By CHANTAL COOKE
The St Lawrence River in Quebec is known as a great place to watch whales – but this giant waterway has a lot more than incredible marine life to offer visitors.
This huge river flows approximately from southwest to northeast in the middle latitudes of North America, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. In places it is wider than the English Channel and can take over an hour to cross by ferry.
A good way to see this is area is with a classic North American road trip. Whether you choose a comfy car and stop off at hotels on route or rent an iconic RV and take your bed with you – you’ll have plenty to see and do.
This road trip offers beautiful scenery – which depends on whether you are on the south shore (rolling hills covered in trees, pretty villages and beaches) or north shore (craggy outcrops of rock, lakes and wide meandering rivers). The water is never far from your side and is often framed by pine trees. And the sunsets can be glorious.
Take a seat in the dining room of the Motel Le Gaspésiana in Sainte-Flavie and eat dinner as you watch the sky turn from pink, to orange, to red, to a dark dusky blue. And if you are really lucky you’ll catch the green glow of the northern lights.
Not far from Sainte-Flavie is Les Jardins de Metis (also known as Reford Gardens in English). Open from May to end of September these gardens were originally created by Elise Reford who was an enthusiastic collector of plants. At the turn of the last century (late 1800s/early 1900s) wealthy Montrealers summered in this area. They were attracted, in particular, by the abundant salmon fishing. Today it has a permanent population of around 300,000 but still a large numbers come here just for the summer months and leave before the snow arrives.
Reford Gardens is worth a visit – and not just for the plants. Check out the installations from the International Garden festival (my favourite are ‘Courtesy of Nature’, ‘Afterburn’, and ‘Tiny Taxonomy’ have lunch at the Villa Estevan (which caters exceptionally well for vegetarians) and you’ll enjoy some of the produce grown in the gardens.
Start the meal with a spoonful of 12 different flowers (including arugula, oregano, lemon basil, begonia, dark fennel, tagetes) – and much of the produce is grown in the kitchen gardens or on local farms.
To cross from the south to north there is a ferry (May to Sept) (web: www.traversier.com) which sails between Rimouski and Forestville – taking about 60 minutes. The access to the ferry is nerve-wrackingly tight but the staff have obviously done this hundreds of times before and guide you into spaces you wouldn’t think you could fit a car in.
Once on the opposite shore it’s worth planning a stop at the Centre d’interprétation du Cap-de-Bon-Désir where you can take a short walk on an easy path through the forest to the look-out point and let the interpreter point out the whales breaking through the water.
Less than 10 minutes’ drive away is the Centre de découverte du milieu marin – they have an excelent exhibition that will teach you a lot about the area, its history and its marine life. You can quiz the knowledgeable staff, enjoy the view from the balcony, or take a short stroll out to the rocks and watch the water from the comfort of two giant red deck chairs.
Stop for the night Auberge la Rosepierre in Les Bergonnes – they are super friendly and you’ll get a home cooked supper and breakfast. But drive slowly – or you’ll not only miss the view, but the signs to the property as well!
A stop in Tadoussac is a must. Even if you’re really not interested in whales (and I defy you to ignore them or remain unimpressed) this is a buzzing town with a variety of hotels, restaurants, souvenirs, and boat trips. You could easily spend two or three days here; book in with the Centre de Vacances Ferme 5 étoiles which offers kayaking, dog sledding, hiking and wildlife observation, or take a trip in a zodiac with Croisières Essipit and get some great views of the whales breaking the water just metres from your boat. In the evening grab some dinner at The Café Boheme which has plenty to offer vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
From Tadoussac take the free ferry across to Baie Sainte Catherine and start your drive to Quebec City. The views are stunning – and be prepared (on a clear day) for a jaw-dropping view as the City appears in the distance with the St Lawrence glowing in the sunlight beneath it. Get your camera ready! But then, on this trip, you’ll never want to put the camera away!
- Centre de Vacances Ferme 5 étoiles
- Croisières Essipit
- Les Jardins de Metis
- Saguenay – St Lawrence Marine Park
- Centre d’interprétation du Cap-de-Bon-Désir
- Centre de découverte du milieu marin
- Québec maritime – encompassing the easternmost tourist regions of the province of Québec, Canada: Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie, Côte-Nord (Manicouagan and Duplessis) and the Îles de la Madeleine. This site provides useful tourist information.
- Air Canada flies direct from London to Quebec City.
- QuebecOriginal.com for useful Quebec tourist information.
About the Author:
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.