Stuart Forster heads to the Gaspésie region of Quebec, Canada, to visit the Géoparc de Percé UNESCO Global Geopark.
Disclosure: I travelled to Percé as a guest of Quebec Maritime and retained full editorial control of this post. Quebec Maritime did not review or approve this article. Some of the links below and banners are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
The Géoparc de Percé
In April 2018 the Géoparc de Percé (Percé Geopark) was named a UNESCO Global Geopark. That designation and developments within the 555-square-kilometre (214-square-mile) park are helping to raise the profile of Percé and encouraging visitors to the Land’s End region of Gaspésie to stay longer.
Look at a map of Canada and you’ll see that the Gaspé Peninsula juts into the Bay of St Lawrence like the claw of a crab. It protrudes over the top of New Brunswick, a couple of hundred kilometres north of Nova Scotia.
The town of Percé, which was established as a fishing port, lies almost 1,000 kilometres northeast of Montreal. More than 11 hours of solid driving are needed to cover that distance. There’s much to see along the route, so few people drive straight through.
Why dash from point to point? Most people plan time to break the journey to picnic and photograph the landscapes and lighthouses. If you are in a hurry, you have the option of flying to Mont-Joli or Gaspé Michel-Pouliot Airport from Montreal or Quebec City.
Whale watching in Gaspésie
The Gaspésie region has long been a holiday destination favoured by residents of urban hubs in south-western Quebec.
Humpbacks count among the seven species of whales that also visit the region. So too do fin and blue whales. Whale-watching cruises depart from Percé and other ports in the region.
Walking in Gaspésie
Campgrounds and rustic accommodation provide inexpensive bases for exploring the Gaspé and Forillon national parks. For walkers, there are numerous trails, ranging from easy-access boardwalks to challenging multi-day hikes. Trails that are popular with walkers and cyclists draw snowmobilers during the winter.
It’s possible to follow the long-distance International Appalachian Trail as far south as Georgia and Florida in the United States. The Appalachians were formed during the Paleozoic Era, which ended approximately 251 million years ago. The mountain chain dips beneath the Atlantic Ocean, rising on the far side as the Pennines in northern England and the Atlas Mountains of North Africa.
A UNESCO Global Geopark in Canada
The landscape around Percé offers opportunities to gain an understanding of geological history spanning as much as 500 million years.
Sir William Logan, the first director of the Geological Survey of Canada, began his mapping of the country at Percé. The reason was the surrounding area’s geological diversity. Within a short distance of the town, it’s possible to find fossils, coal deposits and see the impact of glacial movement. Cliffs, faults and erosion make Percé an exciting place to visit for geologists.
Geology is a subject that can intimidate. Technical terms can be tricky to comprehend and often fall on stony ground (apologies for inserting that rocky pun) when attracting young visitors. Many people don’t know the difference between geological eras and periods. Tektonik, an attraction within the main building of the Géoparc de Percé, entertains and informs, introducing aspects of geology without making it hard work or seem complicated.
Visiting Tektonik at Géoparc de Percé
The interactive, family-friendly attraction opened in 2016. It’s like a cross between The Crystal Maze, the popular television game show, and an informative escape room. On entering, visitors can select from six different cards with barcodes. The cards are scanned prior to entry. The objective is to complete a series of tasks, which are initiated when the barcode is read.
Shaping sand highlights how features of the earth’s surface change over time. Three times red lights flash and a klaxon blares, a signal that calls participants together to watch short films about aspects of geology. Tektonik is a fun way of learning about subjects such as magma and volcanic activity, as well as how the nearby Percé Rock was formed.
Samuel de Champlain’s pierced rock
French explorer Samuel de Champlain named the cliff-like landmark le Rocher Percé, meaning ‘pierced rock’. The sea has worn arches into the vast rock. Around 433 metres (1,420 feet) in length and 88 metres (289 feet) high, it is reminiscent of a stone iceberg jutting from the water. Around 150 types of fossil have been found in the limestone rock, which forms part of Parc national de l’Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé. Nearby Bonaventure Island is the other component of the park.
Boat trips run between Percé and Bonaventure Island, a nesting site for more than 100,000 northern gannets. Far in the distance, Bonaventure Island can be spotted from the suspended glass platform in the Géopark de Percé’s observation deck. It can be a tad nerve-jangling to step foot on the glass platform but on a clear day the views are worth it.
Zip lines and adventure tourism
The Géoparc de Percé’s observation deck is designed with ramps to be accessible. Minibuses are available to transport guests from the pavilion and information centre housing Tektonik. That building also has a games room in which it’s possible to climb on ropes and relax on hammocks. It may be designed for children but adults can have fun too.
For a greater adrenaline rush, it’s worth riding one of the twin zip lines descending from the platform through the woodland of the Géoparc de Percé. Zooshing along between the firs and birches, suspended from a metal wire, probably isn’t what most people first imagine upon mention of a geopark.
Interpretive trails in Percé
Interpretive trails run in and from the Géoparc de Percé. Guides discuss the fauna and flora of the region, which includes rare birds such as Briknell’s thrush and plant species, including the wonderfully named Howell’s pussytoes, sticky goldenrod and cutleaf fleabane.
Members of the Mi’kmaq community discuss the First Nations heritage of Gaspésie. Tours into town explore the history of cod fishing and salting in the region. The waterfront Musée le Chafaud operates on a site once utilized by cod salters and has connections with the Beatniks of the 1960s and early 1970s.
The opening of Tektonik and the information centre within the Géoparc de Percé has been pivotal in encouraging visitors to extend their stays in the region. Between one and two days was previously the average duration of a visit. That has been extended to between three and four. The fact that it is now one of just five UNESCO Global Geoparks in Canada is also likely to draw people to the Gaspé Peninsula.
Where to eat and drink in Percé
La Maison du Pêcheur (157, Route 132 Ouest, Percé) is a cosy seafood restaurant overlooking the waterfront. Steamed lobster served with lemon and garlic butter counts among the dishes served.
For locally brewed beer head to the Pub Pit Caribou (182, Route 132 Ouest, Percé). In addition to brews from the micro-brewery, you may well find live music being performed.
Map of Percé, Quebec
Zoom into the map below to see find the Géoparc de Percé UNESCO Global Geopark and other tourism attractions in Percé, Quebec:
Travel to Percé in Quebec, Canada
From the United Kingdom, flying to Montreal puts you in position to catch one of the Air Canada flights from Montreal to Michel-Pouliot Gaspé Airport. Flights between Montreal and Gaspé have a duration of two hours 45 minutes, stopping en route at Quebec City.
Travel by car provides freedom the explore the Gaspésie region.
Hotels in Percé, Quebec
Camping is possible in and around the Géoparc de Percé UNESCO Global Geopark. In an area that is the stuff of dreams for geologists, hopefully nobody seeking accommodation will feel that they are left between a rock and hard place.
Search for Hotels in Percé via Booking.com:
Books about geology and Canada
Interested in visiting Percé and the Gaspé peninsula? You may enjoy these books about geology and Canada:
DK Eyewitness Canada travel guide:
The Lonely Planet Canada travel guidebook:
See the Géoparc de Percé website for information about Tektonik and attractions with the geopark. Activities include zip lines, viewing the surrounding landscape from the suspended glass platform plus cycling and hiking on trails. The website includes opening times and prices.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, was presented with the 2017 British Annual Canada Travel Award (BACTA) for Best Online Content. He is available for commissions about Canada and can be contacted via this website.
Photographs illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
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A version of this post was first published on Go Eat Do on 17 November 2018.