by Joe Kozell,
As a cyclist and a runner for “a few” decades, I have always been a fan of cycling adventures that take me back in time. The ride between Burlington, Vermont and Québec City is not only one of the most iconic in North America but one of my personal favorites. Leading the group tour for Sojourn Cycling & Active Vacations, I follow the route of explorer Samuel de Champlain and the fur traders, from the heart of Vermont to Quebec, the most European city in North America. The 265-mile tour has been rated one of the top 15 in the world by Fodors.
While that 265 miles might seem daunting, I have found that cyclists of all ages and abilities can easily manage the ride. The route is a gradual descent and during the summer months the wind is usually at your back.
Other than the pedaling, Sojourn Bicycling & Active Vacations makes the journey effortless by providing a uniquely crafted route, distinctive lodging, and a series of culinary delights throughout the tour – a personal favorite is smoked salmon and locally produced goat cheese on a fresh baguette.
The ride leaves from the city of Burlington (45 miles south of the Canada–U.S border and 94 miles south of Montreal) and follows Vermont’s rails-to-trails Champlain Bikeway north through the islands that are sprinkled throughout the northeast part of Lake Champlain.
After a short ferry crossing, the rolling bike trail and quiet country roads provide an opportunity to experience some of Vermont’s breathtaking scenery and picturesque villages. For instance, the town of North Hero is home to the Hero’s Welcome General Store. The store was built in 1899 and has a remarkable variety of products as well as a deli counter with sandwiches such as the “TJ” (named after Thomas Jefferson of course), the Benedict Arnold and the Apple Annie which is topped with an amazing home-made spicy apple chutney.
Lake Champlain is sandwiched between the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains of New York and flows northward via the 106 mile long Richelieu River into the St. Lawrence River at Sorel-Tracy, Québec.
To the east, Vermont’s 250-mile long Green Mountains parallels the route. Once the home to American Revolutionary Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, the mountains are a mecca for outdoor activities all year long. Looking across Lake Champlain, New York State’s Adirondack Mountains provide a majestic backdrop for the view to the west.
The ride along the shoreline would not be complete without a stop at Snow Farm Vineyard and Winery, Vermont’s longest operating winery, where you can sample their award-winning wines. Also en route are numerous local museums and period-rich country stores
With any luck, you might see Lake Champlain’s monster “Champ.” As local legend has it, Champ was first sited by explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1609 and has roamed the lake ever since.
Crossing the border into Canada, the route continues north along the Richelieu River. As the Green Mountains are left behind, I love how the terrain is quickly transformed into beautiful rolling countryside with farms at every turn.
Having arrived in the Province of Québec, affectionately called “La belle province” (the pretty province), it is readily apparent this is a culture with a rich history and is predominantly French speaking. I have always found the local Québecois will go to great lengths to treat visitors like friends and to ensure our encounters are memorable.
For the next few days, the tour takes us on Québec’s Route Verte which is a bikeway of over 3,300 miles linking all parts of the province and was rated by National Geographic Travel as one of the Top Ten in the World.
The farms in Québec provide incredible local produce. Depending on the season, there is an abundance of strawberry and blueberry farms with roadside stands, and fromageries that produce a wonderful variety of local cheeses. Of course, no trip through Québec would be complete without stopping at one or more of the many chocolatiers. While the variety of chocolates is seemingly endless, a local favorite is a tartinade spread of dark chocolate and blueberries which is amazing on a croissant or drizzled on a crêpe.
Rolling through the Québec countryside has all the right ingredients to experience the cycling tour of a lifetime and arriving in Québec City is like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The only walled city in North America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Québec City is famous for its fortifications that date back to the 17th century. The site was also the springboard for colonization of the Americas. Many of the centuries old buildings and cobblestone streets of Old Quebec have been preserved and provide old European charm. The eateries are a mix of French cuisine and authentic Canadian fare which is always topped off superbly with crème brûlée.
Boutiques abound throughout the city but two of the most historic shopping districts are Place Royale, North America’s oldest market, and le Petit-Champlain with shops since 1608
The final day’s ride is just east of the city on Île d’Orléans, an island in the St. Lawrence River, which was discovered by Jacques Cartier in 1535. The 40-mile ride around the island is easily stretched out over a full-day going through six charming parishes which have a variety of agri-businesses, cidreries, micro-breweries, art galleries, and shops. As the tour finishes on Île d’Orléans, the view north across the St. Lawrence includes the spectacular Montmorency Falls which is almost 100 feet higher than Niagara Falls.
The bike tour from Burlington Vermont to Québec City is a fabulous ride through time with adventures around every turn. The route has few rivals with a mix of activities that every cyclist can include on their bucket list.
Sojourn Bicycling & Active Vacations is renowned for providing exceptional cycling experiences and “The Good Life, By Bike”.
Joe Kozell is senior leader with Sojourn Bicycling and Active Vacations and this is one of his favorite rides.
Other stories about Quebec: