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Quebec

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Sea Kayak with Beluga Whales at Quebec’s Saguenay Fjord

On my last trip to the province of Quebec, I was fortunate to make it to Baie-Saint-Paul in the Charlevoix region, just north of Quebec City along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Charlevoix has become a foodie destination, cherished by residents of Montreal and Quebec City for its cheeses, breads, fresh salmon, microbrews, and local produce. Now I want to continue my journey up the St. Lawrence to La Malbaie, home to the classic Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu. The old-style château dates back to the late 19th century and was originally built as a playground for the affluent of the Eastern Seaboard. President William Taft owned a home in the area and opened the original golf course here in 1925. The Fairmont continues to be one of Quebec’s most glamorous getaways, rising above the ocean-like expanse of the St. Lawrence River. Just north of La Malbaie is the mouth of the Saguenay fjord, where beluga whales like to play in the summer months. It’s always been on my wish list to kayak the 60-mile long fjord, then bike a portion of the 256-kilometer “Véloroute des Bleuets” or Blueberry Trail cycling path around Lac-Saint-Jean. The perfect Quebec adventure!  

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 05/05/15 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Skiing Quebec on a Budget

If you’re looking for a Northeastern ski area with a dose of affordable French flavor, then a visit to Quebec’s Eastern Townships is in order. With a lift ticket at Stowe reaching $115 this winter, you can head another hour north and be skiing at a quarter of the price. This is especially true with the current rate of exchange at US$1 to CAN$1.35. On the shores of Lake Memphremagog, Owl’s Head offers the best of Vermont skiing, but at absurdly low prices. For a measly US$54, you get one night lodging, breakfast, and a lift ticket! And this being Quebec, that breakfast will include freshly baked croissants, patisserie, and café au lait. Not a bad way to celebrate Owl’s Head’s 50th anniversary this ski season. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 12/10/15 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Winter Carnival Season Begins

If you love Paris in the springtime, then you’ll adore Quebec City in the wintertime, where, for 17 days, the party never stops. Quebec’s Winter Carnival (January 29-February 14) is the largest in the world, attracting more than one million people. I was one of the lucky people to arrive in this fortified city on the first day of the 2015 Winter Carnival. I spent the morning sledding down an ice chute, viewing the impressive ice castle, made from 1600 blocks of ice, eating maple syrup on snow, and playing a human game of foosball. Top DJs from Montreal and Toronto played a mesmerizing mix of hip-hop and electronica, while locals carried cane-like red sticks filled with a potent drink called Caribou, made of whiskey, red wine, and maple syrup, adding to the dancing frenzy. When Bonhomme, the popular snowman and revered host of the festivities started to boogie, the crowd went wild. For those of us who choose to embrace winter in all its snowy charm, there’s no better event than a Winter Carnival. Check out my latest column for Liftopia on "6 Winter Carnivals You Don’t Want to Miss."

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/14/16 at 05:59 AM
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Friday, July 15, 2016

A Week of Adventure at Quebec’s Saguenay Fjord

On my last trip to the province of Quebec, I was fortunate to make it to Baie-Saint-Paul in the Charlevoix region, just north of Quebec City along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Charlevoix has become a foodie destination, cherished by residents of Montreal and Quebec City for its cheeses, breads, fresh salmon, microbrews, and local produce. Next week, I’ll be continuing my journey up the St. Lawrence to the 64-mile long Saguenay Fjord, one of the longest and southernmost fjords in the world. Flanked by walls of ash colored rock that rise some 1,150 feet and forests of balsams and yellow birch, it is also one of the most accessible places on the planet to see beluga whales. For quite some time, Saguenay has been on my wish list as I yearned to kayak the fjord, bike a section of the 256-kilometer “Véloroute des Bleuets” or Blueberry Trail cycling path around Lac-Saint-Jean, raft the Metabetchouan River, and hike high above the waters at Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay. The perfect Quebec adventure! As an added bonus, I’m headed back to Charlevoix to bike around Isle-aux-Coudres, an island, smack dab in the center of the St. Lawrence River, and to sample the French dining at several bistros that are known throughout Quebec. Please follow along next week as I blog, tweet @ActiveTravels, share photos on Facebook and Instagram, and videos on YouTube. Have a great weekend! 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/15/16 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, July 18, 2016

Biking the Shoreline of Lac-Saint-Jean

Three hours north of Quebec City, the mountainous ridges and anonymous lakes give way to a sylvan valley surrounding the massive inland sea they call Lac-Saint-Jean. Bright yellow fields of canola mix with the rolling green hillside, tall silos, and rolled hay that gives this terrain the unmistakable French countryside feel. Everywhere you look are cyclists biking on the celebrated Véloroute des Bleuets, a 256-kilometer bike trail that circumnavigates Lac-Saint-Jean, or fat-wheeling on mountain bike trails, even biking through sand on one of the 15 public beaches found around the lake. 

 
We chose to spend the first day and night at Parc national de la Pointe-Taillon, a peninsula that juts into the lake and offers its own 45 km circuit. We parked in the lot, grabbed sheets, blankets, bikes, and a small mini-trailer to carry all our belongings and off we went on a short ride to our lodging for the night, a Huttopia tent. Available in 17 of Quebec’s 24 national parks, these canvas tents are equipped with four beds, heating, and everything you need to cook a meal. We dropped our belongings and continued to bike along the peninsula looking at desolate beaches, large beaver dams, and a thicket of tall birch trees. This is prime moose country but we wouldn’t find the big fella this first night. After our ride, we dined on picnic tables overlooking the water, washed down with a local Riverbend pale ale. A perfect start to our week of adventure in the Lac-Saint-Jean, Saguenay, and Charlevoix sections of Quebec. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/18/16 at 05:30 AM
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Friday, July 22, 2016

Biking Isle-aux-Coudres

To reach Isle-aux-Coudres, you take a free 15-minute ferry from the mainland. Once there, it feels as if all the woes of modernity are washed away, replaced by the salty air of the St. Lawrence and a serene island from yesteryear. If you were looking for a good workout, you could speed around the 23-km circumference of Isle-aux-Coudres in little over an hour. But then you would miss the stone houses and their carefully manicured potted plants in the windows, the rocky shoreline that creeps into the vast river at low tide, and the ski trails of Le Massif that slice down the mountainside on the opposite shores. If you don’t take your time, you won’t stop to snap photos of the small chapels not much larger than doll houses, tour a working windmill and watermill from the 1820s, and sample the hard apple cider and tasty apple and pear mistelle from Verger Pedneault. Most importantly, if you don’t slow down and appreciate the island on two wheels, you won’t meet the wonderful people, like Patricia Deslauriers, owner of Motel L’Islet, a professional jazz bassist who now owns a lodging on a peninsula that juts out of the southernmost part of the island. She wakes up every morning to a sunrise and goes to bed after a glorious sunset. She also brings world class musicians to the island every Sunday for concerts that often attract over 1,000 people. Then there’s the maitre’d at Hôtel Cap-aux-Pierres, who spends his winters at Langkawi, the cluster of islands off Malaysia in the Andaman Sea. Or the world champion kitesurfer who now teaches her sport to others at her kitesurfing and yoga studio on the island. Isle-aux-Coudres is a magical island, one where you foolishly spend one day and soon realize you should have spent a week.
 
I’m off to Quebec City for a little more biking on my last day. I’ll be back on Monday to talk about the lodging and food on my trip. I want to thank Cynthia Lacasse at Tourisme Quebec for helping to design a perfect week of multisport adventure in Lac-Saint-Jean, Saguenay, and Charlevoix. Next time, you come to Quebec City, make sure you extend your trip by at least 3 days to see this spectacular region of the province. Have a great weekend and keep active! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/22/16 at 05:30 AM
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Monday, July 25, 2016

Lodging and Food Picks in Quebec

Last week was such a whirlwind of exhilarating adventure in the Saguenay and Charlevoix regions of Quebec that I didn’t have a chance to discuss my favorite stops for lodging and food. After a busy day of stand-up-paddleboarding on Lac-Saint-Jean and whitewater rafting down the Métabetchouan River, it was a treat to spend the night at Auberge Presbytere Mont Lac-Vert in Hébertville. Not only is Danielle a gracious owner, but a fabulous chef. Her salmon, smoked at her house, followed by freshly caught John Dory fish was easily the best meal of the trip. Especially sitting on the patio with a crisp breeze, next to a big moose head hanging on the wall. Just as homey is Motel l'Islet set on a spit of land surrounded by water on Isle-aux-Coudres. The writing came easily that morning, sitting at picnic table at sunrise and presented with a large latte, thanks to the owner, a professional jazz musician. I’d happily return with Lisa next time to see one of their Sunday night concerts in summer. Le Germain is my go-to boutique hotel brand in Canada, having stayed at the wonderful Le Germain Hotel Toronto Maple Leaf Square and Le Germain Hotel Charlevoix. Hotel Le Germain Quebec is another highly recommended gem, perfectly situated in old town near many of the best restaurants in town, like the Italian restaurant, Matto, and the inspired Quebecois fare found at Legende. This was my 4th trip to the province of Quebec in the past 8 years and I’ll know I’ll be back again soon. The mix of adventure, stunning scenery, French food and hospitality is too hard to pass up. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 07/25/16 at 05:30 AM
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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Top 5 Dream Days in 2016, Climbing the Via Ferrata at Quebec’s Palissades De Charlevoix

Just when I thought I had my fill of adventure in the Saguenay/Charlevoix region of Quebec this past July—biking on the celebrated Véloroute des Bleuets, a 256-kilometer bike trail that circumnavigates Lac-Saint-Jean, hiking atop a ridge at Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay, sea kayaking with beluga whales on the Saguenay Fjord, and whitewater rafting down the rapids of the Metabetchouan River—my buddy Jeff persuaded me top it all by tackling one of the few Via Ferratas in the world outside of the famous Dolomites. Using cables affixed to an 1187-foot rock face, we attached our carabiners and used iron rungs on the steep sections to clamber up the rock wall at Pallisades De Charlevioix. Following our relaxed guide, Vincent, (me, not so relaxed), we slowly and carefully made it to the top of the steep cliff. We stopped to pick wild blueberries and to peer down at a sinuous creek below where we spotted a beaver swimming next to his oversized dam. The real excitement starts at the top when we crossed a suspension bridge made of wobbly planks high above the canyon floor. Then Vincent says to me, “now it’s time to rappel down.” I looked down the 230-foot rock ledge and panicked. But Vincent slowly got me to lean off the ledge and believe in the equipment. I descended, kicking off the smooth face of the wall, and quickly found myself at the bottom, heart racing but proud of my accomplishment. That’s one climb I won’t soon forget. 
 
To top it off, we went whale watching on a zodiac that afternoon from Baie-Saint-Catherine with Croisieres AML. Near the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord, the St. Lawrence feels vast here, like an ocean. We zipped out to the heart of the river on the speedy raft and soon were watching the second largest mammal in the world, the fin whale blowing its spout and surfacing the water with its long arching back. Suddenly we heard a huge splash and the naturalist got very excited pointing to a minke whale that was completely out of the water breaching. He would breach 3 or 4 times, flipping out of the water like a flying fish. We then cruised over to a colony of gray seals before making our way into the fjord to see Caribou Falls. At the corner of my eye, I caught a splash of white and soon we were following a pod of beluga whales, jumping in and out of the water like dolphins. That’s what I call a memorable day in Quebec. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/04/17 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, February 03, 2017

Head to Quebec’s Winter Carnival This Week

Now that Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow, it’s time to savor those next 6 weeks of winter. To get the party started right, head to the best winter carnival in North America in Quebec City. Quebec’s Winter Carnival (which runs through February 12) is the largest in the world, attracting more than one million people. I was one of the lucky people to arrive in this fortified city on the first day of the 2015 Winter Carnival. I spent the morning sledding down an ice chute, viewing the impressive ice castle, made from 1600 blocks of ice, eating maple syrup on snow, and playing a human game of foosball. Top DJs from Montreal and Toronto played a mesmerizing mix of hip-hop and electronica, while locals carried cane-like red sticks filled with a potent drink called Caribou, made of whiskey, red wine, and maple syrup, adding to the dancing frenzy. When Bonhomme, the popular snowman and revered host of the festivities started to boogie, the crowd went wild. For those of us who choose to embrace winter in all its snowy charm, there’s no better event than a Winter Carnival.

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/03/17 at 06:00 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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