St. Lawrence Sojourn

Our trip to Quebec, the largest Canadian province, followed the legendary St. Lawrence
River from Montreal to Baie-Sainte-Catherine. Although only 45 miles from the United States
border, Montreal is across the continent from California, so our journey began on board an
Air Canada jet. Of course, we wanted to tour Quebec our way, via motorhome. Montreal, the
second-largest French-speaking city in the world (after Paris), combines a proud past with
contemporary style. It is an irresistible spot from which to begin a Quebec tour.Everything
we had heard about Montreal seems to be true: It’s a cosmopolitan city with beautiful
historic buildings, intriguing attractions and an upbeat ambiance all its own. Among the
highlights of our two-day visit: the Gothic Revival-style Notre-Dame Basilica (built
1824-29, interior redecorated in 1874-80), the Montreal Botanical Garden (actually 30
thematic gardens) and Underground Montreal, 18 miles of pedestrian walkways connecting
boutiques, restaurants, movie theaters and other businesses. Although most city streets are
RV-navigable, it is advisable to leave your motorhome in a nearby parking lot and take the
inexpensive but efficient Metro subway. (RV parks are located some distance from the city.)
Dinner was delightful in an Old Montreal restaurant overlooking the Place Jacques-Cartier,
where people of all ages were enjoying the warm summer. Strolling among the throng of
pedestrians afterward, we saw sidewalk artists sketching caricatures of anyone who was
willing, people of all ages eating ice-cream cones and young musicians performing a
rhythmic number. Montrealers’ legendary joie de vivre (joy of life) was definitely in the
air. The next morning, cozily ensconced in a rental coach from Cité Laval Caravane, we
headed for our first campsite northeast of Montreal on Mont-Sainte-Anne. The mountain is
popular for skiing, but also offers year-round activities, including a campground. Our
motorhome, a 19-foot Pleasure-Way, was just right for two and easy to park anywhere. Our
only complaint was the bathroom: too tiny to turn around in! The following morning, it was
an easy drive to the Mont-Sainte-Anne Resort, where a gondola took us to the summit.
Mountain bikers looking for a thrill rode the gondola with us, then zipped down the ski
trails. Families with children were involved in various activities, including ski lessons.
Golfing, hiking, bird-watching and paragliding also are available there. From the mountain,
it was a short drive to Canyon Sainte-Anne. It boasts seven waterfalls that can be viewed
from a variety of easily accessible platforms and footbridges. The next morning, we visited
Parc de la Chute-Montmorency on the outskirts of Quebec City. Montmorency Falls is quite an
impressive cataract, taller than Niagara. It’s even more impressive if you ride the cable
car to the top and then walk the suspension bridge that spans it. Across the St. Lawrence
River, lovely Ile d’Orléans is an island of farms, orchards and vineyards that seem to
belong to yesteryear. We were glad to be traveling with a guide by car; some of those roads
are entirely too narrow and twisting for even small motorhomes. Next on our itinerary:
Quebec City, where French Canada began. We really enjoyed exploring it, particularly
Vieux-Québec (Old Quebec), which once was the capital of New France. Parking near the
Plains of Abraham Battlefields Park, site of the historic 1759 victory of British troops
over the French locals, we walked through Saint-Louis Gate into the ancient walled city.
Plaques on several buildings identify them as dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, but
they’re not in ruins. All have been beautifully restored and today most house various
businesses. Old Quebec has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and it’s easy to
understand that assessment. There is so much to see, and you must do it on foot because
these are very narrow streets, built for pedestrians. Fortunately, convenient parking lots
can accommodate motorhomes. The old city is divided into upper and lower sections, which
are connected by a funicular, symbolic of a thoroughly entertaining place to visit. Quebec
remembers-no, cherishes-its original settlement by the French. Cobblestone streets,
horse-drawn carriages and restored buildings remind people of the city’s multicultural
roots. And if that’s not enough, the trompe-l’oeil paintings on two five-story buildings
encapsulate the city’s past and ensure that present and future generations will not forget.
All that walking in the warm sun piqued our appetites. At Aux Anciens Canadiens (1675-76),
the traditional country cuisine includes not one, but two kinds of meat pie, and both were
delicious. The wait staff wears period dress, but the restaurant is not stuck in the past;
it also offers capuccino. On the way back to our campsite, we stopped in the town of
Beaupré. The Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica is one of the most revered in Canada. Inside,
bundles of crutches testify that many people have been cured by faith. Next door, the
Jerusalem Cyclorama presents a 360-degree panorama illustrating the story of Jesus’ life.
The next day, we headed east along the river on scenic Route 138, pausing at a tourism
office overlooking Baie-Saint-Paul. In addition to a perfect photo op, the facility offers
snacks, souvenirs and information. Sitting on the bay, the village of Baie-Saint Paul is
the epitome of picturesque. Our destination was Camping Le Genévrier. We arrived early
enough to play a lazy game of miniature golf before dinner. The campground pond has a
beach, and pedalboats are available. Next morning, we continued east toward La Malbaie via
Route 362, the scenic road that follows the St. Lawrence. Soon we were in the little
village of Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive. At La Papeterie St Gilles, the paper economuseum
(working museum), visitors can learn about the process of making handmade paper. Across the
street, Le Musée Maritime de Charlevoix has not only a maritime museum, but a boatyard
where good-size vessels are repaired. Before leaving town, we slipped into a bakery for
fresh pastries to go with our midmorning coffee. From Saint-Joseph, we headed north,
following signs to Parc des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Riviére-Malbaie, near the village of
Saint-Aimé-des-Lacs. Numerous waterfalls, lakes and glacial troughs dot the park’s alpine
landscape. No wonder it is popular with hikers, kayakers and campers. A shuttle bus runs
from the visitor center to a landing where riverboat cruises depart. Guides explain the
park’s natural history and alert passengers to sightings of eagles and other wildlife. At
La Malbaie, our next destination, we had a riverside campsite at Domaine Le Riviera, right
in town. La Malbaie is located on a scenic bay where the country’s resort industry was
born. In fact, the town is home to the Fairmont Manoir Richelieu hotel and casino. It was
impossible to resist a visit to the casino that night. What a difference from Las Vegas
casinos; it was quiet, elegant and all business. The next morning, we headed northeast on
Route 138 again to Baie-Sainte-Catherine for a whale-watching cruise. Where the river and
the Saguenay Fjord converge and fresh and salt water mix, the Saguenay-St. Laurence Marine
Park has been established to protect wildlife, including a population of whales that lives
here year-round. At one point, there were half a dozen minkes on one side of our boat and
three white belugas on the other! The voyage was an exciting climax to our Quebec
adventure. Flying home the next day, with the man-made and natural attractions of this
small slice of Quebec fresh in our minds, we agreed it had been a wonderful trip. We had
enjoyed historic cities, picturesque villages, scenic roads, spectacular waterfalls,
panoramic vistas of the St. Lawrence and more mammoth mammals than we’ll probably ever see
again in one place. In short, we had a whale of a time in Canada’s French-flavored
province!


Most Quebec residents are Francophones, meaning they speak French rather than English. That
makes a visit to this province somewhat challenging for those of us whose college French
classes lie in the hazy past. Yes, it’s delightful to dine in a restaurant where the
waiters are bilingual. It’s not much fun, however, to gas up in a service station whose
employees speak little or no English. Fortunately, we always found someone who could help
us. Canadian and U.S. Immigration regulations are subject to change and should be reviewed
before departure, but at presstime the only requirement for U.S.-born tourists was a valid
passport or an original birth certificate and one ID with photo. Check for current
information at travelcanada.ca or one of the following sources: – Greater Montreal
Convention and Tourism Bureau, (514) 844-5400, tourism-montreal.org – Quebec City and Area
Tourism and Convention Bureau, (418) 649-2608; quebecregion.com – Tourism Quebec, (877)
BONJOUR, bonjourquebec.com – RV rentals: Cite Laval Caravane, (450) 625-1974,
cite-lavalcaravane.com – Whale-watching excursions: AML Cruises, (800) 563-4643,
croisieresaml.com Most campgrounds and attractions are open from May to mid-October. Area
campgrounds include: РCamping Le Gen̩vrier, Baie-Sainte-Paul, (418) 435-6520,
genevrier.com – Camping Mont-Sainte-Anne, (800) 463-1568, mont-sainte-anne.com – Domaine Le
Riviera, La Malbaie, (418) 665-4991 For complete campground listings, refer to the Trailer Life Directory.

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