2021 has been the year of hoards of Quebec tourists visiting…Quebec! In order to escape the crowds both at hotels and restaurants, travelers have been forced to venture further and further afield. Fortunately, the guardian and administrator of the province’s 23 “national parks”, the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec or Sépaq, has got you covered.

Unbeknownst to many, within their portfolio of 50,000 km2, Sépaq also runs a number of four-star hotels immersed in nature. Two of these properties are located on the Gaspé Peninsula and are about a seven and half hour drive from Montreal. The Gîte du Mont-Albert is within the Parc national de la Gaspésie and is located 39 km from the St. Lawrence coastal town of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. The other, the Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs, lies 55 km south of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts and is completely isolated amongst the Chic-Chocs mountain tops, literally!

Gîte du Mont-Albert

As seen from one of AJ’s hikes, the Gîte du Mont-Albert is like a luxurious Swiss mountain lodge
Photo: A.J. Twist

Out of these two resorts, the Gîte du Mont-Albert is more accessible as you can drive up to the front door, unpack your bags and head directly to the multitude of hiking trails at the auberge’s doorstep. However, it is located in the middle of a national park where services are extremely limited. For example, make sure your vehicle has enough fuel (or sufficiently charged) before you leave the town of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts because you won’t find any filling stations in these parts!

As you drive further and further away from the city you quickly find yourself surrounded not only by the natural beauty of the woods but by its wildlife as well. As we were mid-way into our own drive, we stopped to observe a moose and its young calf grazing by the side of the road. Magical!

Gîte du Mont-Albert

Guest room at Gîte du Mont-Albert
Photo: Sépaq

Arriving at the Gîte du Mont-Albert really does feel like the area’s base camp. The auberge itself has the aesthetic of a luxurious Swiss mountain lodge with its peaked roof and sitting within a valley surrounded by an impressive mountain range. Next door to the auberge is an information centre and educational facility where park guides and others are trained in park maintenance and wildlife management (part of Sépaq’s mandate is also to educate).

In addition to the hotel’s 48 rooms there are also 12 rooms in the Caribou lodge located just behind the main building. Scattered throughout the immediate area are also free-standing mountain cabins complete with kitchenettes and gas barbeques. These are popular with families and small groups. More rugged adventurers can avail themselves of a number of extensive campsites nearby that are serviced here. As a result, this spot is a hub of activity.

Sépaq hotels

Fine dining is a hallmark of the four-star Sépaq hotels, more aligned as an epicurean experience
Photo: Sépaq

Our room was a bit more Spartan than we are used to but that was fine as we were here for the exterior experience and not necessarily the interior! Don’t get me wrong, mind you, the beds were perfectly comfortable, the amenities satisfactory, the room spotless, and the views of the mountains very impressive. No sooner had we dropped our bags we were changing into our hiking shoes and headed out the door!

For our first hike my daughter had decided that Le Lac-aux-Américains would be a good starter hike as it was rated “easy”. To get there was a short drive from the hotel (the signage is excellent) made slightly longer as we had to once again stop and admire the wildlife as we came across a family of foxes whom seemed very comfortable being the centre of attention the roadside. The hike itself was a slow climb to an elevation of 80 metres that ends at a glacial lake surrounded by steep, Rocky Mountains. I had to pinch myself to remember I was in Quebec and not hiking in Banff.

Back at the hotel we enjoyed a delicious dinner which more in line with an epicurean experience than a mountaineering meal which makes sense since fine dining is also a hallmark of these Sépaq properties.

Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs

Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs is
a mountain-top four-star hotel
Photo: Sépaq

If you are fortunate and able to do some extensive forward planning, while headed to this region you may also want to try the Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs. However, this is a destination that appeals to the more adventurous as to access involves a 1.5 hour shuttle from Sainte-Anne-des-Mont. Guests must park their cars at the registration centre of Saint-Anne-des Monts for the duration of their stay. Part of the shuttle includes a ride in a large all-terrain vehicle (and in this case we are talking steep mountain terrain) that will shuttle up to 18 guests at a time way up to the hotel. Some may face this with slight trepidation while others will embrace it as part of the adventure.

Regardless, once you reach your destination, it is something unlike you have ever experienced before! A four-star auberge sitting atop a mountain range with nothing but forest and natural beauty as far as the eye can see! This is why the Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs is on so many individual’s bucket lists! A remote paradise. Oh, did I mention there is no cell phone service, no Internet and no television up here? Time to disconnect with your regular world and connect with nature.

Sépaq

Mountain biking is popular at
Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs
Photo: Sépaq

Once again, the 18 rooms here are perfectly adequate as is the dining room. There is a true “mountain lodge” feel to this place (with good reason since it is at an altitude of 615 metres) with a hotel and kitchen staff who take deep pride in their work. However, the outdoor activities are the main appeal here.

If cycling is your summer sport; over 100 km of forest roads and trails await you for either mountain bikes or electric bikes which are supplied by the hotel along with helmets. Head to one of the many lakes or head off-trail either with a guide or without.

There is no doubt that hiking is the most popular activity here with 11 trails to choose from for trekkers of all skill and fitness levels with the caveat that you are on a mountain range! In the winter, these hiking excursions come with a warning: “Before starting off, always make sure to have your radio, avalanche transceiver, lunch and water”.  However, this caution may be a bit of legalese as the staff has never heard of an avalanche incident impacting guests here.

Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs, Sépaq

Nature as far as the eye can see at the
Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs
Photo: Sépaq

Other outdoor activities in the summer include stand-up paddling in one of three nearby lakes or simple wildlife watching. In the winter the lodge is very popular with the mountain skiing aficionados with a choice of “Alpine touring, Hok skiing and splitboarding” (Don’t worry. I had to look them up as well.) Snowshoeing is another way to experience this winter wonderland.

So if you do not mind the drive and are keen to reconnect with nature, you would do well to explore our own Gîte du Mont-Albert and Auberge de montagne des Chic-Chocs. However, be sure to plan ahead as, despite the distance, the number of rooms are limited, reasonably priced and are extremely popular.

A.J.Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer. ajtwist@me.com     www.ajtwist.net