Published: August/September 2009
Next Weekend: Wild Roads
Le Grand St. Lawrence Route
Text by Ryan Bradley

Virtually locked down during the winter, the St. Lawrence River Valley gets its verve back come August. Take Montreal, which becomes the unlikely center of the hip urban universe with festivals galore (find a list at montreal.com). Though Quebec City is just three hours away by car, make a detour to the tallest peak in the province (3,176-foot Mont Tremblant), then wind along backroads through pine forests and small towns. The Québécois are “a hearty lot who worship the outdoors more than most,” says Jean-François Boily of Parc de Mont Tremblant. They’re also francophones: Bone up on your French; English is definitely a second language.

Day 1

There are no fewer than 15 (count ’em) massive festivals in Montreal through August and September—film, photo, blues, pop, and a marathon thrown in for good measure. The best way to get around is on two wheels, especially since the city just launched Bixi, its public bike-sharing program, and will be adding 37 miles of cycling paths to its already outrageously extensive 310-mile system ( bixi.com). Cruise the Plateau and Mont Royal before a long downhill toward the historic waterfront, the heart of Old Montreal, and Hotel XIXe Siècle ($195; hotelxixsiecle.com).

Day 2

Head northwest toward Mont Tremblant, Quebec’s largest provincial park. Stop at the Diable River for a quiet paddle or a more ambitious run high above the river along the largest via ferrata—rebar-assisted rock climbing—in North America ( tremblant.ca). Nearby Tremblant Resort boasts more than 30 restaurants, a dozen hotels, and even evening ziplining through the pines.

Day 3

No need to rush on the byways that skirt the Laurentides Range, where you’ll find roadside produce stands in villages named after saints (St-Jean-de-Matha, St-Félix-de-Valois). At the St. Lawrence River, kayak a piece of the 807-mile water trail ($30; sentiermaritime.ca), then eat at the fancy Moulin de St-Laurent, housed in a restored flour mill on the Île d’Orléans (moulin stlaurent.qc.ca). Jog south to Quebec City and rest at Auberge St-Pierre, a luxurious old inn that faces the walled downtown. Rooms feature the building’s original stone walls from 1821 ($199 including breakfast; auberge.qc.ca).