Quebec City and Montreal are not the only places to include in your trip North. The year 2008, the 400th year celebration of the founding of Quebec City, is the perfect time to travel as many places throughout Quebec as possible. The Province of Quebec is twice the size of Texas. There are so many wonderful places to see you could spend every holiday of your life and never see it all, but what a delightful adventure to try! To get a little of the flavor here are some of the idylic places we had the privilege to visit, although for too brief a time.
Surrounded by over 275 milliion English speakers, some six million French descendants throughout the Province kept the motto,“Je me souviens” (I remember) and cherished the past while planning the future. Rural Quebec villages fiercely preserved old French ways until the Quebec government in the 1950’s determined that it was necessary for children to be educated for assimilation and integration into the modern world while, at the same time, maintaining their distinctly French culture. The special Old World customs, such as dancing jigs, fiddle playing, and traditional costumes for weekends, were carefully preserved while the culture evolved into truly proud French Canadian instead of archaic French. And we found this delightful culture throughout the villages and small towns all over the Province. From North and South America, it is like going to France without the jetlag of crossing the ocean.
If you are traveling from the U.S., a quick starting place is to drive from Vermont across the border into Stanstead. The library and opera house there stand partially in each country. You can literally sit in the United States and watch the stage production in Canada! These two historic buildings are special places where people without passports can meet with loved ones who reside in the opposite country. A few kilometers down the road is the village of Bleu Lavande, where we visited the aromatic fields of lavender, ablaze with color in mid-summer, and shopped in the wonderful lavender showroom.
In the Eastern Lakes and Eastern Townships, the district just southeast of Montreal, is the city of Magog on Lac Memphremagog, a huge and beautiful lake with lots of fun things to enjoy out-of-doors. The vast Parc National du Mont Orford, a wonderful National Park, has great camping, hiking, fishing and water sports, beautiful sights to discover, pretty waterfalls and amazing bird-watching. All the little townships and villages through the Eastern Townships, which extends nearly to the St. Lawrence River, make you feel like you are actually in France. Stores, signs, restaurants, houses, and the friendly people are so typically French.
The Laurentides, the area North of Montreal, has picture-perfect postcard towns with the longest history of Canadian settlements. To describe all the towns and varied scenery is impossible, but here is a taste of what you can see: First, there are the incredibly beautiful fjords of Charlevoix. At Saguenay-Lac St. Jean there you’ll find the baluets or blueberry people who make a special, powerful and delicious drink.
Across the St. Lawrence River as far as you can go on the highway north is Saint Michel-des-Saints, a lovely little town located halfway between the two National Parks…La Mauricie and Mt. Tremblant. We stayed in an RV park on the large Lac Taureau between the two National Parks. The lake is bordered by a beautiful forested shoreline and has a wonderful hotel, Resort du Lac Taureau. You’ll find great water sports of every kind in summer. La Mauricie is a vast National Park which preserves picturesque waterways, lakes, and forests for all kinds of outdoor fun and camping. Campgrounds have large spaces and good amenities. Mt. Tremblant also has lots of summer fun and the premiere downhill ski resort of the Northeastern part of the continent. Continuing Northwestward we drove several hundred kilometers through La Faunique du Verendrye, a provincial wildlife reserve of thick forests and many lakes. Great fishing, canoeing and kayaking are in that area.
Nearing the west edge of the province we discovered the little town of Val d’Or which, for many years, was the center of gold mining. When the price of gold dropped the mines were closed but have recently been reopened as gold rose in value. In the small town of Malartic we found the most wonderful mineral museum…really worth a stop for the tour. We learned so much about mining. Gold, copper, zinc, nickel, and molybdenum are the major minerals mined in this area. And this is one of few places in the world to find the amazing Fairy Stones.
It is estimated that the province of Quebec has over 100,000 lakes! Fishing is a year-round sport, with ice fishing being popular in winter. Numerous private plane pilots are available for charters to remote camping and hunting lodges and cabins. Schefferville, the little town 1,000 miles Northeast of Montreal, is located 400 miles from the nearest road. It is a popular place for spectacular fishing and caribou hunting. There is limited transportation by plane or train. We cannot imagine surviving in so remote an area.
The Beauce region, about 10 miles south of Quebec City is where the Chaudière River passes through. With beautiful maple groves in fall, brilliant yellow rape fields in summer, and white Christmas card winters this region is not to be missed. On the Eastern edge of Quebec follow Cote Nord to explore the Whale Route of Quebec Maritime where your camera will be on overtime with the traditional villages, 40 lighthouses, whales, porpoises, and the culture of many different early settlers including various tribes, Nordic, French, English, and more. You can bike, kayak, take ferries, hike, go by boat or plane and discover the treasures of many National Parks and Wildlife Reserves. Or you may decide to travel the Gaspesie Peninsula, a peak back to a simpler era, which moves in close alliance with nature. The Peninsula, formed by the Atlantic ocean on one side and the Southern rim of the St. Lawrence River on the other, is the area of Quebec’s province where you’ll find the best camping and most beautiful beaches and more of the picturesque scenery. It is a photographer’s dream.
Anywhere in Quebec when you want to drive across the St. Lawrence you must consult a map and plan your trip carefully because in most places you must take a ferry, as there are only a few bridges. The busy, modern city of Trois-Rivières is the second oldest settlement in the province and today a large port city between Quebec City and Montreal. In the early days this place also got the better part of the shipments before Montreal. Here you can visit many historic sites and learn about the pulp and paper industry, the two main industries of the area. There are museums of note and interesting tours.
Ile d’Orléans, an historic, quaint, beautiful island, is just a short drive from Quebec City. Be sure to stop at the breath-taking Parc de la Chute-Montmorency (+1 418 663 2877), where just before the confluence of St. Lawrence River with Montmorency River the land drops 83 meters, creating impressive water falls, higher than Niagara Falls. In winter this becomes a fabulous frozen toboggan slide. The province of Québec has three major ski areas: the Laurentides, the Québec City area and Charlevoix, and the Eastern Townships. With an average of ten feet of snow, the ski season (November through April) is a constant celebration for about a million skiers enjoying winter in Quebec.
Tadoussac harbor is where Cartier stopped in 1535 and Pierre Chauvin established a permanent trading post in 1600. Tadousac means “breasts” in the native First People language, for the twin hills of the nearby surrounding terrain. By all means, stay at the historic Hotel Tadousac which was built in 1941 to overlook the incredible port at the beginning of the Saguenay fjord. This is one of the premiere hotels in Canada as well as a majestic piece of history.
We followed the Whale Route along the St. Lawrence from Tadousac to the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the Atlantic Ocean, visiting quaint, small villages and discovering beautiful unspoiled sites. We were entranced at National Wildlife Preserves including the Mingan Archipelago and Sept Isles, the seven islands in the huge river. A visit to Anticosti Island, one of the best game hunting places in the world, was a thrill since few visitors have discovered the island where nature is supreme. We’ll detail each of these places in the next few months. Be sure to follow our journeys in the wonderful Province of Quebec, and plan your next trip there. You can check the calendar for the region you choose to visit to know the scheduled days of celebration.