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by Habeeb Salloum

For three days we had gloried in Quebec City’s Summer Festival with its universal renowned musicians, street entertainment and fine food, all engulfed in an aura of exhilaration and joy. On the last evening of our stay we capped our visit by listening to Jon Anderson entertain his thousands of fans. It was an evening of enthusiasm and ecstasy – what the Quebecois call, ‘joie de vie’ (joy of life).

Quebec City-Old Quebec-Striking Structure
Plat (Veau saveur), Auberge La Muse
Auberge des Falaises

However, as I listened to the clap of thousands of people, my mind was some distance away deep in thought about Charlevoix – that we were to briefly explore, then end our excursion by sailing to watch the whales. As the standing ovations of the crowd echoed on all sides, I was thinking of my upcoming venture through this the first resort area in Quebec - a natural world of lakes, mountains, trees and other tourist enticements.

Early next morning our group of ten, in a mini-bus, were on our way, driving along the Côte de Beaupré following one of the oldest thoroughfares in North America. Called the Avenue Royale or the Route of Nouvelle-France, it is edged by structures that cover three centuries of history.

Forty minutes after passing the majestic Montmorency Waterfalls, a spectacular natural wonder, whose waters plummet 27 stories 30 m (98 ft), we came to the famed pilgrimage site of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré - for 350 years a mecca for the faithful, journeying here to seek healing for their ailments or just to pray. Each year more than a million and a half pilgrims and visitors come to experience the calm and peace of this revered basilica.

A few minutes further on we stopped at the Auberge la Camarine for breakfast. However we did not dally. The Auberge’s staff quickly prepared for us a delicious and well-presented breakfast and we continued on our way.

After driving for a short time through a tree-filled countryside we climbed a short distance upward then turned and stopped on the edge of a crater formed some 350 million years ago when a 15 billion meteorite smashed into the earth. The 56 km (35 mi) wide crater whose outline can be seen from outer space is one of the few inhabited on earth. It forms today the heart of the Charlevoix region – a rich farming and tourist area with charming villages and brooding mountains that some 30,000 inhabitants call home.

Baie-Saint-Paul-Main Street
Auberge la Camarine

In a few minutes we were driving through the village of Baie-Saint-Paul located at the bottom of the crater. A lively tourist village par excellence, it is filled with antiques shops, art galleries, gift stores, tiny museums, pleasant restaurants and inviting inns. A charming town where the Cirque de Soleil began, it is said to be mainly inhabited by tourists – some of Charlevoix’s 800,000 annual visitors.

After strolling along the town’s main street and browsing through some of the edging shops and art galleries, we ended up for lunch at La Microbrasserie de Charlevoix – a home-made beer establishment with an attached fine restaurant. After the owner explained his brewing process, we dined on locally produced products washed down by the unique beers of the house.

A few kilometres past the village we stopped at two cheese-making establishments touring and tasting their cheeses, in the main, cheddar and migneron, before departing for La Malbale. We drove through the picturesque bottom of the crater to the edge of the St. Lawrence then turned left and followed the river to St. Irenée to stop at the studio of the painter Juan Cristobal – a Chilean who fled to Canada after the overthrow of Allende by a CIA organized coup.

His wife, two brothers and mother, also painters in their own rights, have enriched Charlevoix with their works. In their three studios, they have given the Quebec art scene a boast – Chile’s loss has been Canada’s gain.

A short distance away we toured the Domaine Forget – a tranquil music school set in a serene country atmosphere where 600 summer students pay $500. per week to be taught singing and the playing of musical instruments as well as putting on concerts in a very modern noiseless music hall.

A little way from this spot of musical serenity we drove upward to Auberge des Falaises, a charming inn with a fine view of the St. Lawrence River. Here we planned to spend the night after dining on the inn’s renowned cuisine.

It was to be a delightful journey into the world of fine dining. The food inspired by local, global and old traditions was both favourable and memorable. The pleasant staff and the owner conversing with the diners along with the delightful home-like atmosphere gave us a feeling of contentment. It was a meal to be remembered.

Early the next morning we were on our way, driving for an hour and a half northeast along the St. Lawrence River until we reached Baie-Sainte-Catherine, the place from where we would sail to observe the whales. Donning red suits that protected a person from the spraying waters, kept one warm and acted as a life jacket, we descended down to our Zodiac (rubber boat).

Aboard the Zodia
Looking for a Blue Whale

It seemed our Zodiac was flying over the water as we made our way to a rich river area where the whales travel to feed. In about half an hour our Zodiac was parked along with half a dozen boats waiting for the whales.

I was gazing over the water when I heard one of our group shout, “Look! Look!” I turned my head to see in the distance two huge beluga whales surface then plunge back into the river, their tails a spectacular sight before they disappeared. The scene was repeated a number of times by belugas and other whale species. There are some six types of whales along with small cetaceans who come to feed in this area of the St. Lawrence River and we must have seen a good number of these species that day.

I was watching a beluga surfacing in the horizon when suddenly, for a second my heat literally stopped. A huge blue whale, the world’s largest mammal, leapt out of the water a few feet from our Zodiac in front of where I was standing. Its huge head seemed to dwarf our boat. I was mesmerized. I thought that at any moment this aquatic giant would overturn our Zodiac.

Frantically trying to open my camera, I looked up. The whale was gone. I had missed the shot of a lifetime. Still shaking, as were most of our group, I sat down.

“Did you ever see a whale overturn a boat?” A lady in our group asked the captain. “Never! And I have been bringing tourists here for many years.” He grinned, no doubt thinking to himself, “What silly tourists!”

On our way back to our Auberge that afternoon, while discussing our encounter with the whales my seat companion remarked, “Our captain told me that all the whales that come to feed have names. The one who terrified us is called Tic Tac Toe. He said that it is a very friendly whale. He just wanted to greet us.”

I smiled to myself as I thought of our panic that morning and, after pondering, realizing: “Charlevoix has its surprises.”

Three Good Places to Stay and Dine in Charlevoix:
Auberge des Falaises, 250, chemin des Falaises, La Malbaie, Charlevoix (Québec) G5A 2V2. Tel: (418) 665-3731. Fax: (418) 665-6194. Toll free: 1-800-386-3731. E-mail: falaises@charlevoix.net Website: www.aubergedesfalaises.com/ Rates of rooms vary according to season and there are numerous package deals offered. Also, there are 2 magnificent golf courses: the Manoir Richelieu with its scenic view, is known to be among the tenth best golf courses in Canada and Murray Bay, which is the second oldest golf course in Canada. Both are located within 2 miles of the Auberge. Rates range from $38 to $68/person including a cart.

Auberge des Peupliers, Renowned for its welcoming atmosphere and highly acclaimed cuisine, the Auberge des Peupliers graces a heritage village perched on a cape that offers a splendid overview of the St. Lawrence River and the surrounding mountains. 381, Saint-Raphaël (Secteur Cap-?-l'Aigle), Cap-?-l'aigle (Québec, Canada), G5A 2N8. Tel: (418) 665-4423, Toll free: 1-888-282-3743. Fax: (418) 665-3179. E-mail: info@aubergedespeupliers.com Website: www.aubergedespeupliers.com Rates of rooms vary according season and there are numerous package deals offered.

Auberge La Camarine, noted for its fine dining, it is a good place to stay when visiting Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, 10947, boul. Ste-Anne C.P. 40, Beaupré (Québec, Canada) G0A 1E0. Tel: (418) 827-5703. Toll free: 1-800-567-3939. Fax: (418) 827-5430. E-mail: info@camarine.com Website: www.camarine.com Rates of rooms vary according season and there are numerous package deals offered.
For further Information – re: these Inns and others in Charlevoix, check this website: http://www.hotelleriechampetre.com/auberge-hotel-quebec/index.cfm
For Further Information. Contact:
Tourisme Québec: for complete tourist information Québec, call: (514) 873-2015 or toll free: 1-877-363-7777, or visit web the site: www.bonjourquebec.com or http://www.bonjourquebec.com/ca-en/charlevoix0.html

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