Two short hours after leaving NY’s JFK, I am in the Montreal airport and people are already speaking French.
Next, I board an Air Canada flight to an airport even Johnny Jet has never heard of—Bagotville, Quebec—to explore the Saguenay province and its magical fjord. Saguenay is a First Nations word for “where the water is deep,” and the fjord is 900-feet deep with fresh water layered on top of salt water.
This creates an environment for interesting creatures like the Greenland shark and contributes to the milder microclimate of the region. This area retains its Frenchness and has a fierce resistance to changing the native language to English. However, locals are very kind to English-speaking tourists and practicing whatever French you can muster is greeted with appreciation.
The ancestors of the inhabitants of Northern Quebec must have had a rugged disposition and a determination to keep their lifestyle and culinary delights from their home when they left France to settle in the Canadian wilderness. I found the Saguenay region to be an interesting combination of serenity and country French charm.
I begin in the west of the Saguenay Fjord in La Baie des Ha!Ha! (real name!), at an inn called Auberge des 21 named for the 21 logging families that settled the Saguenay area in the 1800s. The inn has 31 rooms, a Nordic spa and one of the best restaurants in the region. Owner/Chef Marcel Bouchard creates a menu using the traditions of French and Québécoise recipes. It’s fine dining with a rustic twist. Blueberries abound in the menu, as the Saguenay province is known for its wild berries. Even the dinner salad had blueberries and blueberry vinaigrette.
The next morning, we boarded the Croisieres du Fjord Maritime Shuttle Service to St. Rose du Nord. The Bateau Mouche, literally “fly boat,” makes 5 stops throughout the fjord in a James Bond ferry that looks like a zodiac on steroids and is made especially for Croisieres du Fjord.
St. Rose du Nord is such a sweet and picturesque village (with only 400 residents) that 60,000 tourists come through between June and August. St. Rose du Nord is a winter destination because of the 2500 miles of snowmobile trails surrounding the area and the absolute tranquility. We visited the church named after the patron saint of the village. The former priest wanted to give thanks to the forest and the living it provided by furnishing it with red cedar from the surrounding forest.
At nearby Parc Adventures Cap Jaseux Adventure Camp, activity from zip lining, extreme canopy tours and a Via Ferrata—high adventure above the fjord on iron bars—filled our day. I toured their cabins, dome tent and 40-meter high tree houses which families love to stay in.
A visit to La Bergerie La Vielle Ferme—an organic and truly farm-to-table restaurant and working farm—provided us with an exceptional gourmet country lunch: pumpkin soup, lemonade with floating violas, patés made from their lambs, and vegetarian salads. The little shop “Le Petite Marche”—a boutique au terroir—allows you to take some of the farm goodies with you. The beauty of the farm and the warmth of the host Carmen, who home-schools her children along with creating the meals of the café, will make you want to return.
That night we slept at Pourvoirie Cap au Leste, a very special property with an incredible view, right on the edge of the mountain surrounding the fjord. Modern yet rustic cabins have private rooms and baths that remind me of the great camps of the Adirondacks. The main dining room is at the apex of the mountain and is brand new due to a fire that burned the original one four years ago. The new one retains the style of an old Adirondack lodge.
A buffet breakfast and set French country dinner menu are served here. We enjoyed the adjacent bar with a deck overlooking the fjord as we drank St-Ambroise Québécoise beer. Being here in the winter and enjoying the snow and magical silence must be like living in a postcard. They are currently creating a hiking trail to connect it to the village of St. Rose du Nord.
In the next part of my journey, I take the Maritime Shuttle to the National Park—Parc du Fjord on Riviere du Eternity—and spend the night camping in a huttopia tent.