If you’ve ever huffed and puffed your way up the steep incline from Quebec City’s Old Port to the upper city, you might be forgiven for saying, “Non!” to exploring its gardens by bike. But you’d be missing one of the best ways to visit the city’s riverside parks and gardens.
One of the main bicycle trails flanks the level shores of the St. Lawrence, with a fork off to the gently flowing St. Charles River. On a sunny summer’s day, I rented a bike from the shop down the road from the charming Hotel des Coutellier, picked up fresh strawberries, cheese curds and maple candy from the Marché du Port and set off along the Corridor du Littoral bike path to visit Domaine de Maizerets, a pleasant, 20-minute ride from the Old Port. Located right on the trail with plenty of racks for bicycles, this historic site offers walking trails through the woods, beautiful gardens surrounding a pond and, as the name suggests, a maze that’s fun to explore. It’s worth the climb to the top of the lookout tower for a bird’s-eye view of the grounds, too.
After a pleasant couple of hours, I was ready to hit the trail again toward Parc linear de la Rivère-Saint-Charles, located along the Corridor de la Rivère-Saint-Charles. To see its parks and gardens today, it’s difficult to imagine the river was the most polluted in the province, clogged with discarded refrigerators and rusted-out cars before reclamation efforts beginning in 2000 re-naturalized the area, transforming it into one of the city’s most popular green spaces. Instead of cement retaining walls, dogwood, alder and sumac now shore up the banks, and bulrushes and yellow flag iris grow in the shallows. And after three decades, egrets and herons are returning to this tidal river where Jacques Cartier established a habitat that became the “garden of Quebec,” growing most of the city’s food.
Heading southwest of the Old Port and rejoining the Corridor du Littoral, the bike trail winds through the Promenade Samuel de Champlain, a stunningly contemporary 2.5-kilometre-long park divided into four parts that celebrate the life of the river: waves, wind, mists and men. My favourite is the mists, with its spontaneous sprays that surprise cyclists and pedestrians alike. Throughout the park, the gardens and open spaces are accented by sculptures, from a collection depicting lampposts of Quebec to soaring spikes that represent the sails of the long-gone ships that once plied the waters of the St. Lawrence. At either end of the linear park you’ll find good food at Panache, mobile food stations operated by one of the most popular restaurants in the city.