne. (If you’re afraid of heights, you may want to pass on this). Once there, it’s worth checking out some of the park’s trails or trying zip-lining.

On neighboring Bonaventure Island, birder hearts will be set aflutter by the largest migratory bird refuge in North America. There are more than 200,000 birds, 116,000 of which are northern gannets, large beautiful seabirds with piercing blue eyes. You won’t find a more accessible mega-flock of this species anywhere in the world.

Photo credit: Le Québec Maritime
Photo credit: Le Québec Maritime
Tip: Bonaventure Island is only accessible via boat tours from May to the beginning of October.
Travel time: Approximately 8.5 hours by car or 1.5 hours plane from Québec City

Sutton: Unique activities set this town apart

Sutton, a year-round destination, offers visitors eye-popping views and intriguing outdoor activities that make for endless fun. Visit Au Diable Vert, a private park with rustic accommodations, where Vélo Volant (a.k.a flying bike) beckons adventurers to peddle across the forest canopy while dangling 100 feet in the air. Or sit back and be amazed by the one-of-a-kind National Geographic Observétoile, an open-air observatory that uses augmented reality to enhance the stars.

Cyclists pick Sutton for its impressive hills and roads that wind past horse-dotted fields and lush orchards, while hikers favor Marmite des Sorcières (the witch’s cauldron) a river trail where sensuous curves have been carved into the stone by the elements.

Ten minutes from the center of town, Mont Sutton ski resort is a popular draw. It caters to campers, hikers and mountain bikers in warmer weather and is ground zero for Alpine skiing when it snows.

For those who want to take life a little slower, there’s plenty to do. Meander down quaint Rue Principale Sud and enjoy shops, restaurants and galleries that keep you entertained and well-fed. Plus, there are self-guided heritage tours you can go on by car or on foot. Or if wine is your passion, stop for a tasting at a local vineyard like Vignoble Domaine Breese.

Photo credit: Sutton Tourism, Susan Portnoy
Photo credit: Sutton Tourism, Susan Portnoy
Tip: Check out Maison Bergeron, a wonderful antique store new to the town on Rue Principale, Sutton’s main street—look for the adorable yellow house with the maroon door at the south end of the street.
Travel time: Approximately 1.5 hours by car from Montréal

Mont Tremblant: A nature escape with something for everyone

With its colorful rooftops rising out of a dark blanket of pine, Mont-Tremblant looks as if it could be in a fairytale. A quintessential family destination, this easy-to-navigate pedestrian village takes the stress out of travel because everything you could want is in one spot.

In summer and fall, activities are plentiful. Take a gondola ride to the summit, zip-line down the mountain, zoom through a winding luge course or tackle a 30-foot climbing tower. Kids go crazy over the Eurobungy.

In the winter, Tremblant is a skier’s paradise with 96 alpine runs and terrain that caters to all skill levels. There’s also ice climbing, dog-sledding, ice fishing, snow shoeing, snowmobiling, horse sledding and almost any other snow activity imaginable close by.

After a day outdoors, shop locally-owned shops or swing by outposts from many big-name brands. And once you’ve built up your appetite, there are plenty of hit-the-spot restaurants serving all your favorite flavors. Not to mention, weekend music festivals to soothe your soul and get your toes tapping. Young or old, there’s something for everyone.

Photo credit: Tremblant Resort Association, Susan Portnoy
Photo credit: Tremblant Resort Association, Susan Portnoy
Tip: From early June to mid-October, transport yourself via chairlift into the night realm of Tonga Lumina. Enhanced by fantastical lighting, sound effects and music, adventurers walk through a mountain forest on a mystical journey to find a legendary giant.
Travel time: Approximately 2.5 hours by car from Montréal