Forming the greater part of Canada’s largest province, Northern Québec stretches from the temperate farmland in the south to the Arctic tundra in the north, covering over one million square kilometres. Nature rules supreme in this area and the influence of the Arctic is strong – winters are long and among the coldest in eastern Canada, and the blazing summers are clipped short by northern frosts. Moose, caribou, wolverine and bears fill the forests and in many places humans have barely made inroads. Civilization is largely concentrated on the shores of the St Lawrence River, around the main coastal highways radiating eastward from historic Québec City.
The regal provincial capital is the undisputed highlight of the region, perched commandingly above and alongside the narrowing of the St Lawrence River like a symbolic gateway to the north (the city’s name actually derives from the Algonquin word kebek, meaning “where the river narrows”). It is also the most easterly point that connects the north and south shores of the river. Beyond the city, the waterway broadens dramatically and the only connection between shores is by ferry.
The southern shore of the St Lawrence is less remote than its counterpart, with the agricultural Bas-Saint-Laurent (Lower St Lawrence) the gateway to the rugged and lightly populated Gaspé Peninsula. East of here, stuck out in the middle of the Gulf of St Lawrence, are the majestic, treeless landscapes of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, most easily reached by air or a ferry from Prince Edward Island. The islands’ fine shores and strikingly eroded sandstone cliffs will appeal particularly to cyclists, walkers and solitude-seeking beach-goers.
The north shore of the St Lawrence covers an area that changes from trim farmland to a vast forest bordering a barren seashore. Immediately northeast of Québec City is the beautiful Charlevoix region, all idyllic villages and towns that bear the marks of Québec’s rural beginnings. Often the winding highways and back roads pass through a virtually continuous village, where the only interruptions in the chain of low-slung houses are the tin-roofed churches. The beguiling hills and valleys give way to dramatic ravaged rock just beyond the Charlevoix borders, where the Saguenay River crashes into the immense fjord that opens into the St Lawrence at the resort of Tadoussac, a popular spot for whale-watching and hiking. Inland, Lac Saint-Jean – source of the Saguenay River – is an oasis of fertile land in a predominantly rocky region, and its peripheral villages offer glimpses of aboriginal as well as Québécois life. Adventurous types following the St Lawrence can head beyond Tadoussac along the Côte-Nord through a sparsely populated region of spectacular empty beaches and dramatic rockscapes where the original livelihoods of fishing and lumber have largely given way to ambitious mining and hydroelectric projects. In the far northeast the supply ship Nordik Express serves the Île d’Anticosti and the roadless lower north shore as far as the Labrador border – the ultimate journey within Québec. The remoteness of the Île d’Anticosti and the sculptured terrain of the Mingan Archipelago – a national park well served by boats from Havre-Saint-Pierre – is matched by the isolation of the fishing communities along the Basse Côte-Nord, where no roads penetrate and visits are possible only by supply ship, plane or snowmobile.Read More
Winter sports around Québec City
Winter sports around Québec City
You’ll find good opportunities for everything from cross-country skiing to ice-climbing around Québec City, but most popular are the skiing and snowboarding at three resorts – Stoneham, Mont-Sainte-Anne and Le Massif. Some experts in search of big bowls and deep powder might find the terrain limited, but for most, the fine mogul fields, tricky glades, well-thought-out terrain parks and extensive night-skiing more than compensate.
The ski resorts
Only 6km beyond the city limits off Rte 73 is Stoneham (late Nov to early April Mon–Fri 9am–9.30pm, Sat & Sun 8.30am–9.30pm; day-pass $54; t 418 848 2415, t 1 800 463 6888, w ski-stoneham.com), which has limited expert terrain, but is set in a wind-protected horseshoe valley. Despite a minimal vertical drop of 421m and a modest 322 acres of terrain, it has been sculpted into an impressive ski area, thanks partly to its night-skiing operation, which keeps around two-thirds of the resort open after dark; the après ski can get wild.
The largest of Québec City’s ski areas is Mont-Sainte-Anne (mid-Nov to early May Mon & Tues 9am–4pm, Wed–Sat 9am–9pm, Sun 8.30am–4pm; day-pass $66; t 1 888 827 4579, w mont-sainte-anne.com), 40km away via Rte 440, which becomes Rte 138, northeast of town. It offers a well-balanced mix of terrain and comprehensive facilities. Centred on a single peak and covering 428 acres, it’s easily navigable yet still provides a remarkably varied high-density trail system. The presence of novice runs extending from summit to base on both sides of the mountain is handy, while first-timers benefit from free access to bunny slopes adjoining the base area. The resort’s greatest strength is its wealth of intermediate-level runs that make up almost half the ski zone. Most start from the resort’s rapid gondola and follow a smooth and steep grade back to the minimal lift queues. Those hunting for steeper slopes, moguls, trees and high-speed carving should make for a cluster of black diamonds on the south side.
The third main mountain in the area is Le Massif (early Dec to early April opening hours vary throughout the season but are at least 9am–3pm, longer at weekends; day-pass $67; t 418 632 5876, t 1 877 536 2774, w lemassif.com), 75km along Hwy-138 from Québec City. It has some of the most spectacular views of any resort in the world, and despite the presence of a couple of narrow, tricky and busy beginner runs, it’s best at providing wonderful intermediate-level carving slopes. The mountain’s grooming regime puts several black diamond runs within the capacity of intermediates – but watch out for the terrifying triple-diamond La Charlevoix.
Other winter sports
Tubing, ice-skating and an indoor climbing wall are available at Stoneham, while Mont-Sainte-Anne offers ice-skating, snowshoeing, dog-sledding, paragliding, sleigh riding and snowmobiling. The Mont-Sainte-Anne Nordic Center (mid-Dec to mid-April), 7km east of the main ski area, is a splendid local resource and the largest of its kind in Canada, boasting over 220km of cross-country trails. Day-tickets cost $24, rentals another $21. For more of a wilderness experience cross-country skiers should also explore the rolling hills around Camp Mercier. On the fringes of Québec City at Montmorency Falls, is the world’s largest ice-climbing school, L’Ascensation École d’escalade (reservations necessary; from $115 a day; t 418 647 4422, t 1 800 762 4967, w rocgyms.com).
Mont-Sainte-Anne and Stoneham have on-site accommodation, but more convenient are Québec City’s hotels, linked to all the resorts via a ski shuttle, the Ski-Express (round-trips $25; t 418 525 5191, w taxicoop-quebec.com). Services run from eighteen downtown hotels and the tourist information office to both Stoneham and Mont-Sainte-Anne. Le Massif runs a complimentary shuttle that links with the Ski-Express, which departs from Mont-Sainte-Anne’s shuttle parking area. All three resorts rent equipment (skis or snowboards around $30/day). There’s a better selection of higher-end gear and lower prices in the stores along the highway in Beaupré.