Where to go for our next cycling vacation? I pondered this question with my sister Jeannine.
Every summer, we enjoy some kind of cycling excursion. Cycling is a great way to discover a new region. Because of the speed of bike travel, you can visit a new city, town or the countryside at a relaxed pace. It is faster than walking, but slower than car travel that is too speedy to really get to know a place. So far, we’ve cycled on Pelee Island, in Ottawa, and in the Netherlands. I’ve also cycled the Waterfront Trail, and Montreal.
I am a fairly competent cyclist, but also a somewhat lazy one. I don’t like fast speeds or super long distances…nothing too strenuous..
With that criteria in mind, Jeannine and I decided to take “Le P’tit Train du Nord”, a scenic cycling trail in the Laurentian mountains in Quebec. The trail is 200 km long, and goes from Mont Laurier to St. Jerome, just north of Montreal.The trail is on an old rail bed that once transported tourists to ski destinations along the route. Because it is a rail trail, there is not much change in elevation, making it easier to cycle. To get there, you park the car in St. Jerome, and a bus takes you and your baggage to Mont Laurier. Over a period of a few days (depending on how many kilometres you want to cycle each day,) you cycle back to St. Jerome, staying at various Inns, or camping, along the way.
Over the years, Quebec has put the infrastructure in place to make the Laurentians a cycling destination, which gives a much needed economic boost to small communities along the way. According to the bus driver, 85% of the cyclists that head up on the bus to Mont Laurier are from out of province.
Jeannine and I decided to take the 3 nights, 4 days package called CycloRives .This package allows participants to cycle approximately 50 km each day, and spend the night in comfy bicycle friendly inns along the way..
Our first Inn was called “Auberge Chez Ignace” in Nominingue. Owners Ignace and Yolande organize the Cyclorives and other cycle tour packages. Here we discover what “cycle heaven” is. Our hosts immediately show where we can safely store our bikes inside. Since it had been raining, they offer to dry our clothes if needed. There is a hot tub, as well as a dock by the lake. The hosts treated us like family (maybe better!) Ignace and Yolande certainly set us off on the right foot at their auberge with their delicious dinner, specializing in Belgian cuisine, and then breakfast the following morning.
At Auberge Chez Ignace, we were introduced to several of our fellow cycle tourists. We met Denis and Suzanne, who came in on a tandem bicycle, ready to continue the 200km ride. It turns out that Denis is blind, and that he and his wife travel quite regularly on their tandem bike as part of a group called the Quebec Blind Sports Association. The couple had a great sense of humour and optimism that made them awesome travelling companions. The off road cycle trail and flat surface made their bike ride a pleasure.
The following day, after a pleasant ride with beautiful scenery on the paved portion of the trail, we stayed at the Auberge La Porte Rouge in Mont Tremblant. Here, we had a gorgeous view of Lake Mercier and safe storage for our bikes. A delicious dinner and breakfast were again included in our package. At least we cycled away the calories! Mont Tremblant was preparing for an Ironman Triathlon so there were a lot of cyclists around, and even cafés devoted to cyclists.
The trail stretching from Mont Tremblant to Val David was the most challenging, as it had a slight uphill grade. This section consists of mainly hard packed gravel. Here, we enjoyed the traditional beautiful mountain scenery, along with some pasture land complete with cows and horses. Along the way, we met a family from Toronto with two children, ages 12 and 10. They were cycling the whole 200km as well. This family confirmed my belief that if the infrastructure is there (safe cycling, places to rest) that a variety of people can enjoy cycling trips, including children.
On the final stretch of the picturesque trail from Val David to St. Jerome, we came across yet another converted train station. These train stations are dotted every 10-20km along “Le P’tit Train du Nord”. They are now cafes, art studios and/or information centres. Here, we found a cafe called “Espresso Sports”,that also sells and rents bicycles. Ok, so there is further evidence about just how important cycling is to the economy of this region.
Finally, we arrived back in St. Jerome, where our car was parked. Here, we were reacquainted with 2 cycling couples from Oshawa, our tandem riders Suzanne and Denis, and even the aforementioned family of four. We all completed the 200kms. I wanted to go up and high five them all. I felt like we were all in it together.
Next year…where will we go for a great cycling experience? Back to Ontario? I hear our province is wants to encourage more cycle tourism! I hear they are even taking some lessons from Quebec.