Sunset over the St. Lawrence River and Bic National Park in Quebec’s maritime region // 2013 Mark Edward Harris
Gaspesie translates to “end of land” in the language of the Mi’kmaq, a First Nations tribe. This peninsula, often referred to as Gaspe, and its neighbor, Bas-Saint-Laurent, in the Quebec maritime region boast some of the world’s best natural wonders. I recommend traveling the region by car because there is so much to see, with large stretches of open land between destinations.
First, I stopped at Reford Gardens in Grand-Metis soon after crossing from Bas-Saint-Laurent to the Gaspesie to stroll through the national historic site, dotted with horticultural art and 3,000 species of flora. Created between 1926 and 1958, the Reford Gardens are the living legacy of the passionate gardener and socialite Elsie Reford.
Driving back to the nearby town of Rimouski in Bas-Saint Laurent, I spent the night in the theatrically decorated Auberge du Mange Grenouille. With a world-class restaurant and a fascinating interior design incorporating historical objets d’art, the hotel is a destination in itself.
The next day, I traveled southwest of Rimouski and hiked through Bas-Saint Laurent’s Bic National Park. The park's capes, coves and mountains were great for exploring, with opportunities for bird and seal watching along the shore. After traversing the coastline, I trekked up to the summit of Pic-Champlain, the highest point in the park, with a beautiful panoramic view of the St. Lawrence River 1,135 feet below.
From Bic, I drove across the Gaspe peninsula through small towns and heavily wooded areas to Miguasha National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its fossil-rich cliffs. Sitting on the bluff above the park, the Natural History Museum offers a self-guided tour of fossils found in the area. Some of the plant and fish fossils on display date back to the Devonian period, an estimated 370 million years ago.
The next day, I laced up my hiking boots for a five-hour, 5.3-mile circuit hike to the summit of Mont Olivine in Gaspesie National Park, which contains the highest peaks of the Appalachians in Quebec. The park is home to a wide variety of arctic-alpine flora and fauna, including the only caribou herd south of the St. Lawrence and a large moose population, not to mention some of the most bizarre wild mushrooms I have ever seen.
I enjoyed a great dinner and a much-needed rest at Village Grande Nature Chic-Chocs before descending down to Sainte-Anne-des-Monts on the banks of the St. Lawrence River the following day. I visited the town’s state-of-the-art aquarium, Exploramer, to learn about the mighty river and its underwater inhabitants.
While traveling west on the coast to the airport at St. Jolie, I come across an unusual art installation: the "Grand Rassemblement" at the Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon in Sainte-Flavie on the Gaspesie. Created in 1986, the installation is made up of life-size statues emerging from the sea. The concrete statues weigh more than 1,510 pounds each, and are built to survive the elements in this captivating gateway to the Northern Atlantic.