When I left you last, we were just picking up a rental car for the week. You may be wondering why. Well, before leaving on our trip, we thought that by about the halfway point…which this is…we may be ready for larger living quarters for a bit. Since we own timeshares at Panorama, BC, we were able to trade a week there for a week at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre just half an hour east of Quebec City. This would give Miles, our mascot, a new dash to sit on, give the van a rest and a good cleaning and we would explore the area by car.
After settling into our condo in the ski region of Mont-Sainte-Anne, we set out to explore the area east of us along the St. Lawrence River. This area is called the Charlevoix and is one of the prettiest areas we’ve seen. The landscape is mountainous as you would expect in a ski area but the scenic road…the Route du Fleuve..takes steep declines to coastal towns and ports along the river. We spent a full day covering about 250 km and saw so many different things.
Our first stop was Petite-Rivière-Sainte-Francois. A 15% grade took us into this little summer town, the first village established in the area. In the 1800’s it would have been a schooner and ship building town. It was here, as we looked out over the mud flats from the pier, we discovered that the St. Lawrence River is affected by tides. It’s not something I would have thought about since it’s a river, not an ocean, but of course it flows into the Atlantic not far from here. You could tell the village was old because the houses were built right up to the roadside, clearly before there were proper roads. Big, new summer homes have been built as well as lots of rental cottages.
Next was Baie-Saint-Paul. Wow! This is an artist’s paradise! In terms of tourists and size it reminded us of Banff but no mountain atmosphere here! The streets were lined with restaurants, art galleries and artisan shops with artists set up painting in various spots around the town. Many famous artists have lived there including A.Y.Jackson, the founder of the Group of Seven artists. If ever you’re looking for a good piece of art and your wallet is full, this is where you need to shop.
Taking the north loop of the highway, we passed through St-Hilarion and Clermont. These are small mountain towns situated at the edge of the back country. From here, you could go salmon fishing or take part in all kinds of mountain sports…the Laurentians beckon! Rounding the east end of the loop, we stopped for lunch at a little French-style bistro at Port du Pointe-au-Pic in Malbaie. Yummy homemade soups and sandwiches accompanied by local “Biere et vin” while overlooking the bay was a perfect way to curb the growlies. After lunch we strolled out to the end of the pier, watching barges and sailboats sail past. Malbaie is an early 20th century resort town where the wealthy from New York, Toronto and Montreal would spend their summers. The majestic Fairmont Le Manoir Richileau with its world class golf course overlooks the river and tour buses can be seen everywhere. This is the last stop for the Train de Charlevoix which carries sight-seeing passengers from Quebec City through the Charlevoix region. The scenery was stunning as we drove along the river, climbing back up onto the highway.
Saint-Irenee was the next little village, built into the side of the mountain with abruptly steep roads down to a sandy beach at river level. Jim tested the water but wasn’t willing to swim in it! After leaving the beach and climbing steep roads back to our circuit route we stopped at an Alpaca farm where we got lots of photos of these cute creatures. I thought I might do a bit of Christmas shopping at the store there but changed my mind when I saw the price of a soft alpaca scarf was $175.00! Too rich for my pocketbook! (Sorry, Holly)
After we went through Les Eboulements (named for the landslide that followed a major earthquake in 1663) and the summer town of St-Joseph-de-la-Rive, we joined the line up for the 15 minute ferry crossing to Ile-au-Coudres. A thunderstorm hit us while we were crossing but cleared shortly after we arrived on the island. There are three main small villages on the island but houses are positioned around the whole 23 km perimeter of the island, some big mansions and others small old cottages. Lots of hotels, B&B’s and cottage rentals are evidence that it’s a popular summer vacation spot.
The next couple of days were spent exploring the immediate area of Beaupre where we were staying. The town of Beaupre is situated between the St. Lawrence River and Mont Sainte-Anne. It is the centre for outdoor activities in the Laurentians Mountains.
Mont Sainte-Anne is on the World Cup downhill ski championship circuit and the mountain is open during the summer for all kinds of outdoor activities. We drove up the mountain where we had panoramic views of the St. Lawrence valley all the way west 30 km to Quebec City.
Mont Sainte-Anne Canyon was spectacular! The falls are 75 meters high…15 meters higher than Niagara Falls but not as wide. The river is fed by more than 30 lakes and then tumbles over the rocks into the canyon and makes its way to the St. Lawrence. It was here that I decided to try something for the first time in my sixty years. I gathered up my nerve, tucked my mature rolls into a harness, donned a helmet and snapped a caribiner onto a zipline to cross the canyon. It was not scary at all! Why had I waited till now to try it? I tried to convince Jim to go but since he’s scared of heights, he was stressed enough by taking photos of me from the middle of the suspension bridge!
Back in the valley we drove around Sainte-Joachim where the first farm settlement in the St. Lawrence valley was established and visited an old cemetery with headstones dating back to the early 1800’s.
We also checked out Ile d’Orleans, an island in the river that was connected to the mainland in 1935. It is a rural farming island…fruits, vegetables,vineyards…with a number of historical buildings. It also has amazing homes with beautiful views and a great Chocolaterie!
Crossing the river from the port of Quebec by ferry, we had an amazing view of Quebec City and its beautiful skyline. The iconic Chateau Frontenac stood proudly overlooking the water.
While in port, we saw a barge filled with shipping containers pulling out into the seaway. Attached to the side of the barge was a smaller motor boat. Apparently all ships, while in port, must be captained by a Quebec captain because of the difficulty of navigating the boats in the port. Once the boat is out in the Seaway, the Quebec captain hands the wheel over to the ship’s captain and leaves by the small boat.
Arriving on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, we followed highway 173, the “Route du President Kennedy” through St-Henri to St-Marie. This is the town that our son, Michael, lived in for three months when he participated in the volunteer program Katimavik. Then 10 km further south to Vallee Jonction where he worked painting the old train station museum. The Quebec Central Railway started serving the Eastern Townships in 1870 as one of about 80 stops but no longer operates. The museum has many artifacts related to train travel at the turn of the 20th century and showcases both a mens and a ladies waiting room as they would not have shared back then! The station itself looks like it needs another paint job…it was about 15 years ago that Michael painted it!
Late on Wednesday afternoon, we were greeting Jim’s brother and his wife at the Quebec City airport. Lee and Henny were on vacation from Edmonton and would be spending three nights and two days with us at the condo before renting a car and travelling to New Brunswick with us for a few days. It was great to see them and catch up on family news.
The four of us toured around Old Quebec. The Chateau Frontenac, standing as a reminder of a grand era of luxury train and steamboat travel, was one of my most favourite stops. Chauffeured limos still pull up under the portico to drop off or pick up guests with much deeper pockets than ours ! On the streets outside, tourists sit on benches eating icecream in the shade of the square while musicians play and horse drawn carriages trot past. Cameras click everywhere, mine included.
We also marvelled at the opulent architecture of the huge cathedral built in the 1800’s without the aid of modern machinery…stained glass windows, intricate carvings and the huge domed ceilings are the work of true craftsmanship.
Parks Canada manages the Governors’ Walkway which is a combination of boardwalk and stairs that took us from the front of the Chatea Frontenac to the Plains of Abraham. From there we could enter the Citadel and see the fortified city that still houses the Governor General’s second official residence. The poor guards in their red serge and black hats….I don’t remember what they’re actually called…must be ready to faint in the heat! Excavations and restoration is being done to the wall around the Citadel, revealing the original wall built by the French in the 1700’s.
Like Old Montreal, the ancient buildings are now home to shops, art galleries and restaurants. The streets are much narrower here so there are less restaurants with patios but they all have windows that open to the streets and are bright and beautiful with awnings and flowers.
After walking for miles in the heat, we were glad to get back to the resort for a swim and a hot tub then out for dinner.
Our last day in Quebec was rainy for the most part so we spent it playing board games and getting our van ready for travelling again.
We were travelling with Lee and Henny when we left the condo. They were in a rental car so we sent them along the scenic route along the north shore of the river to cross by ferry from St-Simeon to Rivière-du-Loup. We had travelled that same road earlier in the week. We had to return our car to Quebec City so we decided to cross the river there and take the Trans-Canada to Rivière-du-Loup where we would meet up with them and travel to New Brunswick together. Our drive skirted along the north edge of the Appalachians with farmland stretching north and south. We passed numerous RV’s, something we weren’t accustomed to seeing since we’ve rarely travelled main highways.
From Rivière-du-Loup we left the main highway and followed the St. Lawrence to Rimouski. Sailboats dotted the river on our left, pastures dotted with purple rocket and hedges of pink wild roses on our right. The landscape became much more mountainous as we neared Rimouski. It reminded us of the Cowboy Trail in southern Alberta without the backdrop of the Rockies.
A short while after Rimouski, we headed south through the Gaspe Peninsula. We were immediately in the densely forested Appalatian mountains. Rain had recently fallen so we travelled past lumber mills, dairy farms, and lakes with a beautiful rainbow arching over the highway in front of us. The mountains are very old and rounded and very picturesque with quaint little French towns nestled into them. I loved the drive but twilight would be upon us soon and the threat of hitting wildlife…especially deer and moose was very real so there was no time to stop.
Two and a half hours later we were wandering around a small cemetery in Mann Settlemennt where Jim’s Mom was born. Minutes later we were entering New Brunswick. Jim and his brother were born in Campbellton, NB in the 50’s and moved to Alberta in 1958…just young boys. Jim has been back once three years ago and Lee has never been back! It was an emotional moment as they stood together in front of the “Welcome to New Brunswick ” sign.
Next week I’ll fill you in on the “homecoming”!