Thursday, July 7, 2011
Supposedly the National Geographic Society has designated Quebec's Gaspe peninsula as the world's third most beautiful destination (after the Norwegian fjords and the Kootenay and Yoho national parks in British Columbia). And so here we are, one step ahead of the trend-setters, having spent the past four days driving about this huge place.
We pushed off from Montreal on July 4, crossed the bridge over to the southern bank of the St. Lawrence and began heading north, only to encounter crisis #1 when my engine light went on. Great. Stopped at one of those information touriste places and got the helpful clerk to phone ahead to a Subaru dealer just south of Quebec city who agreed to take us late in the afternoon. Nothing beats spending one's vacation in a Subaru showroom. Fortunately they ran the car through the diagnostic machine tres vite and came up with some pretty minor stuff that they fixed within the hour.
We sped out of there, as we had another 200 miles to go before getting to where we were spending the night. Not knowing the area, I chose a B&B in Sainte Luce, a coastal town just east of Rimouski, which is a major city on the peninsula. I was already noticing how steep the highways were in contrast to a typical US freeway and how each small town along the way had tons of free parking and picnic tables along its beaches. We pulled up at Maison Gallant at around 8:30 pm and then I dragged a sleepy Veeka to a restaurant where the service was slow at best. The town was a dream; a half-moon beach filled with cottages with a large Catholic church at the head. Nearly every town we went through had these churches, along with a cemetery and light house. The B&B turned out well; was situated on the ocean, so I strolled out to the beach early the next morning and sat down to think and pray, only to jump up again when I got attacked by bugs. Yes, we're definitely in the north here. The place we stayed at was lovely although the owners weren't too crazy about Veeka continually letting their kitty out the door.
First thing that morning, we stopped at the Jardins de Metis, an incredible series of gardens set in a micro-climate on the Gaspe peninsula that somehow manage to weather the cold winters there. Veeka and I had a fabulous 2 hours there looking at all the blue-tinted poppies, Japanese gardens, wild meadows filled with lupin and cool contraptions for Veeka to clamber on. There was an exhibit there of radical 'secret' gardens; one was a forest of blue-tinted sticks; another was a mountain of sea salt. Veeka loved climbing on that. Another was a series of circles leading to the sea.
Finally we jumped back in the Subaru as I had 7 hours to drive on Tuesday. Every scene was lovely; gorgeous blue sea, tiny towns like Matane, where we ate lunch at the Cafe du Monde, a creperie on Rue St. Jerome; or Grande Vallee with its exquisite church and homes; or Mont-St. Pierre, a town that's the hang glider capital of eastern Canada because of the perfectly sculpted mountains surrounding it; the lighthouse at Sainte Madeleine (have enclosed photo of Veeka at the lighthouse playground) or the enormous collection of 76 windmills at Cap Chat - am wondering if it's one of the world's largest wind farms. It's got to be. Also makes me wonder how cold and windy this place gets in the winter.
We really were fortunate as to weather which was in the low 70s tor upper 60s all day. The following day, it rained (I heard from some tourists who followed us) so we lucked out as to timing. By the end of Tuesday, I had driven 1,300 miles in four days and needed a rest. Which we did at the Auberge les Trois Soeurs, which has views to die for. Hope to include a photo showing the incredible view of rocks at Perce, the coastal town where we spent two nights.
The area is filled with rivers stocked with salmon, camping spots and places with a view. Will say that during this trek, it really helped to know French as many folks were not conversant - or barely so - in English. There are NO signs in English, either, which I find galling in that the Quebecois were pretty insistent that the rest of Canada include English on their signs. Am not sure how they get away with French-only signs here but that attitude works against them. There were many things I would have stopped and seen but I wasn't sure what they were or the terms were not familiar to me, so I just drove by. Like "casse-croute" means "snack bar" here. Had an enterprising owner just THOUGHT to have posted an English subtitle explaining what a casse-croute was, we might have stopped by one for lunch. After having been here for a few days, I still wonder if Quebec wants the rest of the world to come visit.