Second City: The best destinations to add on to a trip to Montreal
Welcome to TPG’s Second Cities series, where we help you find amazing places that are only a couple of hours away from your original destination. This way you get the most out of your itinerary and visit less-popular or less-frequented destinations that deserve more attention.
Montreal dazzles you with European charm, foodie hot spots, urban nature and a gorgeous setting on the St. Lawrence River. But there is so much more waiting to be explored in the French-infused province of Quebec. The City of Saints provides your perfect base.
Northeast of Montreal, the Charlevoix region has a drop-dead-gorgeous landscape of mountains and rolling hills snuggled against the St. Lawrence River. The rumpled topography is the result of a meteorite that crashed here millions of years ago, leaving behind a massive crater nearly 40 miles across. This, however, is no hinterland; the region offers a bewitching cultural array. Visitors come for the region’s agrotourism, farm-to-table cuisine, scenic drives, picturesque villages and four-season outdoor pursuits.
Getting there: Baie-Saint-Paul, the region’s gateway, is an easy 4.5-hour drive from Montreal through rolling hills and picturesque towns along the St. Lawrence River. The closest commercial airport is Quebec City (YQB), served by Air Canada (a Star Alliance member). From there you can rent a car and drive an hour, or hop aboard the luxe Train de Charlevoix.
Where to stay: Quebec City may have the fabled Fairmont Château Frontenac, but Charlevoix has Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, a sister property that’s every bit as regal. Set on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River near La Malbaie, the French castle has a luxe spa, a 27-hole championship golf course and the prestigious Charlevoix restaurant. It served as a turn-of-the-20th-century seasonal resort (and hosted the 44th G7 Summit in 2018). Rates start at $198, or 8,000 points for Le Club AccorHotels Loyalty members. Another option is Hotel & Spa Le Germain Charlevoix in Baie-Saint-Paul, with five stylish buildings clustered around a courtyard that hark back to the farm that once occupied the site and the religious order that operated it. The brainchild of Cirque de Soleil’s co-founder, Daniel Gauthier, it belongs to the Groupe Germain Hôtels. Rates start from $147 in low season.
There aren’t many other large brand hotels, but Baie-Saint-Paul and La Malbaie have a good selection of charming, independently owned accommodations.
What to see and do: Whether you’re into skiing, hiking, kayaking, scenic driving, epicurean delights or simply poking into artsy little towns, there’s something going on year-round in Charlevoix. Baie-Saint-Paul, filled with restaurants and shops along Saint-Jean-Baptiste Street, provides a good base. Smaller La Malbaie is charming as well and offers some of Charlevoix’s best hotels.
One of the most popular activities is to drive the Charlevoix Flavour Trail, showcasing more than 40 farms, mills, cideries, and breweries along a picturesque 89-mile route. Chat with emu farmers, enjoy a tomato wine-tasting or sniff a lavender field. You can, of course, taste on the spot. Better yet, gather fare along the way for an idyllic picnic. You’ll find restaurants and bakeries overseen by some of Quebec’s most esteemed chefs and bakers as well.
Ile-aux-Coudres, in the St. Lawrence River and accessible only by ferry, is a trip back in time. Taste cider, pick apples or relax on the porch of a cozy wood home. The world-famous ice canoe race in February tears across the St. Lawrence River’s semi-frozen surface in a centuries-old tradition that has become a high-octane winter tradition. If you get hungry, visit Boulangerie Bouchard, a historic bakery where you can sample tarte au grandmère (grandmother’s pie, a type of sugar pie) and pets de soeurs (“nun farts,” pastry pinwheels made with leftover dough and a touch of chocolate).
Summer is magical in Charlevoix but winter can be amazing too. Go moonlit showshoeing at Caps de Charlevoix, or downhill skiing at Le Mont Grand-Fonds, one of the country’s oldest family-run lodges (with no lines for chairlifts and a ski hut at the top of the mountain serving epicurean cuisine), or cross-country skiing on quiet paths through the woods everywhere. For downhill hounds, Le Massif offers the largest vertical drop east of the Canadian Rockies (2,526 feet). Here, too, you can try the regional sport of rodeling: riding down a steep slope in a wooden sled (aka, a rodel), reaching speeds up to 50 mph.
Especially dazzling in autumn, this hilly, forested realm north of Montreal is the land of lakes and lodges. Come here to hike, paddle, fish, and snuggle up to a roaring fire, gazing up at millions of twinkling stars. If you’re a huge skier and it’s wintertime (or hiker in the summertime), head to Mont-Tremblant.
Getting there: Baskatong Reservoir is a hub of outdoor activity and your best plan to get there is to rent a car and drive about four hours north from Montreal along Autoroute 15. With extra time, get off at St.-Jérôme for Route 117, which travels through many of the region’s picturesque towns. If you’re targeting Mont-Tremblant, fly to Mont Tremblant International Airport (YTM), served by Air Canada (a Star Alliance member) and be there in less than an hour from Montreal. An airport shuttle will take you to your hotel and/or the ski mountain.
Where to stay: Rustic accommodation is the name of the game in this lake-spangled wilderness. Le Village Windago on Baskatong Reservoir offers a choice of four-season, cabin-like residences and condos — plus a glass dome house with 270-degree views from your bed of the lake and the stars. Rates start at $88 in low season. Also on the reservoir, Rabaska Lodge has cozy cottages and various four-season vacation packages, including fishing or ATV/snowmobiling. Rates start at $395 for two nights.
Mont-Tremblant does offer more contemporary accommodations. There are several brand-name hotels, including Le Westin Resort & Spa (from $150 or 40,000 points in low season); Fairmont Tremblant (from $209 or redeem 2,000 points for every €40 increment toward the total cost); and Residence Inn by Marriott Mont-Tremblant Manoir Labelle (from $120 or 30,000 points in low season).
What to see and do: The Laurentians are one of the most amazing wildernesses anywhere. From the famous Mont-Tremblant ski resort to tucked-away wilderness camps, this is the place to come for supreme serenity and outstanding outdoor adventures.
This enormous body of sparkling water offers one of the best places to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. There’s canoeing, camping, hiking, fishing — and the chance to spot a moose or three. At the four-season La Montagne du Diable Regional Park, hiking/skiing trails meander through pine-scented woods along Lac de la Montagne. Here, too, you can try your hand at rabaska-ing, paddling in a traditional 12-person canoe.
Le P’tit Train du Nord
This former railway track has been converted to a 125-mile-long bike path (and cross-country ski trail), with former train stations in quaint French-Canadian villages now holding shops, cafés, and info centers. The trail starts about 30 minutes north of Montreal at Bois-des-Filion and ends at Mont-Laurier. Autobus Le Petit Train du Nord can help organize a ride of several days, including transport and rentals.
And then there’s the famous Mont-Tremblant, its eponymous snowcapped mountain towering more than 3,000 feet, making it a major draw for skiers. This popular year-round resort also offers a European-style village and a provincial park, with plenty of summertime activities including hiking, cycling, golfing, and water sports.
This wild, unsung region of fish-filled lakes, rushing rivers and thick boreal forest is beloved by hardcore outdoor types, but it’s not too wild, with plenty of activities for families and weekend warriors as well. Here, too, you’ll discover picturesque villages, historic venues from its trading and trapping past, sites showcasing the regional Algonquin culture and Opémican, Quebec’s newest national park.
Getting there: You can fly Air Canada (a Star Alliance partner) to North Bay, Ontario (YYB), then rent a car and drive approximately two hours to Lake Temiskaming. Otherwise, it’s a seven-hour drive by car from Montreal. If you’re targeting only Val d’Or, farther to the north, Air Canada Express (a Star Alliance member) is among the handful of airlines making the 1-hour-25-minute jaunt from Montreal to Aéroport Regional de Val d’Or (CYVO).
Where to stay: If you want to stay in the new Opémican National Park but would rather not camp, its “ready-to-camp” tent-cabins are the perfect solution. They come complete with electricity, heat, a refrigerator (though you’ll have to walk down the road to the group restroom). There are two locations — beneath towering pines or on cliffs overlooking Lake Temiskaming. Rates start at $104 in low season.
If you prefer more standard accommodations, Le Bannik near Ville-Marie offers cozy cottages right on the lake. Rates start at $130 in low season.
Val d’Or has a handful of chain hotels where points can be used, including Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Val-d’Or (from $104 or 15,000 points in low season) and the newly renovated Comfort Inn Val d’Or (from $103 or 25,000 points in low season).
What to see and do: You’ll need to rent a car to explore the somewhat far-flung sites. And be sure to allow plenty of time to unwind to the rhythm of nature.
Perched on the Quebec/Ontario border about 100 miles northeast of North Bay, Lake Temiskaming — technically a broadening of the Ottawa River — means “deep body of water with rapid winds” in the regional Algonquin dialect. A string of villages edges the lake, offering petite museums, festivals and plenty of local food products — along with beaches and places to get out on the water by boat, canoe, and kayak. Ville-Marie has an 18th-century fort harkening back to the region’s trading past and Vignoble Domaine Des Duc, Quebec’s northernmost winery, producing red, white, rose, and fortified wines. (It also makes an amazing cheddar called Le Coeur du Village – “heart of the village.”)
Opémican National Park
Nearby is Quebec’s newest national park, established in 2013 to preserve the region’s timber history. Here you can float down the Kipawa River, fish in solitude at a remote pocket lake, and hike through old-growth pine forest. There's also the bike-canoe-camping circuit, where campers spend the night on their own private island; canoes and bikes can be rented for a fee. Or take a rabaska canoe tour of Pointe-Opémican and get the inside scoop on the area’s trapping and trading history. The park is open year-round, with winter activities including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing.
Aiguebelle National Park
About 100 miles farther north, this spectacular national park offers earthy trails along La Haie Lake. Along the way, a 210-foot suspension footbridge looks down on the lake and a giant fault. Here, too, you can stay in a rustic log cabin on your own private lake.
Another 70 miles north, you’ll come to this rustic gold-mining town, which might not look like much at first but it’s a diamond in the rough. First, its water has been judged among the purest in the world (which ensures that the beer — and kompucha — at Microbrasserie Le Prospecteur is superlative; or try it bottled as Eska). The Refuge Pageau is an important center working to save injured Northwoods animals. You can get up-close and personal with gray wolves, coyotes, moose, bald eagles, red foxes and a very personable porcupine named Chewbaka. Kinawit, an important First Nation center, shares the millennia-old story of this territory through storytelling, medicinal plant gathering and the chance to sleep in a tepee.