Roaming Around The Gaspé Peninsula

Travel, Canada

gaspe_172When most RV’ers think about heading to the East Coast, visions of the Maritimes dance in their head. Their destination might include Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. or perhaps even Newfoundland. Seldom considered is the other East Coast – the Gaspé. Although part of Quebec, the Gaspé offers landscapes, scenery, ocean vistas and attractions rivaling the best found in the Maritimes.  That was what my wife Maureen and I discovered during a recent trip through eastern Canada.

The Gaspé Peninsula
The Gaspé is a peninsula bounded on the north by the St Lawrence River, on the east by the Gulf of St Lawrence and to the south by the Bay of Chaleur. Around the outside edge of this peninsula ran Quebec Highway 132 – our avenue for exploration. Even though it was a two lane, secondary route, Highway 132 was in relatively good shape with some pavement breaks and patches. The section along the north coast was the most challenging. The highway twisted and turned, climbed and descended through rugged, hilly terrain where grades of up to 18% are not uncommon. By comparison, the rest of the route was much more level and easier to traverse. As an added bonus, the highway ran along side or near the water’s edge for most of its length, providing amazing views of the ocean, the coastline and quaint costal villages.

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Map Of The Gaspé Peninsula: Click Here For Larger View

As an aside, Highway 132 was actually the longest highway in Quebec, beginning way down in the south west corner of the province and ending at the Village of Sainte Flavie after looping around the outside of the Gaspé Peninsula.  Perhaps the best way to describe the route’s layout was to visualize the letter “P” on its side. The top loop was the part that goes around the outside of the Gaspé Peninsula and where the loop ended was Sainte Flavie – the starting point and end of our Gaspé excursion.

The Adventure Begins
Like so many villages along the route, Sainte Flavie was little more than a large church surrounded by some homes, a few businesses and a restaurant or two.

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The Village of Sainte Flavie

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Sainte Flavie, Gateway to The Gaspe

From Sainte Flavie, Highway 132 headed east along the coast through several more small villages before reaching the port of Matane. Matane was known for it’s shrimp and the many processing plants down along the docks seemed to bear this out. Matane was also our stop for the night. On the western edge of town was a very nice RV park named, “Camping Parc Sirois La Baleine”. “La Baleine” translated to “The Whale” in English and had I not remembered that from my high-school French classes, the huge, white, fiberglass “Baleine” outside the park office might have provided a clue. The park was located across the road from a beach and had the weather not been so overcast and drizzly, it would have been temping to go for a dip.

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Camping Parc Sirois La Baleine

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Camping Parc Sirois La Baleine

Exploramer Aquarium
After Matane, the next community of any size was Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, the location of a lovely little aquarium called, “Exploramer”. The facility specialized in the research and interpretation of local marine life. In addition to several aquarium tanks showcasing native species, there were a couple of touch pools where visitors could get, “up close and personal” with some local crabs, lobsters and other species of indigenous marine life. The star attraction however, was a beautiful blue lobster, which was apparently extremely rare. It was in its own tank and there was definitely no touching.

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Exploramer Aquarium

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Maureen Makes A New Friend

According to aquarium staff, Sainte-Anne-des-Monts was more or less the dividing line between the St Lawrence River and the Gulf of St Lawrence. It had something to do with the salinity of the water and height of the tides however, I couldn’t see any difference when looking out over the water.

The North Coast
Where I did notice a difference was on land.  The change in the terrain was dramatic. Up until Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, the land along the coast had been relatively flat. Past the village, the landscape became quite rugged as the Chic Choc Mountains, which dominated the interior of the peninsula, expanded northward to meet the sea. In many ways the area reminded me of the Cape Breton highlands. Settlement in this part of the peninsula was relatively sparse. The few villages that were there, were located at the head of a bay or inlet where there was usually a little flat land to build on by the water.

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North Coast, Where The Mountains Meet The Sea

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North Coast

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Coastal Villages

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Steep Hills

Saint-Maxime-du-Mont-Louis, our destination for the night was a typical example. The village was situated at the head of a large bay encircled by mountains. Most of the community was constructed along a broad curving beach. At the eastern end was a marvellous RV park called, “Camping Parc Et Mer Mont Louis”. Located on a small plateau about 50 feet above the water, many of the park sites – including ours – had incredible views overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence. Below our site was a rocky beach, which was perfect for beach combing and exploring. The park also had a small store and restaurant with commanding vistas of both the bay and the ocean.

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Saint-Maxime-du-Mont-Louis

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Camping Parc Et Mer Mont Louis

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Camping Parc Et Mer Mont Louis: THe View From Our Back Window

The Eastern End Of The Peninsula
We enjoyed our stay at “Camping Parc Et Mer Mont Louis” so much, we were tempted to remain a little longer however, we were also anxious to see what lay ahead. Bright and early the next morning we were back on the road heading east. The terrain continued to be mountainous but the views were spectacular. We passed through a few more small villages tucked into bays and coves along the shoreline before reaching the eastern tip of the Gaspé at Cap-des-Rosiers. Cap-des-Rosiers was also the home of Canada’s tallest lighthouse, which was 34 meters high.

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The Lighthouse at Cap-des-Rosiers: Highest In Canada

Nearby was the Forillon National Park of Canada. While not very big as national parks go, it was on the water and offered a variety of land and water based activities. A much larger provincial park, “Parc national de la Gaspésie” or Gaspé National Park was located near the middle of the Gaspé Peninsula in the heart of the Chic Choc Mountains

Turning south around the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, we came to the town of Gaspé. With a population of 15,000+, it was the largest settlement in the area.  We happened to arrive about mid-afternoon and the place seemed to be crawling with tourists. Traffic was heavily congested and barely moving.  Parking, especially for a truck and trailer was virtually non-existent. Perhaps a cruise ship anchored offshore was the reason for the crowds. Maybe a farmer’s market or some other event was taking place. Whatever the reason, we abandoned our plans to stop and explore. It seemed wiser just to keep moving.

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The Hill Leading Into The Village Of Percé

Percé Rock
60 km further south was the Village of Percé, our destination for the night. The approach into the village was down a long, steep hill with a 17% grade. About half way down, amazing views of the famous Percé Rock opened up, which were both delightful and distracting. At the bottom of the hill was the village of Percé; it’s main street, a 50 kph speed limit and a multitude of tourists walking back and forth with little regard for traffic. This was one hill where RV’ers definitely needed to keep their speed down, their focus on the road and their wits about them.
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“Downtown” Percé

The Village of Percé was a wonderful community of about 3,000 people. With an abundance of hotels, motels, RV parks, restaurants and souvenir shops, it wasn’t hard to guess its main industry. While the famous Percé Rock was the main tourist draw, there were many other things to see and do. Just beyond the famous rock for example, was Bonaventure Island where 50,000+ nesting pairs of Gannets (a type of sea bird) made their home. Boat tours were available to take tourists around both islands.

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Percé Rock

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Percé Rock and Village

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Gannet Colony on Bonaventure Island

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Gannet

We were lucky enough to get a site at “Camping Du Village” an RV park just above and behind the village. Not only were we treated to incredible views of Percé Rock from our site, we were also close enough to downtown that we could walk everywhere.

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Camping Du Village

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Camping Du Village RV Park: The View From Our Back Window

Our time in Percé passed quickly and we were more than a little gloomy to be leaving. The village had a friendly, welcoming vibe plus, the scenery, activities and attractions had all been marvelous.

The South Coast
Continuing along Highway 132, we rounded the southeastern corner of the Gaspé Peninsula. Once again, the landscape changed. The Chic Choc Mountains receded to the north and the terrain along the coast became flatter. Woodlots, pastures, cultivated fields and dwellings replaced the crags, cliffs and forest-covered hills. The rocky shoreline we had become so used to gave way to sandy beaches.

Rounding the corner of the peninsula also brought us to the Bay of Chaleur, the body of water, which bordered the south coast of the Gaspé Peninsula. Because the bay was relatively shallow, the water tended to be warmer than the Gulf of St Lawrence making those sandy beaches very handy indeed. The south shore of the Gaspé was also much more populated with more communities, larger communities and more people living in-between those communities. The communities themselves were an interesting mix of people including First Nations, Québécois French, United Empire Loyalists and Acadians.

Many of the communities also boasted historic sites and interesting attractions. At the village of Paspebiac for example, Maureen and I visited the “Site Historique du Banc-De-Paspébiac”, a restored fish processing center turned museum which had been in operation for more than 300 years.

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Site Historique du Banc-De-Paspébiac

United Empire Loyalist
Just down the road was the community of New Carlisle. Settled by United Empire Loyalist after the American Revolution, it was the only town on the south coast where English was the principal language. It was also the place where Rene Levesque, founder of the Parti Québécois was raised. How ironic was that? This was the same man who created a political party that made French the only official language of the province and almost seceded from Canada. I’m guessing that the virtues of the English language and loyalty to the crown did not rub off on young Rene. To be fair however, there was a statute commemorating his life and achievements in the town’s park.

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Memorial To Rene Levesque

The Acadians
The next community past New Carlisle was Bonaventure, site of the “Musée Acadien Du Québec”, a significant museum and cultural center dedicated to the preservation of the Acadian heritage. In case your Canadian history is a little rusty, the Acadians were French settlers living in the Maritimes who were deported by the English in the mid 1700’s. Many fled north to the Gaspé Region, which was still under French control at the time. While the Acadians may share a common language with the Québécois, their culture and heritage is very different as this museum ably demonstrates.

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Musée Acadien Du Québec

Carlton-sur-Mer RV Park
It was getting late by the time we reached the village of Carlton-sur-Mer about 20 km further west. Time to find a spot for the night. As luck would have it, we stumbled upon one of the nicest RV parks of our trip. Run by the village of Carlton-sur-Mer, this municipal campground occupied a large sand spit jutting out into Chaleur Bay. The park contained around two hundred large, graveled sites with a variety of services.  Many were beside the ocean, just meters away from a beautiful sand beach. We managed to get one of the sea side sites for the night. The view, the beach, the site, the facilities were all fantastic – so much so that we decided to extend our stay. When I returned to the office to make the arrangements however, I discovered the park was fully booked for the next 3 days. It was the Labour Day weekend and I had completely forgotten! Like it or not, we would have to move on in the morning.

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Carlton-sur-Mer RV Park: View From Our Back Window

The next day, after leaving the park, we spend some time exploring the village of Carlton-sur-Mer. Besides the usual shops, stores and eateries, the village also boasted a magnificent microbrewery called, “Le Naufrageur”.  Translated to English, the name means, “The Wrecker”, which is a type of pirate. Apparently, not all Acadians were peaceful farmers and Chaleur Bay was a popular hangout for local smugglers, buccaneers and freebooters. The microbrewery pays homage to these famous ancestors by not only brewing great beer but by printing their stories, legends and tales on the bottle labels. A brew and a history lesson, all in one – how great is that?

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Le Naufrageur Microbrewery

Dalhousie, New Brunswick
Leaving Carlton-sur-Mer, we were still in doubt about where to stay. Other campgrounds in the area were also full and there were no Wal-Marts within a 100 km. Thanks to my “ALLSTAYS” iPhone app – an app that every RV’er should have – I was able to find an RV park – the Inch-Arran RV Park with a site available. The park was on the south side of the Bay of Chaleur in the town of Dalhousie, New Brunswick – about 40 km out of our way. Nevertheless, it too was a municipal park with reasonable rates, also on the water and very well maintained. While the beach wasn’t quite as close, the ocean views were just as spectacular.  In addition, there was a snack bar, restaurant, grocery store, and laundry, just steps away. All in all, it was a wonderful place to spend the holiday weekend.

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Inch-Arran RV Park

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Inch-Arran RV Park: The View From Our Back Window

Matapédia
Tuesday morning, we were back on Highway 132 heading north along the Matapédia River. The Matapédia had a reputation for being one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the region as well as being a fly-fishing mecca. Fly-fishing was so popular that a museum – “Musée de la Forêt et du Saumon de Sainte-Florence”- in the village of Sainte Florence, had several exhibits dedicated to the sport. Their prized display was the world’s largest tied fly, as verified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

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Covered Bridges Along The Matapédia River

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La Matapédienne: The World’s Largest Tied Fly

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Journey’s End
We passed through several more small communities before stopping at the town of Mont Joli. This place had achieved some measure of fame in recent years for its murals. Many of these huge works of art depicted various historic milestones from the community’s past. Others appeared to be done by artists who were simply being creative. A brochure was available to help visitors find and view all the art works.

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Murals Of Mont Joli

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The End Of Highway 132

All too soon we were back at the village of Sainte Flavie and the end of Highway 132. Our Gaspé odyssey was over. It had been an amazing journey filled with beautiful vistas, picturesque landscapes, captivating attractions, engaging activities and warm, hospitable people. In short, all the ingredients for a wonderful adventure that we would not soon forget.

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