by Andrea Vance
Many dream of taking the family on a European adventure, filled with amazing architecture and rich with history, staying in small villages surrounded by beautiful countrysides, and vibrant cosmopolitan cities where you can get lost in the crowds and charmed by its character.
Many also talk about why they can’t do a trip like this, claiming that it would be unaffordable, that the kids are too young, or that it’s too far to go. A visit to Quebec offers all of the appeal of a European escape, without the worries of travelling to another continent with your kids.
Recently, our adventures took us to Quebec, where we explored the regions from Montérégie to Laval, and then over to Montreal. We were struck by the history and traditions, and the diversity and adventures that we discovered along the way.
The Montérégie region is just east of Montreal, full of gorgeous farmlands and dotted with villages and small towns along rivers. Every village has a prominent church steeple, emitting a real European countryside fee. This area is known for its premium cider – so good that we even sipped it with breakfast.
Our days in Montérégie were filled with rest and recreation. We visited farms like Ferme Guyon, with an amazing butterfly pavilion, friendly farm animals, and a huge market full of local products. We flew so high in a hot air balloon that we could see villages many miles away, carried by the wind to a distant farmland where we skimmed cornfields, and then landed dramatically on the ground.
The interactive exhibits and 360* dome theatre at Statera in Sorel-Tracy on the mighty St. Lawrence River gave us a glimpse into the history of this beautiful area, and the natural flora and fauna, as did a visit to the Fort-Chambly National Historic Site that allowed us to see how soldiers lived in eras gone by.
Our stay at a riverside camp resort centre started with visiting horses and llamas, and shooting arrows, and continued with bonfires that went well into the evening. But it was the canoe trip out to the tipi at the end of the night that gave us the most excitement, especially for the kids. Sleeping on a tipi floating on the water was a truly magical experience.
Just across the river from Montreal is Laval, the largest suburb of Montreal, the third biggest municipality in Quebec, and occupying the entire island of Île Jésus! Industry and business are dominant there, with many technology parks and pharmaceutical laboratories. It’s also an amazing area to take a break from the city, and for playing and learning all year around.
From our hotel room at the Hilton, we could see the Cosmodome that held our attention for hours on a visit, and we could have stayed longer. All night, in fact, since they offer overnight programs for student groups, sleeping in a cabin like the astronauts and waking up to a life-size solar system and Space Shuttle replica. Virtual missions, simulators, and a 4D cinema experience can keep you busy all day.
Much of the major entertainment in Laval is close together, including the challenging indoor surfing at Maeva Surf and exhilarating indoor skydiving at Skyventure. All within walking distance of each other and so worth it for families looking for some excitement for all ages. On weekends this area has live music, and in the evenings the streets are bustling with activity.
On the north side of Laval, the wildlife sanctuary at Parc de la Riviere-des-Mille-Iles offers canoes, kayaks, and other boats to navigate the waterways around its beautiful islands. Cruising around for hours, we spotted beaver dams, birds, and fish, and even found the private island where Celine Dion calls home!
Finally heading into the cosmopolitan city of Montreal, we were fortunate to stay at the historical InterContinental Montreal that was walking distance from everywhere we wanted to explore. After so many busy days, a few hours of rest were a welcome change.
We toured the mural festival along Saint-Laurent Boulevard and the iconic and historical Notre-Dame Basilica, and then we visited the 60-year-old St Viateur, where we snacked on hot, fresh, hand-rolled bagels with cream cheese.
Renting bikes in Montreal was a highlight, navigating through bike paths and routes along the water, over bridges, around race tracks, and through parks. It’s a fabulous way to see the city with kids. Our bike tour took us to the Montreal Museum of Anthropology and History, and the Old Port along the water, where we enjoyed the Montreal Observation Wheel (La Grande Roue), the massive zipline, restaurants, and the science centre.
In the evenings, we dined along Saint Paul Street, and wandered through the Old Town. We were mesmerized by fountains and beautiful spaces, with lots of public art to keep it interesting.
Quebec is filled with places fit for all interests, and all ages, a destination that offers history and adventure, with a culture that appreciates every day life and encourages you to as well. Europe is amazing, but you can’t beat history and culture like this in your own backyard.