Village of PercÃ©, GaspÃ©sie. (Tourism Quebec)
I’m reluctant to tell you this story. And I say it happily too. This is a place that I know well; one that is full of curious equivocations; somewhere half serene, half hilly, on the edge of a body of water that is half river, half sea. I think everyone should know this because it has so much beauty, so much Canadian history, but again, another part of me wants people to stay away so that will remain a secret.
And yet this is only a secret to the modern world, for in an older world it was well known; famous, even. It was the place where, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of them went to seek their recreation and summer traditions, in part because the river – in this case, the St. Lawrence River – Was an easy, wide open nature highway that took passengers to hundreds of special places along its shores. I often think of the St. Lawrence as a deep incision in the body of the earth, exposing its bowels, all its peculiarities and its unexpected treasures. But this description is only half correct – geographically true, but not in its suggestion of violence. In this part of the province of Quebec, bounded by the St. Lawrence, where it is as wide as the sea, there is only tranquility.
Bic Provincial Park. (Mark Raynes Roberts)
I call this region the GaspÃ©. But that too is not quite correct. The GaspÃ© is officially located on the south shore of the river, a large peninsula east of the Matapedia valley in Quebec which extends to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. But I’m going to cheat a bit and write about the beauty of traveling along the north and south sides of the St. Lawrence. This does not mean that the GaspÃ© itself is not worth all your concentration. There are many beautiful destinations along its edge – Pointe-Ã -la-RenommÃ©e and, of course, PercÃ© at the tip, with its famous steep rock formation just offshore, “pierced” by one of the larger ones. natural arches of the world. This route along the remote shore is a vacation in itself, stopping to camp or stay at a bed and breakfast – called a gite in French – as you make your way to Chaleur Bay, bringing you to the northern end of New Brunswick.
But the St. Lawrence River has a magic that deserves a special pilgrimage. And the best place to start is in Quebec, just beyond which the river becomes tidal. A wonderful hotel there is Auberge Saint-Antoine, a place in the Old Port area. Named Canada’s Top City Hotel for Travel + Leisure’s 2012 World’s Best Awards, the hotel is part of the museum, with fragments of artifacts from an archaeological dig at the site displayed in artful, kaleidoscopic arrangements in the entire property, parts of which date from the end of the 17th century. Think of the thick stone walls and crisp, crisp linens, a glorious immersion in the past and present.
Saint Flavie, Saint-Laurent river. (Mark Raynes Roberts)
From there, stay on the north shore of the St. Lawrence and enjoy a route that rivals that of the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. The north shore is made up of steep wooded hills and stunning views. This region of Charlevoix is ââa gourmet treat with lots of local cheeses, foie gras and specialties such as banana-goat cheese tart. Stop in Baie-Saint-Paul, where Cirque du Soleil made its debut with local buskers at a summer festival. The village is charming. Have lunch in a bistro and take the time to stroll through the village to discover all the art galleries. Some are intended for tourists; others are aimed at discerning art lovers.
Further along the shore is La Malbaie, or Murray Bay, once a trendy seaside resort for the elite who sailed down the river from Montreal in large steamboats to stay at the Manoir Richelieu, a grand hotel with the allure of castle overlooking the water.
I would avoid staying there now, as it is disappointing and frequented mainly by tourists interested in the casino next door. It has the architecture of another time but the atmosphere of a bus stop. Better to find a small place like the nearby Auberge des 3 Canards, where the rooms are simple, the view divine and the food delicious. If you plan well in advance – and you should – you can arrange a visit to the Gardens of the Four Winds, which have been described as “the most aesthetically pleasing and horticultural exciting landscape experiences in North America.” , as well as “Canada’s best secret garden.” “
Explore the works of Marcel Gagnon in his inn and gallery by the river in Saint Flavie. (Mark Raynes Roberts)
It was developed by the late Francis Cabot, a legend among gardeners who was born in New York City but spent his summers on the family estate outside of La Malbaie. Originally part of a French seigneury dating back to the 1700s, the gardens cover over eight hectares but are only open to the public about four times per summer. Tickets are on sale online in winter. Act fast, as they quickly sell to garden enthusiasts keen to visit the grounds, which are high on a hill and famous for their framed views, intimate spaces and whimsical follies, incorporating ideas of Japanese and English landscapes – a garden white inspired by The creation of Vita Sackville-West in Sissinghurst in England – and even the Taj Mahal in India.
Continue on the north shore to Tadoussac, passing over the Saguenay River on a short car ferry ride when the highway suddenly stops at the water’s edge. And there, well, all I can say is that there are times when you travel when you can brace yourself for beauty. There you are, a disparate group of image enthusiasts gazing at the Doge’s Palace in Venice in the soft morning light. But there are times when the beauty you encounter is so unexpected that it looks like a drug – causing a sudden altered state, outside of the normal experience. I felt like this, with my back to the cars and trucks parked on a simple ferry, watching an otherworldly scene of sheer cliff, water, sky. I knew the whales frolic beneath me, and at one time the French fur traders pushed inland along the river in their fragile canoes. I was between sky and sea and earth and time.
MÃ©tis Lighthouse in MÃ©tis-sur-Mer (Mark Raynes Roberts)
Tadoussac dates back to the 1600s as a trading post and by the 1850s it also became a fashionable summer spot for people coming from Quebec or Montreal by steamboat. It’s worth staying there – the Hotel Tadoussac is a family landmark with its red roof and skylights – to enjoy bike rides and whale watching. The next day, continue northeast to Forestville – its origins are not difficult to understand – to take the ferry to Rimouski on the south shore. You must book your passage in advance online for all ferries crossing the St. Lawrence. I have crossed the river in several places, but I prefer this one. The wharf is in the middle of nowhere. And crossing the river is like a horseback ride, bumpy and wild and invigorating. If you’re lucky you might see a whale breach, which the captain calls out, “Whale !“
Once on the south shore, in GaspÃ©sie, there are two directions to follow. Travel further east for about an hour to Grand-MÃ©tis to visit the world-famous Reford Gardens, where an annual garden festival showcases the innovative creations of landscapers from around the world. Continue to MÃ©tis-sur-Mer to discover CafÃ© sur Mer, a venue set in a sleepy hamlet, where French Canadians and English-speaking summer residents come together for tea dances, literary events and exhibitions. art – and to buy beautiful pottery, home – decorative items and folk art. There is also a small, cozy inn in the village, the Auberge du Grand Fleuve, which has a popular gourmet restaurant.
Auberge du Mange Grenouille. (Mark Raynes Roberts)
Back in Quebec, take the time to spend a night at Le Bic, another 19th century summer place. I am thinking of Saint Lucia in the north with its small peaks and magnificent views over the water. A few years ago we found a cozy place to stay, Auberge du Mange Grenouille, which is decorated in a colorful and quirky taste – a true delight. Sit on the deck with a glass of wine and enjoy a wonderful dinner in their restaurant. This place was a great find. There is also a nice shop with local items.
When leaving to return to Quebec, don’t think your trip is over as this south shore is almost the best part of the trip. It’s pretty flat here – good for cyclists – and the tides provide endless fascination, retreating like a blanket from a sleeping body, revealing everything – mounds of rock, braids of frilly seaweed, benches. of sand stretched and shiny.
It is the river which seduced the discoverers of our country by attracting them; who brought prosperity and provided transportation; which offered leisure and recreation; and that again, even now, takes you to a place that is here and now and past and lost.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
The best place to start a visit to the less traveled north side of the St. Lawrence is Quebec City. The following is a list of hostels and activities that you will come across while driving east.
Auberge Saint-Antoine This winner of Travel + Leisure magazine is an immersion in the region’s past. Rooms starting at $ 189. 8 rue Saint-Antoine, Quebec; saint-antoine.com
Auberge des 3 Canards The rooms are simple, the view divine and the food delicious. Rooms starting at $ 120. 115 CÃ´te Bellevue, La Malbaie, Pointe-au-Pic, hostel3canards.com
To explore The Four Winds in La Malbaie, book your tickets on the site of the Ecological Center of Port-au-Saumon, cepas.qc.ca.
Hotel Tadoussac A family landmark with its red roof and skylights. Rooms starting at $ 175. 165 Bord de l’Eau Street, Tadoussac, hoteltadoussac.com
To book a ferry from Forestville to Rimouski, visit quebecmaritime.ca
The Reford Gardens are located on route 132 in Grand-MÃ©tis, on the South Shore halfway between Rimouski and Matane, refordgardens.com
Auberge du Grand Fleuve A cozy little hostel with a memorable restaurant. Rooms starting at $ 224. 131 rue Principale, MÃ©tis-sur-mer, aubergedugrandfleuve.qc.ca
Cafe on the sea Come have a bite or a coffee. Explore art exhibitions, music events, folk art, and home decor items. 160 rue Principale, MÃ©tis-sur-mer, facebook.com/CafÃ©SurMer
Auberge du Mange Grenouille A cozy place to stay, decorated with a colorful and quirky taste, a real delight. Rooms starting at $ 89. 148 rue Ste-CÃ©cile, Le Bic, aubergedumangegrenouille.qc.ca