BIG Wildlife, Icerolls, and a Different Kind of Hotel

(Wendake, Québec, Canada)

While I love the dramatic hills of the Charlevoix region, our underpowered car was a little less enthralled. After a couple of days in Cap-à-l’Aigle, we returned to the Quebec City area and our car was noticeably happier. Our first real stop was at the Cap-Tourmente National Wildlife Area.  Located just east of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, this is off the beaten tourist and transportation path.

Trail at the Cap-Tourmente National Wildlife Area

The wildlife area is apparently a haven for birdwatchers but we were happy just to get out of the car and do some hiking in a natural environment.  What we didn’t realize, until we checked in to the interpretation centre, was that there was other wildlife in the wildlife area.  This was the first time that I had been directed by park staff to read a sternly worded notice about what to do if you encounter a black bear.

Was this from a black bear?

We read the notice and, as suggested, made sure that we made plenty of noise while hiking.  Within two minutes, however, we saw something right on the trail that got us really worried.  As you can see from the photo above, a large animal had been here quite recently.  We still don’t know if this was from another animal, was planted by staff as a warning, or really was from a black bear.  Any readers with knowledge of black bears are welcome to comment!

Les Délices Royales in L’Ange-Gardien

The rest of our walk was uneventful, but maybe that’s because we were focused on making noise and moving quickly!  We managed to work up quite a thirst and were ready for a frosty treat by the time we returned to the car.  We soon reached the village of L’Ange-Gardien.   It was clear from the signage that Les Délices Royales would have ice cream but we didn’t  know precisely what to expect.

Inside Les Délices Royales (L’Ange-Gardien, Québec)

It turned out that Les Délices Royales was a throwback to the soda fountains of the past.  In addition to all kinds of vintage candy, they had every kind of cold/frozen treat you could imagine.  They also had something we had never encountered before:  icerolls, a treat that appears to have originated in France.  Just watching the preparation was worth the price.  It’s very hard to describe how they are made: it involves combining cream and fresh fruit, flash freezing them at -30’C, and then “rolling” them off the  frigid surface.  They look like crêpes but are essentially flattened and rolled ice cream.  Mine was made from blueberries, cherries and dark chocolate…it was absolutely delicious.

The legendary icerolls at Les Délices Royales (L’Ange-Gardien)

Our base for the night was the Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations in Wendake.  This is a luxury hotel run by the Huron (Wendat) First Nation on their land in the northern part of Quebec City.  The architecture is stunning (see the photo at the top of the post), but the decor is also completely different from what you would find in a typical hotel.

The main lobby (overlooking the forest) at Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations in Wendake

The hotel is filled with natural materials:  wood, stone, and even fur!  It overlooks a lush ravine; in fact, the rooms are only on one side of the hotel so that everyone has a view of the forest.  A sweet smoke (kind of like incense) greets you in the lobby and you completely forget that you are in Québec‘s second largest city.  The restaurant is also devoted to First Nations cuisine:  we only had breakfast there but there is some truly adventurous dining to be had if you are there for lunch or dinner.

Stay tuned for more unexpected surprises as we head towards the Laurentians!

La Malbaie: The Return of Pizzaghetti!

(Cap-à-l’Aigle, Québec, Canada)

History has a way of repeating in the most unexpected places.  After arriving in the Charlevoix tourist hub of La Malbaie (our auberge is located in the nearby village of Cap-à-l’Aigle), we set out in search of some comfort food.  We were inexplicably drawn to the “Pizzeria du Poste”, although we weren’t sure exactly why.  Perhaps it was a desire for some comfort food, after the difficult drive from Lac Delage?

A typically steep street in Cap-à-l’Aigle, about to plunge towards the St. Lawrence River

We looked quickly at the menu posted outside the door, still not sure what we would actually order.  Even once we were handed menus inside, I was still having trouble deciding between pizza and lasagna.  And then, at the very bottom of the lengthy pizza list, the choice became clear:  pizzaghetti!

Our auberge in Cap-à-l’Aigle

I first encountered pizzaghetti many years ago when visiting a friend in Montréal.  That version featured a normal pizza topped by a sauce-drenched helping of spaghetti.  It was ridiculously filling but I quite liked how the spaghetti sauce soaked the pizza:  no more dry crust!  I thought this was the definitive version and often spoke fondly of this unusual dish, seemingly available only in the province of Québec.

The geological hike at Cap-à-l’Aigle, with a huge freighter in the background

Years passed and pizzaghetti gradually disappeared from my radar.  I thought it was one of those fads that quietly passed in the night, never to be seen again.  Until now!  Even better:  it now appeared in a startling new variation!   This time, the spaghetti (and sauce) appeared below the cheese and toppings.  If you look at the large close-up photo at the top of this post, you can clearly see the spaghetti below the cheese.

The geological hike continues near Cap-à-l’Aigle

However, there is more to La Malbaie than pizzaghetti.  The next day, I went on a guided geological hike for a few hours.  This took me to otherwise inaccessible parts of the coast around Cap-à-l’Aigle and partly restored some long-lost high school geography lessons.  The hike was also a good way to connect with some fellow travellers.  I traded travel recommendations with an American who now lives in Ottawa…it’s always great to hear about hidden gems from somebody who shares a similar “travel ideology”.  I now know of a great destination in Iowa!

The Manoir Richelieu at La Malbaie

That evening, we were supposed to go to an astronomy “clinic” and visit the high-powered observatory in La Malbaie.  Alas, the observatory staff was decimated by illness and the evening session was cancelled.  While we weren’t able to get up close and personal with Saturn, we did get a chance to visit the renowned Manoir Richelieu hotel at nearby Pointe-au-Pic.

The 5th hole at the “Club de Golf Le Manoir Richelieu” at La Malbaie

The Manoir Richelieu is one of the former CP hotels that now forms part of the Fairmont chain of luxury hotels.  As there is a casino nearby, it is possible to see the hotel without being a guest.  The skies were cloudy but it was still nice to see this legendary hotel (and its golf course) up close.  Maybe we would be able to stay at one of these properties soon?  Stay tuned to find out!

Journey to Charlevoix

(Cap-à-l’Aigle, Québec, Canada)

After “sports camp” at Lac Delage, we continued east from Quebec City to the Charlevoix region on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.  I’ve been skiing at Mont-Sainte-Anne and Le Massif but have never been here during the summer months.  Little did I expect that the most-photographed locality for the day would be a relatively obscure village named Château-Richer.

There must be an interesting story behind this hay sculpture in Château-Richer, Québec

Château-Richer is very old by Canadian standards…a rural parish was established there in 1678.  It is filled with old houses featuring a sloping red roof, such as the one in the photo at the top of this post.  However, it’s not all about distant history in Château-Richer:  check out the bizarre hay guitarist!   The nature of agriculture has also changed over 400 years:  we saw lots of alpaca farms throughout the region.

Another building in the “Nouvelle-France” style, at Château-Richer, Québec

It’s usually the village next to Château-Richer that gets most of the attention.  Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré has little more than 2000 inhabitants but it has a massive basilica that seems to attract every tour bus in the province.  It is the site of many miracles:  the pillars at the front of the church are festooned with crutches that were no longer needed by their owners.

Alpacas were not historically found in Château-Richer, Québec

I took a photograph of the green slopes of Mont-Sainte-Anne but it just doesn’t look as impressive without the snow.  Still, it did whet my appetite for the upcoming ski season:  my ski posse and I are making steady progress on the planning for our annual ski trip.  Details on that journey will be posted on this blog in due course.

Every tourist takes this picture in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec

I have to admit that the journey onward to Baie-Saint-Paul was pretty miserable:  there was a sudden downpour, the terrain was extremely hilly, there was a lot of construction, and there were a lot of impatient motorists who were probably driving too aggressively for the road conditions.  Unfortunately, there is only one way to get to the Charlevoix region by car!

A less-traditional church, just down the road in Saint-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Québec

Our previous visit to Baie-Saint-Paul was marred by an arsonist’s attack on the auberge where we were staying.  While we escaped and there were no other injuries, there was extensive damage to the auberge:  click here for the details.  We quietly returned to the site of the fire and saw that there was absolutely no evidence of that frigid and scary night.  It was kind of surreal to see things “normal” there but it is completely understandable that the auberge and the town would want to move on.

Downtown Baie-Saint-Paul, Québec

As for the rest of Baie-Saint-Paul, it seemed to have even more art galleries and specialty shops than we remembered.  However, the main difference between this and our winter visit was the sheer number of people.  It wasn’t quite the sleepy town we remembered!   We made peace with Baie-Saint-Paul but were also ready to continue further east in the Charlevoix region:  stay tuned for the details!

Sports Camp!

(Lac Delage, Quebec, Canada)

I subscribe to a number of travel-related mailing lists.  Many of the e-mails are irrelevant, while others advertise “deals” that are not really deals at all.  However, once in a while, a great opportunity comes along…and this was exactly what happened with the promotion for a stay at Manoir du Lac Delage.

Reception building at Manoir du Lac Delage

Lac Delage is a small lake located just north of Quebec City, very close to the (ski) resort village of Stoneham.  I had never heard of Lac Delage before receiving the e-mail but I was intrigued by the offer of 60% off the price of a superior room.  The offer was only valid for weekdays but that’s exactly when we planned to be in the area.  The offer also included unlimited sports activities.

Manoir du Lac Delage, as seen from the water

I did my due diligence on the resort and it seemed to be a reputable place.  However, you never really know until you arrive and experience it for yourself.   Within minutes of arriving, we knew we had made the right choice:  this was basically a sports camp!   And so, shortly after arriving, we had already played mini-golf, shuffleboard (the real outdoor version), and basketball.

The canoe dock at Lac Delage, Québec

We went canoeing the next morning:  with our early start, we were the only people out on the still water. However, motorized boats were banned from the lake anyway, so it wouldn’t have mattered if there were others out there too. After taking a nice 21-speed bike out for a ride, we played pétanque (similar to bocce) for the very first time.  We then moved on to swimming (there were both indoor and outdoor pools) and hiking around the lake.  As the day wound down, we finished with a game of billiards (and more mini-golf).  We were so busy with sports that I hardly took any photographs!

Manoir du Lac Delage – beach volleyball court in foreground

I always loved sports camps as a child:  for me, spending all day playing different sports was the perfect way to spend the summer.  I think I rediscovered some of that feeling at this resort…and I suspect that a subsequent stop on this road trip (also booked via an e-mailed offer) will allow us to engage in a few more sports that we wouldn’t normally have the chance to do at home.

View from our balcony at Manoir du Lac Delage

In the end, despite being within easy driving distance of Quebec City, we actually didn’t leave the resort area until we checked out.  We’ll still have a chance to see more of Quebec City, however:  our itinerary will bring us back to this region in a few days.

Cycling around Lac Delage, Québec

First, however, we have to achieve some closure.  Several years ago, we stayed in a nearby B&B that was torched by an arsonist while we were staying there.  Luckily, nobody was hurt and the only damage was to the building.  It’s now time for us to return to that town and replace those memories with some better ones!

Unusual road trip from Lennoxville to Quebec City

(Québec City, Québec, Canada)

After leaving the Coaticook Gorge, we stopped at Ayer’s Cliff and North Hatley before our last night in Lennoxville.  North Hatley has a beautiful location but we only stayed long enough to have some ice cream made by the Laiterie Coaticook…it’s extremely popular around here.  Dinner that night was a delicious pizza at the Café Bla-Bla in Sherbrooke.

View from the top of the giant cow at Saint-Georges-de-Windsor, Québec

The next day featured a long road trip through various Québec communities with little in common…other than the fact that they are communities in the Province of Québec. Our first stop was just outside Saint-Georges-de-Windsor. We saw a sign for a “scenic viewpoint” and decided it would be a good time to stretch our legs. We pulled into the parking lot…only to be immediately confronted with a giant cow (see photo at the top of this post)! And the scenic viewpoint was on top of the giant cow!

Another view (you can’t have too many) of the giant cow at Saint-Georges-de-Windsor, Québec

We saw lots lots of huge roadside attractions in Alberta but were not expecting to see them in the middle of rural Québec. Anyway, we climbed the cow, took some pictures, and moved on to our next (planned) stop: the town of Asbestos.

The partially-filled Jeffrey Mine at Asbestos, Québec

Yes, Asbestos is named after the fibre that was once hailed as a miracle but eventually was disgraced because of its deleterious effects on human health.  Asbestos grew wealthy from asbestos, long before it was recognized as a carcinogen, and the mine only shut down in 2011.  It is a huge open pit measuring six square kilometres that comes right up to the edge of Asbestos itself.

The edge of the pit and the slowly deconstructing mining buildings at Asbestos, Québec

In fact, the pit does more that just come up to the edge  of Asbestos.  A large part of the original town had to be relocated because lucrative additional deposits were located underneath it, adjacent to the original mine.  Will the mine re-open?  This looks unlikely, as Canada formally banned asbestos altogether in 2016.  And where does that leave the town of Asbestos and its 7,000 residents?  Apparently, the name now has such negative connotations that the town is considering a name change.  The least harmful option appears to be “Amiante”, which is the French word for asbestos but does not carry as much baggage.

Immense cathedral in Sainte-Anastasie, Québec

After taking some pictures and gawking at the massive pit (now partially filled with extremely blue water), we moved on and made a series of short stops in Victoriaville, Princeville, and Plessisville (to buy lunch, eat lunch outdoors, and refuel respectively).  No giant cows or giant mining pits were evident.   Shortly afterward, we had to stop in the tiny hamlet of Sainte-Anastasie to check out the beautiful (and massively disproportionate) cathedral that completely dominated its surroundings.  After that, even the brilliant silver roof of Saint-Étienne-de-Lauzon’s cathedral was not as stunning as it might otherwise have been.

Cathedral at Saint-Étienne-de-Lauzon, Québec

We were nearing Québec City and our next destination.  Québec City is even more prosperous than the last time we were here:  perhaps too much so, as it was stuffed to the gills with tourists and transport trucks.  It is undeniably unique and a great destination…but maybe not in the middle of the summer.   We saw the Château Frontenac and the walls of the old city but pressed onward to our surprising base for the next couple of nights.  Stay tuned for the details!

The Eastern Townships: School, Croquet, and Fearsome Gorges

(Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada)

Our Eastern Townships home base is Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, just south of Sherbrooke.  I had heard about Bishop’s while attending Queen’s University but had never actually visited the campus.  However, university residences are an excellent alternative to hotels for summer travel:  they are generally inexpensive and often have great settings too. Bishop’s is awash in red brick (see photo above) and seems like it would have been a nice place to spend a few years of studying!

The Johnson Science Building at Bishop’s University (Lennoxville, Québec)

The next morning, we ate our first university cafeteria breakfast in a very long time before heading south to our first destination of the day:  Compton, Québec.  I had never heard of Compton before this trip but this village of 3,000 has made a significant contribution to Canada:  it is the hometown of Louis St. Laurent, Canada’s Prime Minister from 1948-1957.

The general store run by Louis St. Laurent’s father (and many other family members), in Compton, Québec

St. Laurent’s childhood home and the adjoining general store remained in the St. Laurent family from the late 19th century until they were acquired by the  Federal government roughly 100 years later.  We visited the site (now run by Parks Canada) and enjoyed both the multi-media presentation and the tour we received of the general store.  The store has been restored to how it would have been at the turn of the 20th century, while the house itself still has most of the St. Laurent family’s furnishings.

Inside the St. Laurent general store (now a National Historic Site) in Compton, Québec

We saw some interesting photos of St. Laurent playing tennis and croquet on the grounds.  While the tennis court is gone, there was a croquet set available for our use!  Of course, we jumped at the opportunity to play croquet at a Prime Minister’s house.

Playing croquet at Louis St. Laurent’s house

From Compton, it is a very short drive to the slightly larger town of Coaticook.  It is known more for its outdoor pursuits and I took advantage of the fine weather to visit the Coaticook Gorge.  However, this is no ordinary gorge…

Starting my journey across the 169m Coaticook Gorge suspension bridge

The Coaticook Gorge is notable for being 50 metres deep.  OK, not quite the Grand Canyon, but still very deep when you’re at the bottom of it and looking up.  However, the Coaticook Gorge has something that the Grand Canyon does NOT have:  North America’s’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge!

Looking up at the bridge from the floor of the gorge

The suspension bridge is 169 metres long.  As a suspension bridge, it does of course move and sway when you’re walking across it.  This is where the 50 metre-deep gorge suddenly becomes quite significant.  Check out the pictures for a better idea of just how small people look from the bottom of the  gorge or the top of the suspension bridge.

View from the top of the bridge…see all the people at the bottom?

A veritable forest of inuksuks has emerged at the bottom of the gorge…there are now hundreds, if not thousands,on virtually every flat surface.  There is also an observation tower located at the very top of a nearby ridge  – again, climbing up an extra 30 metres of scaffolding doesn’t sound like much, until you’re up there yourself and very exposed to the forces of gravity.  There are also many trails through the surrounding mountains and forests, once you’ve defied the gorge itself.

Tourists and inuksuks crowd the bottom of the Coaticook Gorge

While our schedule did not permit it, there is also a “Foresta Lumina” walk that takes you on a special journey on the trails at night with “son et lumière” shows and special effects.  Apparently, you also cross the suspension bridge as part of the show!  It costs more than a daytime visit but I am sure that it would be a spectacular experience if you are spending the night in the area.

Stay tuned – our Québec odyssey is only just beginning!

Road Trip to Québec

(Magog, Québec, Canada)

This summer’s road trip is an extended journey through the province of Québec!  We are often in Québec, but it has tended to be (1) for skiing in the winter months, (2) journeys by train to Montréal or Québec City, or (3) en route to the Maritime provinces or the New England states.  This time, we have a car and we can properly appreciate this huge province in the summer months and at a relaxed pace.

Sainte-Marguerite-de-Blairfindie de L’Acadie (1801) – some say it is the most beautiful cathedral in Québec

The start of our journey was somewhat challenging.  Shortly after crossing the Québec border, we were nailed by torrential rains that essentially did not let up for a full 24 hours.  Streets were under water and the driving conditions were treacherous.  As a result, there is not a whole lot of light in this first batch of photos.

A rainy night in L’Acadie, Québec

We spent the first night in the historic village of L’Acadie.  We were looking for a place to stay in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, of which L’Acadie is now a part.  But L’Acadie was once a thriving town on its own, and our B&B was likely built a couple of hundred years ago when there was an exodus from the Maritime region of Acadia.     It reminded me of staying in an old Swiss farmhouse, complete with doorways that cannot accommodate anybody over 5’6″.  But it had plenty of character and the breakfast was delicious.

Part of the Saturday market in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu

After a brief stop at the Saint-Jean outdoor market to pick up some supplies for a picnic lunch, we headed towards the Eastern Townships.  This is a scenic and mountainous region of Québec that looks quite similar to Vermont.  We very much enjoyed skiing here about 14 years ago.  Sadly, as the rain was simply too heavy, we could not do any real exploring this time until we reached Knowlton.

The Star Café in Knowlton

We warmed up with a chocolat chaud and a London Fog (tea latte) at a Knowlton café, and then found a liquidation sale for…Christmas ornaments!  Our Christmas tree is already odd (a pickle, a chili pepper, and a hand-painted NASA ornament are only three of the dozens of unusual ornaments), but it is now even better with a skiing chicken and a set of bagpipes.

L’Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac.

From Knowlton, we travelled to the abbey at Saint-Benoît-du-Lac.  This is home to an order of Benedictine monks and is dramatically situated high above the shores of lac Memphrémagog.  The current abbey was built at the end of the 20th century but manages to look “classic” despite its newness.  Work is an essential part of this particular order:  among other things, they make cider, cheese, and even olive tapenade!  We look forward to trying some of our purchases. 

A hallway inside l’Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac.

We had dinner in the bustling town of Magog.  As we loved the food here on our previous visit, we returned to one of our favourite places: the Microbrasserie la Memphré.  While a cheese fondue wasn’t appropriate this time (as it was certainly not -20’C), we nonetheless enjoyed our meal in what is now an extremely popular place.   And the sun finally came out (see photo at the top of this post)!

La salade “Bonzaï”, at the Microbrasserie la Memphré, Magog, Quebéc

Last time we were in Magog, we stayed at a gîte (B&B) called À Tout Venant.  However, the summer is much busier than the winter and we ended up  booking our accommodation for the next couple of nights in another nearby community.   Stay tuned, as we dive deeper into the Eastern Townships!