Mercurynews.com: August 28, 2015
The daffodil-colored cottage sat just beyond the road, perched on a knoll and surrounded by grazing sheep.”Bonjour,” said the woman with the brightly colored apron as if welcoming dear friends. Her kind words entwined with the heady aroma of fresh bread as she showed us to a checker-cloth table near the window. Monet may have painted this scene, were he alive today.
This was not the France I had visited in my 30s or 40s or eight years ago, when I flew with a friend to take a children’s book writing workshop in Paris. In fact, this wasn’t France at all — it was the French-speaking province of Quebec, Canada.
The Saguenay Lac Saint Jean region of Quebec is a short flight from Montreal — and considerably closer than France. Almost everyone here speaks French and at least some English, offering both a cultural immersion and the charm of Canada’s friendly people.
Early fall is the perfect time to visit Saguenay Lac Saint Jean. The weather is pleasant and the number of visitors light. You can rent a bike and ride on the Blueberry Route, a loop that takes you around Lac Saint Jean through forested national park land, picturesque villages and past soaring steeples, small farms and dairies. Saguenay Lac Saint Jean is known for its artisan cheeses and wines, along with locally sourced produce and meats.
But it’s also known for eclectic lodging. You can stay overnight in a treehouse or even bunk alongside caribou and wolves. Motel 6 country, it’s not.
What is it like to camp in a caribou preserve? I can tell you, firsthand — these creatures are curious. I opened the flap of my prospector’s tent to find two big, brown eyes and a fuzzy antler five inches from my face. Zoo Sauvage de Saint-Felicien offers overnight packages, including a guided hike, canoeing and campfire meals for around $300.
High above the raw beauty of Saguenay Fjord, guests at Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux can sleep in a treehouse or a suspended geo dome. Wake up in one of these and you hear the birds sing in surround sound. Then get a year’s worth of adrenaline rush on the Parc’s 73 suspension bridges and eight zip lines.
And speaking of adrenaline, the shrill howls and yips of a wolf pack are a bit unsettling at first light. Yet nothing can match the experience of waking up in a yurt in a private game park for wolves. Adventuraid’s Parc Mahikan offers guests the chance to interact with creatures that are both feared and revered, inside three multiacre enclosures.
There’s a joie de vivre that comes with communing with unspoiled nature — and the Saguenay region of Quebec is certainly that. It’s joyful in another way, too. As a visitor, you’re spending money in a country where people are warm and welcoming.