So, most people who know me know that I really love Québec. To be completely honest, I usually brag about liking it more than France. Yep, get to the back of the line of haters who try to fight me over this, and we can throw hands later! Sure, part of me simply enjoys Québec more, but my passion for this region is also fueled by how often people overlook it. It’s literally perfect; it has the best aspects of French culture along with the warmth and excitement of North American culture. C’mon – that sounds great! I must admit, I had only ever visited Montréal once before last month, and I used this to form my ideas around the rest of Québec. Luckily, I just got back from a 7-day adventure with Hostelling International Canada a few days ago, and I got to experience le vrai Québec. (Dang, why does everything sound pretentious in French?)
Here’s a bit of everything we did and why you need to get yo’ little behind to Québec ASAP:
Day 1 – Ottawa:
Although Ottawa is not part of Québec, it’s the capital of Canada. Gurl, I know, I just realized that too. I’m not even going to lie – I thought it was Toronto… please revoke my travel blogger card ASAP.
Anyway, we chilled in Ottawa for a night or so before making our way throughout Québec. This city reminds me of a super clean New York suburb. So, imagine White Plains or New Rochelle but clean and speaking half-French, half-English… kinda cool, huh?
Although Ottawa is cute, at first, I didn’t understand why it was part of the Québec tour if it isn’t part of Québec. Little did I know, it actually borders the Québec region (please go to Gatineau Park – it’s absolutely stunning). Mhm, in 18 mins, we crossed from the mainly anglophone Canada to francophone Canada. Also, it became apparent that our stop in Ottawa was mainly to check out the HI Ottawa Jail Hostel. f you’re anything like me, your first reaction WILL be “What the heck?”
Oddly enough the industrial prison complex is a messy conversation/system in the States, so I’m not even going to lie, part of me felt odd spending the evening in jail. Then I had to remind myself that we’re in Canada and that their prison system is a wee-bit less messy than the States’. Then I was quickly down to check it out.
Despite prisoners living here and around 6 executions that happened in the past, the hostel was rather cozy. I spent my night in a jail cell that formerly belonged to Robert Bunyan. He got sent to the prison on May 29, 1886, for assault – the plaque in my room never said when he was released. I simply wonder who did he assault? What sort of assault? When was he released? But you know what, some questions are better left unanswered. All I have to say is thank you for sharing your room, Robert.
Okay, so let’s get to the good stuff. Most people want to know if the jail is haunted. I truthfully don’t have an answer to that question, but I do know that I heard a banshee-esque screech in the middle of the night. Drunk Canadians or angry ghosts? The world may never know.
Day 2 + 3 – Montréal:
The ride from Ottawa to Montréal was around 3 hours. Just because Canada is fabulous, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have traffic. Trust me though, it goes by super quickly when you’re blasting French songs from the 60s and 70s.
On aime la nostalgie.
When we got to Montréal, I felt reconnected to a place with which I didn’t initially have much connection. If that makes sense? It’s the feeling of knowing that a place is perfect for you regardless of how many times you’ve visited it. You just know – you just feel it. After our car-ride, we ate dinner at Café Parvis. Like, you can’t take me to a restaurant that’s dressed in soft green foliage and expect me to not fall in love with it, and with its city.
Oh, and if you go, GET THE PIZZA. Don’t ask questions, just trust me.
After dinner, I was stuffed. Stuffed to the point where my body was telling me that it was time to go to bed so my tummy could reset itself.
After dinner, we headed back to our hostel for the night, HI Montréal. I vividly remember rubbing the soft sheets of my bed and fantasizing about giving in and letting the bed take me away – yup, I was that tired. Did I end up resting as my body begged me to do? Nope – I had to take advantage of the nightlife in Montréal. Our hostel offered a pub crawl, so we were taken to local microbreweries. I had a few pumpkin ale beers, which a Québecois friend called the “Pumpkin Spice Latte Beer.” Damn, he really did think I was a basic American.
I might have gotten a bit turnt because I went to the microbrewery THEN the bar back at the hostel, but it was a poppin’ experience; I made a few new French, Dutch, and Canadian friends. So, that’s a win in my book!
The day after, we went to the Mile-End. Basically, the Mile-End is Montréal’s Williamsburg. It’s dope. The first place we shopped was Pastel Rita. Even though I’ve only been once; this place owns my darn heart.
C’mon – how precious is that? After my 3 hours of sleep, I slurped my iced oat milk latte in 2.5 seconds. Gimme that caffeine, baby! This area has a ton of restaurants, coffee shops, and vintage shops. But the vintage shops weren’t doing the most like the ones in NYC, these ones were actually reasonably priced. I got a faux-leather winter jacket (Mhm, I look like I stepped straight out of the Matrix) for $30 CAD… that’s cheeeaaaap!
Since I got a new jacket, I had to show it off. So, I went to Mado in Montréal’s Gay Village. It’s a spacious cabaret bar with drag shows and a nice sized dance floor. I told myself I’d only go for one drink since I had to be up at 6 am the next morning. Did that happen? Nope! I watched some amazing performers dip, spin, and do comedy sets until 3 am. Do it for the culture, right?
(The comfy a$$ bed that I only got to sleep in for 3 hours *cries*)
Day 4 – Tadoussac + La Malbaie:
“Rise and shine, it’s 6 am,” my alarm clock aggressively told me. I wiped the boogers out of my eyes and took a cold shower. A cold shower? Mhm, a cold shower in 30-degree weather reaaaaally wakes you up! Soon after, we made our way to Tadoussac to go see some whales.
cue: Free Willy Theme Song
This was a surreal experience. We were in the Saint Laurent river (which is really the size of five rivers – just sayin’). We were taken to the middle of the
ocean river by the super spunky Captain Florent. His story is actually pretty cool because mega-corporations are essentially monopolizing the waters of the Saint Laurent, so it’s making it more difficult for locally-owned tours to stay in business. We were fortunate enough to share this experience with Tadoussac Autrement, which is one of the last (if not the last) locally-owned whale-watching tour company. So, if you’re in the area, please support them!
We ended up seeing 5 whales. I honestly wasn’t expecting to see any, but they kept popping up. Also, Florent has a pretty good eye, so he would spot the whales way before we would.
Out on the water for 4 hours, I fantasized about relaxing in the warmth. Fortunately, La Malbaie (the town we were hanging out in for the evening) was only one hour away. As someone who isn’t from Québec, I assumed that the little sea-side town of La Malbaie would be sleepy. It was exactly the opposite. HI La Malbaie or auberge de jeunesse La Malbaie (for those who want to be fancy) was super packed! When we walked in, there were dozens of Québecois folk enjoying franco-Canadian folk music; it was actually quite beautiful.
Once again, I told myself I would take it easy and chill as I’ve failed to do the last two nights. We did keep it relaxed though – we ate a ton! The owner of the hostel, David, brought over a massive platter of foods made with locally-sourced items. Blood sausage, cheese, wine, you name it! This hostel is actually a stop on Charlevoix’s Flavor Trail, so the food is nothing less than perfection.
As I was eating my food, I asked questions about the hostel because it had a super home-esque setup. I soon found out that it used to be a retirement home. With a beer in hand and a smile on his face, David looked at me and said, “This place used to get people ready for death. Now we’re getting people ready for life.” Morbid yet poetic – totally my style!
Day 5 – Bic National Park + Sea Shack:
The most bizarre part about Québec is that you can feel like you’re freezing to death, but once you do some physical activity, you’re perfectly fine. We did a hike around Bic National Park .
Well, it wasn’t really a “hike,” because the park is rather flat, but you get the point! Honestly, Bic National Park is THE PERFECT place to go on a date.
Imagine this: The wind blows between the trees as it caresses your ears, while your future-lover is walking down the path with crunchy leaves beneath their feet.
I’m definitely not speaking from personal experience, but just trying to paint the picture for you. After exploring, we made our way to the HI Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, Auberge festive Sea Shack. This is by FAR my favorite hostel that we stayed at. This place gives you a bit of everything. You get Nebraska vibes with the log cabins. You get Polynesian vibes with the huts. You even get some Dominican Republic vibes with the ocean right next to you. There’s a bit of everything for everyone.
Even better, I frequently heard this hostel referred to as “the party hostel.” All of the locals make their way to Sainte-Anne-de-Monts for their weekend getaways.
Think of it as the Québecois Cape-Cod.
By the way, the only way to book a room at this hostel is by calling. Since many of their clients are locals, you’ll have to do as the locals do and give them a call. The rooms sell out quickly, so give them a call a bit in advance.
Day 6 +7 – Gaspésie + Québec City:
The ride from La Malbaie to Québec City is 5 hours… no comment!
Luckily, there are a ton of cute places to see along the way. I feel like rural towns are always overlooked, but those are usually the cutest and most cozy. An hour into the drive back, we stopped in Mantane at a microbrewery called La Fabrique. At this point in the road trip, I began to realize that one of the main reasons I love Québec so much is because they slay the beer game. More often than not, most places will casually brew their own beer. Coming from the states where Budweiser, Coors, and Heiken reign supreme, it was nice to taste locally-made beverages every time I went to a bar.
At this point, we had been on the road 5-6 days, so you know I was exhausted. We celebrated our last night in town with a bottle of champagne and went to bed. The next day was super chill, before catching my flight we went to see the famous, hard-to-find Umbrella street. (Hint-hint: They’re in Quartier Petit Champlain)
Once again, Québec is dope. I went with freezing cold temperatures (or frette as people in Québec would say), and I still enjoyed myself.
Whether it’s for a skiing trip, a quick Spring Fling thing because the Caribbean is too expensive, or whatever else, I truly urge you to take some time to explore this region and its nature and funky hostels.
Until next time!
Nasiiiiiirrr (that’s the French version of my name)
P.S. Special thanks to HI Canada hostels
What’re your fave things to do in the Québec region?