Tips for visiting the province of Quebec:
- The seasons: I never realized how unique having 4 distinct seasons in a year was until my move to California and barely got 2. Here are the first things that come to mind when I think of Quebec and each season:
- Winter: snow, ice, outdoor sports such as snowshoeing, snowboarding, skiing, crosscountry skiing, ice skating, toboggan rides, fireplaces, comfort food, Ice Castle in Quebec, outdoor winter spas
- Spring: snow/rain/sun mix, maple syrup everything, buds and new young plants, birds,
- Summer: flowers, heat, humidity, hiking, biking, canoeing, fresh local produce, allergies, butterflies, birds and insects, mosquitos/black flies/deer flies, surfing(!), music festivals,
- Fall: Apple picking season, leaves changing colors, rain and colder weather, hunting season, migration of Canadian Goose
- Nature: no matter where you are in Quebec, you will always be a short drive from parks and wilderness. It is a very green province with a lot of national and provincial parks to explore. You can hike mountains, swim in rivers, lakes and streams and stay in yurts, refuges and cabins. Montreal and Quebec, the two biggest hubs, also have green spaces within the city such as Mont Royal, Parc Lafontaine and les plaines d’Abraham.
- The language: in the bigger cities, most are bilingual, but it’s safe to say that the province is predominately french. Quebecers have their own expressions and pronunciations that vary from the French from France.
- The people: friendly, caring, outdoorsy, resilient are the first words that come to mind. I cannot tell you how often I’ve heard about how ‘nice Quebecers are’. Anyone that lives through a few months of -4F to -22F (-20C to -30C) weather is resilient! Quebecers also love hiking in nature, swimming in lakes, canoe-camping, cross country skiing, etc.
- The Restaurants: Montreal has an exquisite food scene. It’s also very diverse: you will find all types of food. I also believe that the quality is very important to restaurant owners and chefs in Quebec. Quebec city and other smaller towns also have good restaurants worth checking out. The pastries and bread are very good !
- Food typical to Quebec: poutine (tasty, unhealthy combo of fries, gravy and cheese typical to Quebec), tarte au sucre/taffy/maple butter or anything maple syrup, tourtière/cipaille (which is like a minced meat pie but certain regions add different elements in it). We also do Corn on the Cob parties, called épluchette de blé d’inde, where everyone gathers and peels off the corn to the boil and eat them.
- Breweries: so many new beer gardens, festivals and microbreweries popping up every year. My latest discovery: the Brasseurs du Monde’s IPAS.
- Ice wine: if you don’t know what I’m talking about and you enjoy sweet liquors, then you NEED to try Ice Wine from Quebec. According to some, Ice wine is the hardest wine to produce because you have to harvest grapes in the blistering cold winter (ideally around -20C/-7F). They require 4 to 5 times the amount of grapes because only about 10-20% of the liquid is used! Making Ice wine is art!
- Spas: If you come to Quebec, no matter the time of year, you will be able to find a spa that offers indoor and outdoor hydrotherapy experiences. You will be able to do the Hot-Cold-Relax combo (explained here by Scandinave Spa), an age-old Finnish tradition, all year long and within nature.
- Underground shopping: I’m only mentioning this because it is reported to me every time someone tells me they have visited Montreal. Arranged around the metro system is an underground shopping mall that stretches for probably a kilometer or two so during winter you can shop without going out into the cold.
- Hockey: You will quickly notice how passionate Quebecers are about their hockey and their team, the Montreal Canadians. There is a huge sense of pride around the sport and the team. The Montreal Canadiens have the record for having won the most Stanley Cups (24 times!) since 1915.
- Getting around: If you’re planning to stay in the major cities, you can use the buses, metro, BIXI (shared bike service in summer) and trains to tour the city without worrying about parking spots and parking tickets. If you want to explore the outskirts, you will need a car. WARNING: Montreal is very expensive for parking meters and it will not hesitate to give you a costly parking ticket!
- Construction: This is a warning! You will probably see hundreds of orange construction cones during your stay in Quebec. You will use a hundred detours and also probably hit a few pot holes. This province is constantly under construction.
- Where to stay: I’d recommend the usual local boutique hotels or airbnb. Some places still offer the ‘bed and breakfast’ format, which can be nice to chat with locals and experience the real Quebec vibe. There are a lot of camping sites all over Quebec if you love nature!
Impressions of the province of Quebec:
As you probably know, I was raised outside Montreal, in a small village called Saint-Charles-Richelieu. My mom suggested I write a post about this little sleepy town, but there isn’t much happening other than a busy river filled with leisure boats in the summer, fields filled full of tractors during spring, summer and fall and woods crawling with maple syrup addicts around Easter time.
That’s actually the beauty of small towns in the province of Quebec. It’s something you learn to appreciate as you get older or when you move away from it. I didn’t enjoy it growing up: my mind was set on getting out of there and living in a big city. The closest one was Montreal and I moved there to go to college. Living in the city was exhilarating and I barely came back home. I found a job in Montreal after college, and lived in the city for 4 years, before moving to an even bigger city: Los Angeles. Flying into the city and looking down at the HUGE city below me, as the pilot told us we were flying over Los Angeles was so thrilling and nerve racking. It’s like it never stopped. For a while I enjoyed the buzz of the city, but eventually it became too much. The beach became my escape at any chance I had. Dreaming of woods and nature became a thing. I looked forward to my work trips to remote areas because I would be immersed into the wilderness again. Every time I make it back to my parent’s home in Saint-Charles-sur-Richlieu, every second of the beautiful natural forest that surrounds me is embraced and remembered. I never thought I’d consider moving to a remote area like this, but here I am wondering about it.
So what makes Quebec so special to me?
Well its obviously the people. My people. My tribe. Friendships that have lasted decades and are unfrazzoled. Family that would kill for other members of their family. Outdoor loving adventure seeking men and women who are tough as nails but gentle as a lamb. Men that like strong natural women. Men that know how to build a fire and change your winter tires. Career driven women who raise strong open hearted kids.
Then there is nature. Only a few minutes drive outside Montreal, and you are already in a field. An hour later and you are hiking a mountain then soaking in a spa around a lake (spa Balnea). An hour later you are wine tasting in the Dunham area. In winter, you are cross country skiing in well groomed trails. Few hours further, you are walking down the streets of Old town Quebec and enjoying a nice cool beer on the plaine d’Abraham. In winter, you are snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing at Mont Saint Anne/Massif and going for dinner in Old Quebec. So yes, Quebec has it all: beaches, lakes, forests and mountains. Don’t forget your bug spray if you’re planning an outdoor adventure!
I’d also like to mention Nature’s aromas. Some are very enjoyable, others less. On many hikes, I’ve enjoyed drafts of sweet pine trees, fresh ferns scent and the perfume of a humid forest and lake. On my runs, I’ve smelled sugary raspberry and blackberry bushes before the fruit came out, traces of corn fields and aromas of little wild flowers. Let’s not forget the sweet aroma of freshly cut grass. I’ve also smelled deer and odors of manure, both aren’t uncommon and definitely less enjoyable!
And let’s not forget the seasons. This subject was touched upon it in the tips section, but it’s worth mentioning again. NOTHING beats the change in seasons in Quebec. This year, due to the worldwide COVID pandemic (2020), I was lucky enough to have time to witness all the beautiful metamorphoses Mother Nature had to offer between March and August. I watched different types of flowers bloom early in the spring, others in the late summer. Noticed wild flowers I’d never seen before. Bare maple tree turn into fully leaved creatures becoming shelter for blue jays, cardinals, American thrush, chipmunks, chickadees, squirrels and more. I hand picked wild raspberries and blackberries from a ditch beside corn fields. Numerous deer, fox, groundhogs, raccoons, skunks… rabbits and wild turkey made their appearances. We’d never seen those last two animals in nature before! Let’s not forget to mention the wide variety of frogs and toads appearing everywhere and anywhere around me.
Agriculture is so important in Quebec. Leave the main city and within minutes, you will see thousands of fields, barns, tractors and hard working farmers tending to their crops. Almost everything grows here : hay, corn, potatoes, strawberries, asparagus, kale, grapes, lettuce, cranberries, cherries, mushrooms, carrots, wheat, etc!
The food, especially the maple products, are so unique to Quebec. No matter where I live in the world, my home will ALWAYS have a can of maple syrup in it. You can put it in sweet recipes, salad dressings, over ice cream, in your coffee… it’s a natural sweetener that will change your life. NEVER offer a Quebecer some fake Aunt Jemima syrup or you’ll get death stares! Let’s talk about local produce too. I’ve never appreciated the taste of carrots, blackberries, strawberries and cucumbers as much as I have since I moved away from Quebec and to the USA. The produce just doesn’t taste the same there… I’d even go as far as saying produce bought in grocery stores in the LA region is tasteless. Nothing beats a good strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and blackberry.
I strongly believe there is no other place like Quebec. You should come and visit Quebec, you’ll like it! Choose the time of year wisely: winters are not for the faint of heart!