The region known as Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean may be difficult for English-speakers to pronounce, but that’s the hardest part of this low-key, lakey region of the Canadian province of Quebec. Join me as we drive, bike, kayak, climb by via ferrata, eat, and drink in the nature and culture. There will be plenty of my favorite things, such as treehouses…and blueberries!
Flashback to 1976: Plane's-eye view of Montreal's quirky Olympic Stadium, designed by French architect Roger Taillibert. On the way to the travel conference Adventure Elevate in Quebec's Saguenay. Looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones.
This serene scene makes me want to take up fishing. Saguenay Fjord, Quebec.
Your treehouse wish come true. Cap Jaseux, Saguenay, Quebec.
Feeling high: This earthy orb, this suspended sphere, is my home for the evening. I'm super comfy in my treetop nest; I just hope nature doesn't call tonight, as there isn't a bathroom ensuite. (Note: there is a USB plug.) Cap Jaseux, Saguenay, Quebec.
According to Wikipedia, a via ferrata "allows otherwise dangerous routes to be undertaken without the risks associated with unprotected climbing. They offer the relatively inexperienced a means of enjoying dramatic positions, normally the preserve of the serious mountaineer." This is one of 13 throughout the province of Quebec. Just don't look down, I say.
Adventure, elevated: "Le cable est ton ami," said the via ferrata guide. The cable is your friend. Easier said than done, but things did go better when I let go--against all instinct--and leaned into the abyss. Lessons for rock climbing, and life, learned on the cliffs fronting Saguenay Fjord. Quebec, Canada.
Blueberry sausages, a local delicacy. Blueberries grow profusely here. In fact, the locals here are called bleuets, the French Canadian term for the fruit.
This little white house survived a flood in 1996, when all the other homes were washed away. It's now a museum surrounded by a park. The Québécois sure do like their stories of indomitable spirit.
Dinosaurs chase a girl in a playground in Chicoutimi, Saguenay, Quebec.
Difficult to imagine, but this is the go-to snack combo in these parts: chips (preferably salt and vinegar flavor), cheese curds (a salty, squeaky, soft cheese available everywhere, but this is from the well-regarded fromagerie Boivin), and a soft drink (if the local Red Champagne isn't available then it should be Pepsi; Coke only when desperate).
Room with a view: From the window of the 117- year-old Hotel Chicoutimi. That's the Saguenay River in the distance. The word Saguenay means "the end of deep water." Quebec.
At play at the Old Port of Chicoutimi, now a lovely riverside park with fountains, playgrounds, sculptures, and benches. This is a great region for kids to grow up and adults to stay young. Quebec, Canada.
View of the Vieux-Port of Chicoutimi, now a park, from the pedestrian/cycling bridge. About two hours north of Quebec City, Saugenay is a gateway for adventurous recreation: biking, via ferrata, camping, water sports. But you can also just stroll leisurely along the banks of the Saguenay River.
The Blueberry Trail, or the Veloroute des Bleuets, is a 256 km bike trail around Lac St. Jean. This section is in the Parc National de la Pointe-Tallon, through an area of birch trees, peat bogs, beaver dens, moose, and carnivorous plants. Oh, and wild blueberries in season. Oh oh, and mosquitos at certain times of the year (like now).
Taste the terroir: Stops along the Veloroute des Bleuets include cheese shops, bakeries, and microbreweries. Lac St. Jean, Quebec.
Finding thrills and hills on the Blueberry Trail, a varied and scenic 256-km cycling path in Quebec.
This cataract powered a paper mill and spawned a village in the early 20th century. After the mill closed in 1927, the town of Val-Jalbert was abandoned. Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region, Quebec.
Nothing like a little weather to add mood and kick up the adventure a notch. Kayaking on a protected bay in the Saguenay Fjord National Park, Quebec. Fun fact: the top layer of water is fresh, the bottom is seawater. Original photo by Jackie Nourse.
Covered bridge from 1929, its walls decorated with local art. L'Anse-Saint-Jean, Quebec. Cars can still go through.
No road trip in Canada is complete without a stop at Tim Hortons for coffee and donuts. Taste improved with new friends and old. As this québécois interlude winds down, I want to note just a few friends from earlier this week, Casey Hanisko, Luis Vargas, Jennifer Pemberton, Murray Bartholomew, Richard Weiss, Edie Heilman, Chunnie Wright, Dan Westergren, Deirdre Campbell, Dinty Dan, Barbara Banks, Jim Kane, Amber Silvey, Tami Fairweather, Paul Easto, Jeanette Anderson Moores, Gigi Ragland, Richard G. Edwards, Grégory Cloutier, Jen Murphy, Jason Reckers, Ashley Castle, and Shannon Stowell (whose guiding voice and spirit was keenly felt!) Merci beaucoup!
Photos © Norie Quintos