Sunday, July 22, 2007

US's Newsday newspaper reports on the Route Verte and Quebec Cycling

US's Newsday newspaper reports on the Route Verte and Quebec Cycling.

It's mostly positive too. (Quebec could decide that to welcome cyclists, all roads would have paved shoulders)

Click here for link to original complete article.

Through Quebec on two wheels


When Wolfgang Schivelbusch, a contemporary German philosopher with a catchy name, theorized that the railroad effectively collapsed the distance between cities and isolated people from nature, he didn't envision a time when bicyclists would reclaim abandoned railways in order to recapture an antiquated leisureliness.

But that is exactly what they are doing throughout North America, and the most extensive pathway system is in Canada's bike-crazy province of Quebec. There, about 2,500 miles of bike paths, under development since 1995, are being inaugurated this summer as La Route Verte. The trails, linking 16 of Quebec's 17 regions, also touch 320 cities and towns, many of which have their own municipal systems of bikeways.

The paths wind by vineyards, fromageries and chocolatiers, not to mention the colorful "maison québécoise," charming cottages that date to the 18th century and often are shaded by apple orchards and cherry trees. But Quebec, known in the past for its insularity and Francophone steadfastness, has not as yet done a great job of promoting the trails system to travelers coming from outside the province.

But knowing that Quebec City is a mere 81/2-hour drive on easy highways from New York City, we decided to take a long weekend to explore the bike trails. (Montreal is six hours from the city and is also a good place to catch the paths.) We didn't take our bikes, because a hallmark of La Route Verte is conveniently located bicycle shops.

Rising early, we took a quick stroll to Cyclo Services in the Vieux-Port market. Conventional bicycles are available for rent there, along with tandem and reclining bicycles, adult-size tricycles, bicycles with flip-on motors for the nasty hills, and other types of wheeled conveyances.

Danielle Brochu, a co-owner of the shop, said a growing number of travelers, especially families, are building cycling days into their vacations. "We're starting to be what we call in French 'la maison de cyclistes,'" she said. "Many people are coming here, not only to rent bikes, but wanting to know what they can see, where they can go, so we give them that information."

By no means expert cyclists, but fit enough, we selected three day trips of no more than 50 miles a day that are easy to accomplish from Quebec City.

Chaudière Appalaches

We took the ferry from Quebec to Lévis, where the path is smooth, dotted by shady parks, some with staircases up the rocky cliffs that lead into the city of Lévis, once a formidable British redoubt that ominously eyed the French capital. The trails are heavily used by young and old, solo and in groups, on everything from bikes and Rollerblades to power chairs. We traveled to Montmagny, which offers an accordion museum. Cycling gives you the time to examine the fields of fruit trees and also makes you very hungry. We stopped at the Casse-Croûte & Bar Laitier l'Aller-Retour, a roadside stand for fried food and ice cream, where we inhaled a uniquely French-Canadian dish called "poutine," which is available in a greasy sleeve as well as on a bun. It consists of French fries topped with velvety cheese curds doused in a smoky, brown gravy, and may well be the siren song of some cyclists.

We then cycled back into Quebec on the Pont de Quebec. We did not encounter one tourist or native English-speaker on the trail that day. We did meet Louise Parent, 67, a native of Quebec City, who said she cycles the 18.6-mile loop from her house, crossing on the ferry to Lévis and cycling back on the bridge, three to five times a week in summer and sees few tourists. During Quebec's long winter, she uses the trails to cross-country ski.

La Route de la Nouvelle-France

This path runs east from the city through the Côte-de-Beaupré for about 30 miles, at least as far as Cap Tourmente, a wildlife preserve. Due to the byway's many temptations, we never made it that far.

The paved path from the city arrives at one of the region's busiest tourist attractions, Montmorency Falls, the only place outside Quebec City where we encountered foreign visitors: namely, hundreds of boys in Utica College T-shirts. The falls are double the height of Niagara and can be accessed by a cable car or an antique-feeling set of stairs. We watched two seemingly fearless Québécois take a swim well within the buoys roping off the cascade.

Running above the falls is the bucolic avenue Royale. Lined by some of the oldest homes in Quebec, including the 17th-century Maison Vézina, which also functions as a studio for visual artists, the route is a veritable smorgasbord of local produce. Besides wineries and farmers' markets, there is a traditional bakery and a sugar shack that produces maple sugar products. Some features are along Highway 138, including a bee museum, part of a provincewide network of "economuseums" that show local artisans at work.

…Since the bike trails are dotted with inns, it's easy to find accommodation for the night…. One lovely bed and breakfast is Le Royal Champêtre, recently purchased by Philippe and Corinne Gardy, who moved to Quebec from the south of France with their two young sons. Though the inn is relatively new, Corinne Gardy cooks hearty breakfasts during the colder months on a restored cast-iron Belanger stove that will be 100 years old next year and dominates the kitchen.

Philippe Gardy recommended we investigate the Île d'Orléans, so we did, but a note to cyclists: Although the island is utterly bewitching, with charming, centuries-old homes and churches tucked among caves de vin and cider makers, and signs proclaiming "Bienvenue cyclistes!" automobiles are recommended, at least for now. The two-lane bridge requires steady maneuvering on a 3-foot-wide sidewalk while the island's 41-mile loop is on a twisty, sometimes shoulderless road that can get precarious with heavy traffic.

Corridor des Cheminots

On our last day, we went up the Corridor des Cheminots, chosen principally because it runs by the famed ice hotel at Duchesnay, which also has a Scandinavian-inspired health center. This trail was quite different from the previous day's; there were longer distances between towns and knowledge of village trails was necessary to take advantage of the many offerings.

While the ice hotel -- the only one in North America -- is crafted of ice each year by artists and open January through March, it was a bit of a letdown in spring. However, we enjoyed the ride through thickening conifer forests, past waterfalls and rocky hills as we headed toward the village of Saint-Raymond de Portneuf, about 40 miles from Quebec.


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