Quebec City to Gaspesie Canada

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June 28th 2011
Published: August 27th 2012
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June 28

Late in our third week we began our journey north on 93 to old route 3 for the scenic drive through the white mountains. We stopped to pay our respects to what remained of the Old Man of the Mountain, this icon of my childhood, on our drive north to Quebec City, Canada. Our 6 ½ hour drive was punctuated by frequent moose warning signs so we were ever watchful for this large animal to come running onto the road. We stopped for lunch at Le Chateau, a wonderful little restaurant in the tiny town of Weeden, Canada that had surprisingly good food. I had a green salad with the tastiest roasted chicken and Dave enjoyed his chicken dinner and a lovely chocolate pecan cake (that I devoured with my eyes).

We arrived at Le Saint Pierre Auberge in the charming old Lower Town of Quebec City around 5pm. After being on the road for 7 ½ long moose-watch hours, this elegant hotel was a balm to our driving nerves. No rest for the weary, we immediately unpacked and began our tour of this charming city. Lower Town is a boutique area along the Saint Lawrence Seaway and Upper Town,where the famous Chateau Frontenac is perched, is approached by a series of long stairways or a fast ride up the funicular. After our long drive we needed the exercise so we chose the stairs. Nothing much had changed in this historic city and my memory served me well after my last visit nearly 40 years ago. We grabbed a quick bite at the somewhat touristy La Nouvelle France near the chateau then strolled through the artist's alley on Rue Du Tresor down to the Notre Dame Basilica. Street performers entertained us in the park opposite the cathedral before we proceeded to the gates of the Cirque Du Soleil. We were well advised to arrive early to get in line for this free performance. When we arrived at 8pm, (gates opened at 9pm, performance was from 9:30-10:30pm) we learned that there were two good vantage points in this standing room only site: one on top of a little hill and the other (if you wanted to crane your neck) at the base of the stage and runway. If you were not early or clever enough to run to these viewing points when the gates opened an hour later, you would likely not see much wedged tightly in the crowd. The tent, elaborate stage, lighting and platforms were located underneath the convergence of two highways but the quality of this amazing performance of sound, light and talented costumed performers was certainly memorable in this unlikely setting. We were lucky that the rain held out both for the performance and the long walk home.

June 29

The next morning we enjoyed a lovely breakfast and a fast walk up to the Citadelle de Quebec, perched high above the St Lawrence Seaway, for the 10am changing of the guard (and goat). Yes, the Queen's Tibetan goat complete with golden horns, is the mascot for this regiment and he had his performance down pat. The goat was a gift to Queen Victoria and likely Queen Elizabeth had no use for a goat so she gave it to this company to use as a symbol of tenacity and bravery. The ceremony, complete with bear skin hatted militia and accompanied by a small band, was a little less than an hour long followed by a tour and history of North America's largest fort.

I had arranged for an English speaking tour of the Chateau Frontenac at noon so we quickly left the Citadelle and entered the world of privilege at this historic hotel. The Chateau is currently undergoing renovation (new copper roof on one portion and sandblasting the surface of some of the exterior walls) but the inside was impeccable in its elegance and appointments. Tours of this 600-plus room hotel are given by costumed guides of the mid 1800s. Our guide was a maid from the mid 1800s who showed us secret gardens, the hotel roof chickens and told us about its many famous visitors. The hotel was originally built with 170 rooms (the builder was promised a 10 year tax break if the elegant hotel had more than 160 rooms) and as the hotel grew in popularity, so did the size of the chateau.

It had rained during our tour of the Frontenac but kindly stopped when we left to have lunch at the Pub D'Orsay near the Basilica of Notre Dame. After some French onion and seafood soups we headed over to the Morrin Center for an interesting historical tour of the old jail, that was converted into a school that finally morphed into the only predominant English library in Quebec. We took a leisurely walk through the city enjoying the sunlight on the copper and tin roofs and cobblestone streets on our way back to the hotel. A late evening dinner at Cotes a Cotes overlooking the old port was a great way to end our visit to Quebec City.

Week Four

June 30

Leaving Quebec City is almost as challenging as as driving out of Boston. One-way streets in French with Dave at the wheel (did I mention the rain?) proved a bit taxing on my nerves but we did find our way out towards the “seals sitting on the rocks on the coast in Riviere du Loop.” But the information center neglected to tell us about the detour around this city. And they forgot to mention that we couldn't have seen the seals unless we took a long boat ride to an island (likely where said rocks were). It was foggy, intermittent rain and in the low 50s so we pressed on towards Sainte Flavie stopping for fresh lobster and cod at Restaurant-Bar de la Marina in the seaside town of Rimouski. If the weather had been nicer I would have definitely spent some time in Parc du National in Bic but we drove by this lovely cove with rocky outcroppings and pine treed islands and I knew we were missing a real gem.

I had read about Les Jardin de Metis in Grand Metis, Quebec and so had planned a visit here but I was not prepared for the beauty and brilliant plant combinations in this gorgeous landscape. Here also was the Festival of International Gardens with creative physical design elements throughout an adjacent part of the gardens but that paled to the permanent gardens. Jardin de Metis has now been added to my list of favorite gardens in the world! Peonies, poppies and primulas, azeleas and an acre of peppery lupines abound amid the luscious heavy scent of lilacs. This riot of color was punctuated with an abundance of ferns, evergreens and hostas. The textural compliments as well as the color pairings made me feel like I was walking in a Matisse painting. I was the last (reluctant) person to leave the gardens when they closed at 6pm. Thankfully my photographs will help me to remember the wonderful experience I had today.

We located a Gite or Bed and Breakfast in Mont Joli called Gite Bellevue (I am sure it had a “belle” view because a thick veil of fog obscured our view.) Nevertheless, our hostess Nicole went out of her way to make us comfortable in her very clean home.

July 1

The breakfast table the next morning was laden with fresh raspberries, grapes, cheese and homemade rhubarb jam and Nicole prepared a special omelet for us while she helped us plan our day (included was a mini refresher course in French!)

We decided to drive the northern route to Gaspe giving us different scenery from our return on the southern route. We drove in the intermittent fog and drizzle but I am glad we chose this route because it allowed us to drive again through the charming seaside village of Sainte Flavie, gateway to the Gaspesie, where artist Marcel Gagnon created his Great Gathering a community of clay and wooden people that populate the shore line and beach.

National Geographic Magazine lists Gaspesie as one of the top 20 worldwide destinations this year and in 2009 it was designated the third most beautiful destination in the world! But I think they did not mean in the fog. The Chic Chocs mountains in Parc National are near the end of the Appalachian mountain range and if it were a clear day I am sure the view would have been spectacular. During the day's drive we had intermittent fog and drizzle and although we never saw the tops of the mountains, they appeared all the more mystical and mysterious in their disguise. Throughout the 6 ½ hour drive we saw an abundance of waterfalls amid blooming mountain ash, lilacs and cow parsnips on the steep cliffs and on the ocean side, small round boulders peppered the pebbled coves. But what really took my breath away was the whale breaching in the ocean as we drove by!

The sun finally came out during our late lunch at the Restaurant Etoile du Nord in Cloridorme (where we again had another outstanding meal.) On the remainder of our drive towards Gaspe the sun brought out the deep blue of the St Lawrence Gulf and everything seemed to sparkle and glisten in the new light. After a long drive and getting a wee bit lost we ended up at the Gite du Loup-Marin, a charming house overlooking Gaspe Bay close to Forillon National Park. Since this was “Canada Day” the parks were open free of charge so we spent the rest of the day hiking trails on craggy bluffs overlooking the gulf at Lands End. To complete our day we had an amazing dinner (fresh sole, herbs and vegetables en papillote) atAuberge International Forillonwhile we watched Minke and Humpback Whales and Grey Seals frolic in the harbor below.

July 2

Sunshine! We woke to sunlight pouring in our window and the sound and smell of the ocean in our little Gite (B&B.) Before breakfast, coffee in hand, we walked out to the bay to inhale the rich ocean smell and look for seals and whales. Our host Andre, who moved to Canada from Nice, France, had been a four star chef in London, lucky us! Andre prepared a special fluffy veggie omelet for me and crepes and wonderful coffee for Dave before taking our photo with clown noses (a tradition, he said.)

We left early for a seat on an 9:30am whale watch cruise in Forillon National Park. The sun was out and there was no wind but still there was quite a chill in the morning air. The boat, filled with eager passengers bundled in sweaters, scarves and huge yellow slickers, headed out past Land's End point, the end of the Appalachian Mountain Range. It wasn't long before the Minke whales breached some distance from the boat and for the next three hours we climbed over each other for the best vantage point to see the Minke and Humpback Whales feed and dive around us. Although none shot out of the water, these magnificent mammals provided fin waves, blows and belly rolls to entertain us and while I glued my eyes to the water I was amazed to smell a strong scent of balsam that permeated the air from the coast at least a mile from shore!

It was hard to come down from the excitement of the whale watch experience but after lunch we went on a few hikes in the park to smell the balsam up close. Apparently the black bears also like the balsam, and the dandelions because not long into our hike we ran across a young black bear in the path munching on said dandelions! And of course, I, camera in hand, made Dave nervous as I stayed to photograph him. The rest of our hike was rather uneventful, but still beautiful and I soaked it all up: the spring green leaves against the dark balsam and their new green shoots, the buttercups and lupine, enormous stands of wild lilacs and my favorite cornus canadensis (dogwood ground cover) that carpeted much of the undergrowth throughout the park. I was in flora and fauna heaven!

The afternoon was getting late and so we pressed on to Perce where we booked a room and had our first disappointing meal of the trip, but that's not bad considering all the time we have been on the road.

July 3

We got up early this morning to catch the 9am ferry to Bonaventure Island. It was a bit chilly and overcast but I was so excited that I didn't care. The ferry toured us around Perce Rock. That arresting monolith (1,670' long by 330' wide by 230' high) was once attached to the mainland. Pierced Rock was named by the early settlers because of the large holes that were “pierced” in the center to form the now famous archways. At low tide you can still reach it by foot. On the way to the island we saw more Minke Whales and an abundance of Common Murres, Gannets and a few Black Razorbills. As the boat headed around the cliffs the Gray Seals came into view perched on rocks below the cliffs while hundreds of Gannets swooped above. The Murres find homes in the small crags in the cliffs and together with the Gannets the sounds from the birds were so loud that Dave had no problem hearing them over the noise of the boat. But my elusive Puffins were nowhere to be seen.

The ferry docked at 10:15 and we began our hike across the island to the largest colony of nesting Gannets in the world. The hike took us nearly an hour through meandering woodland paths. Blankets of cornus canadensis carpeted the woodland floor throughout the island so even before I arrived at the cliff I was ecstatic!

We heard the birds long before we saw them. A loud din soon turned into a cacophony as we approached the nesting colony. When we broke cover from the woods I felt like I was walking into a National Geographic movie. Sixty thousand Gannets were mating, nesting, and loudly conversing in bird tongue. We saw parents take turns keeping their chicks warm, mothers sitting on their orange speckled eggs, juveniles squawking as juveniles do, and courtship dances that were down right elegant. Many eager nesters pulled grass clumps from the grassy knoll at the edge of the sand and with beaks full they seemed to aimlessly wander among the tightly knit throng of birds, perhaps looking for that perfect nesting spot or trying to find their lost mate. Overall one hundred and twenty thousand birds return every year to raise their young. These birds mate for life but finding that partner in this crowd must be like standing in NYC to look for your loved one without a cell phone! I was so enthralled that I didn't want to leave but Destination Dave was eager to catch the 2pm ferry back and we had an hour and a half walk around the western part of the island so off we went, me with camera in hand, sprinting ahead, stopping for a shot, sprinting ahead again for 5 ½ kilometers along the cliff's edge and through more wooded terrain. It was an amazing place to visit and I would love to return someday.

The weather on the return ferry ride from Bonaventure was cold and overcast with rough seas and high swells making it easier to leave this magnificent place. We left Perce driving south and west and found this side of Gaspesie peninsula more populated and less scenic than the “North Tour”. There is one main road that circumnavigates the peninsula and for driving reference it is referred to as the North Tour and the South Tour. When we left Quebec City we had been undecided as to which “tour” to take to get to Land's End, the furthermost point east in Quebec. It was rainy and foggy and we thought we might miss most of the magnificent scenery on the North Tour but I am so glad we went anyway because driving the rugged, mountainous coast of the northern route is like stepping back in time. There are more pine trees than people in this wilder side of Gaspesie and the winding roads provided breathtaking views at nearly every turn. I will say that on the South Tour the scenery improved south of New Richmond where the ocean was less obscured by houses and the mountainous interiors came into view albeit hidden by clouds.

Further southwest is the charming town of Pispebiac, where our friend Martha's ancestor Charles Robin created a fishing empire in the mid 1700s. Site Historique du Banc de Peche has several restored buildings resembling a small fishing village with guides in historical costumes describing the challenging life and times of a cod fisherman. A large barn was solely dedicated to the history of Charles Robin and another barn was dedicated to the construction of fishing boats.

Carlton sur-mer was about an hour southeast of Pispebiac but in the misty overcast weather this coastal town bordered by mountains did not shine as well as it might if it were sunny. I had anticipated a slew of good restaurants and a more upscale touristy environment that might have more than french fries as a vegetable but in our limited experience it seems that the northern side of Gaspesie has the south beat hands down.


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