St.-Vallier is another postcard village, then Berthier-sur-Mer, with perfect gardens along the riverfront. Traditional Quebec culture is everywhere: old rocking chairs on front porches, clay outdoor bread ovens, sugar shacks and chainsaw-carved bears and garden gnomes for sale.
By late afternoon, after 40 miles, a cheer goes up when we spot the silver church spires of Montmagny, our destination for the night. At the family-run mansion Manoir des Érables, we quickly shower and make a beeline for its fine dining room, where we are greeted by passionate chef Frédéric Cyr, who explains the inn's Table Champêtre designation. It means the inn specializes in traditional cuisine using local ingredients when possible. House-smoked local sturgeon, maple-citrus sauce, Quebec foie gras in a crab bisque, Matane shrimp, local quail perfumed with cinnamon, homemade charcuterie, and shrimp and seaweed from the nearby Gaspé Peninsula…. "People show up at the kitchen door with boxes of fiddleheads and mushrooms they picked," Cyr says.
Hitting the pedals early the next morning, we head toward the waterfront to catch a 25-minute ferry across to L'Île-aux-Grues, a tiny island in an archipelago accessible only at high tide. The boat is filled with cyclists who come to ride the island's 11/2 -by-41/2 -mile rural landscape of corn and hay fields, where the breeze is scented with clover and wildflowers. Visiting L'Île-aux-Grues is a bit of a pilgrimage for me because this is the birthplace of some of my favorite Quebec cheeses: delicious triple cream Riopelle (named after the famous contemporary Quebec artist who lived here), Mi-Carême and a Tomme de Grosse-Ile. Unfortunately, no tastings are offered at the fromagerie, although a café near the ferry dock served cheese plates and wine on an ocean view deck.