When nature makes a big statement like drilling a whole in a rock and detaching from the mainland people take notice. Add to that the world’s highest tides and you have something extraordinary… this is Percé. The village of Percé doesn’t seem to take this for granted either. They brew great beer at Pit Caribou, have a boulangerie that makes exceptional croissants and pastries, serve up some of the best seafood we have had on this trip and offer up one of our favourite views from our favourite campgrounds on this trip. We started taking photos of this pierced rock as we approached from across the bay to the other side from our campground, at midday, dusk, night and morning. We captured this rock from many vantage points and times of day. We were mesmerized. After parking the van we walked up to the highest point overlooking the rock then down and along the beach and viewed it at sea level then we walked the loop back to town for a really refreshing brew at Pit Caribou. Intending to continue our drive towards New Brunswick we were drawn to Côte Surprise Campground just outside of town which offered a spectacular view of the massive pierced rock. This is a decision we would not regret. We walked back into town and had a great meal at Maison du Pêcheur. One of the items we shared was the soupe de poisson with rouille which was comparable or better than the best we had in Corsica last year. We really enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. The walk back along the highway helped with digestion. The night sky was so beautiful which we enjoyed with a little wine. In the morning the rock was blanketed in a cloud of fog. We stopped in at the boulangerie for café and croissants before continuing on our way to New Brunswick. We left Rocher-Percé reluctantly.
Getting to the eastern tip of the Gaspé Peninsula was a roller coaster of hills and sharp turns and one or two switchbacks. It was definitely a workout for both driver and van and may have ultimately lead to the failure of our water pump (more on that in a Newfoundland post). Despite the workout the drive was spectacular. Along the way we continued to snap photos of signage such as Dixie Lee (a Gaspé chain?). We encountered a creative castle-style house, pure Péquiste kitsch which we actually turned around and went back to photograph. Forillon is Canada’s first National Park in Quebec. Coincidentally we were there to celebrate Canada Day. We started the day by exploring Grand Grave, the Dolbel House, Hyman’s Store and the southern shore and tip of the park. Canada Day festivities were held at the Recreation centre complete with speeches, $2 hot dogs and free cake. We saw it unfold while doing our laundry. We also made the drive into the town of Gaspé and enjoyed a delicious lunch at Marché des Saveurs. There we bought locally made cheeses, house made bread, sheep yogourt and a few other tasty staples. These lasted us into New Brunswick and we were able to entertain our new campground friends Michele and Helen (also Westfalia owners) with some of these delicacies. The animal that figured most prominently during our Forillon stay was the porcupine. We saw several over the few days we were there. The best porcupine story involved a mother and baby that decided to settle in the campsite across from ours occupied by Helen and Michele. They alerted us to the pork-épic which we heard as ‘porky pig’. Obviously we thought this very funny since we were not acquainted with the French word for porcupine. The mother porky pig was not happy that the humans were there and potentially a threat to her little fuzzy porky pig baby. She made a sad groaning sound and kept puffing out her quills and advancing toward us. It was a little threatening. We did survive in the end as did they. While in Quebec the sunrise was typically at about 4:15 am so at least one of us was awoken by the morning light at this early hour. One of these mornings Julie actually walked down to the beach and photographed the sunrise while Christian continued to sleep. We saw more Westfalias in the Gaspé than anywhere else so far. We tried to photograph every one we saw. In our campsite at Forillon alone there were four. We enjoyed our time at Forillon for a few reasons. The first was making friends and having neighbours. As we travel we find that our most enjoyable camping experiences are when we make friends and develop community. The second was the discovery of local fresh food. Community and good, fresh, local food are the cornerstones to a good travel experience for us.
A couple years ago a chef we know from Montreal recommended that we visit this amazing garden on the south shore of the St. Lawrence. That special place is called Jardins de Métis. Also known as Reford Gardens, a woman named Elsie Reford is responsible for these remarkable gardens. Estevan Lodge was gifted to her by her uncle George Stephen because she shared his love of salmon fishing. He couldn’t have left it to a better person. And it just so happened that Camping Annie was about 5km down the highway from here. So first thing in the morning we beelined it to the site. The cultivated gardens are extensive and beautiful but the Art Walk is spectacular. Artists and architects from around the world have created installations that reference and reinforce the idea of gardens. Photos of the grounds follow. Estevan Lodge is now a restaurant and museum. Apparently it is a four star restaurant. Unfortunately we were there first thing in the morning so a meal was out of the question this time. The garden shed museum displays were among our favourites. There were multiples of certain historical garden and agricultural implements displayed in really creative and inspiring configurations. We recommend a stop here to anyone travelling to the Gaspésie.
The actual place where Christian’s parents met is Le Manoir Richelieu which when the original wooden version burnt down in the 1920s was rebuilt in the style of a Normandy Chateau. It is a grand old hotel overlooking the St. Lawrence where both families used to spend their holidays. There is a well known family photo of Carlotta and her daughter Sandy posing by a horse drawn carriage in front what is now a casino. We posed in front of the same building sans horse drawn carriage although we did see one. The interior has been redesigned several times over the decades and the latest iteration has the large vaulted spaces decorated in faux tudor and Jacobian style. After wandering the extensive grounds we paid a visit to the Boulangerie in La Malbaie and then made our way to a waterside park for a picnic. Christian’s childhood friend Felicity and her family have spent summers in Murray Bay (La Malbaie) forever and continue to share a property formerly owned by their mother in Cap D’Aigle. So, we explored the Cap looking for the Campbell house which seemed to be hiding from us. We did photograph a massive and unique wooden church on the same road as their house. We enjoyed a final evening at our campsite overlooking the mighty St. Lawrence where we sat sipping a glass of wine with our feet up and swaddled in socks knitted (incorporating yarn we sent her last May from Avoca Woolen Mill in Ireland) especially for Folksblogen by our friend Stacy Barbetta. Stacy – we want you to know that these socks have come in very handy on this trip – thank you! We could definitely understand why the Munoz and Morrison families chose to return here every summer.
We left our friends John and Chantal in Ottawa bound for Québec. Our first stop was the pretty little town of Montebello. By the time we reached Montebello we were ready for two things: a bathroom break and a spot of lunch. Only one of these things was achieved. We decided at the outset that we wouldn’t settle for mediocre food while travelling. We are well stocked in healthy snacks like almonds, dried fruit, water so we held out until we arrived at our campsite. Our campsite that night was at Camping du Parc in Saint-Mathieu-du-Parc near Mauricie National Park and Shawinigan. We stayed in an immaculate campground owned by a super friendly couple. We highly recommend this campground. The sites are close together but separated by thick stands of trees. There were relatively few campers though that night so we didn’t really have neighbours. Well…. Other than the mosquitoes! They were plentiful! We had shopped at Seed to Sausage in Ottawa the day before and so our dinner was a simple one but delicious and included sage and apple pork sausages, seedy sauerkraut, baked beans and fresh asparagus all washed down with Beau’s Lager also made in Ottawa. The Beau’s Lager was a nod to VanMorrison and Gibb’s previous owner, Jason Ellsmere, who works for Beau’s. We caught up on some computer work while sitting beside the campfire that evening. In the morning Christian ground the coffee for our morning brew and my (Julie’s) birthday breakfast while still in bed. We have a manual coffee grinder which ensures our ability to make coffee even without electricity. We’re pretty sure that the little Japanese ceramic grinder makes the coffee taste better or it could be the workout. Along with coffee we had a simple breakfast of granola, yogurt and fruit. (We have found that while plugged in at a campsite with services our little fridge does a great job. But, when we are travelling in the van and the fridge is on battery power the temperature rises throughout the day so we try not to overfill it and risk disappointment. We have managed to keep yogurt, cream, butter, cheese and a few staples cool and fresh.) We would have loved to stay here longer and explore the Mauricie National Park but decided instead to head directly to La Malbaie.
Christian’s parents had shared the stories and shown the photos about where they first met in Murray Bay (now La Malbaie) back in 1946. It was love at first sight and Christian’s Dad sent the Munoz table a fish that he had caught that day. It was to be the first of many such romantic gestures. So with the stories and images in mind we made our way east along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River while admiring some of the most beautiful scenery and picturesque towns and villages. We stopped for lunch in a little town called Donaconna and had a fortifying late breakfast at a popular local spot called La Fourchette. This drive was the first of many that would challenge VanMorrison and Gibb. We had done this drive in 2012 in the Canadian Chefs’ Congress kitchen school bus and so had an idea of what we were in for – great, long, steep hills for many kilometres. Once we reached Baie-Saint-Paul these steep hills were accompanied by tight turns. We arrived in La Malbaie later in the afternoon and set up camp at Les Érables, a campground overlooking the St. Lawrence. So beautiful. This campsite outdid the previous one simply because of the view and the setting. It too was exceptionally clean with very friendly owners. We called a taxi and went into town for dinner that night to celebrate Julie’s birthday at La Patriarche. This restaurant is situated with a view to the river in a row of buildings dating back to the 1800s. We walked out to the wharf after dinner and admired the sunset, the harbour, the lights on the south shore of the river and watched the loading of a Scandinavian freighter which was so enormous they were still loading it the next day. Just before the taxi arrived Christian decided to use the public facilities and discovered he couldn’t get out. The door nob was broken. Julie tried to help but the whole outside handle came right off which still didn’t free him. Fortunately he had his trusty jackknife with him and was able to escape unharmed after performing some serious surgery in the lock mechanism. We returned to the campsite and admired the evening sky and twinkling lights on the south shore of the river.
Wow! it was a hot one last night! Since we have been travelling in Québec we have been nudged awake just after 4 o’clock. This morning it was combination of the heat and the light that had me wandering down to the water to witness the actual sunrise. No sooner did I reach a point on the path that I wanted to start snapping photos did I get a message on the camera saying the battery was dead. So, back up to the van to exchange batteries and back down the path I went… this is what I saw…. The bonus was that there were lobster fishers checking their traps at that hour. After that I did go back to sleep for a while. It is still pretty hot. Think we will spend some time on the beach.
Where do we find the food culture in the towns and villages of North America? It is easy in places like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, etc. But what about La Malbaie or the Gaspésie? We have been driving along both sides of the St. Lawrence River and all we can find are miniature frozen shrimps, the odd cooked lobster and farmed fish from the near coast, the far coast and beyond including tilapia in big stores like Metro and Provigo. The restaurants seem to specialize in quantity rather than quality. We visited a Visitor Centre in Grande Vallée yesterday and the woman working there gave us a copy of the Gaspésie Gourmande Guide. We were so excited to finally have the ability to find local specialties and products. So we stopped in each town or village listed in the guide on our way to Forillon without much success. We did however eat the best lobster and crab rolls this side of Maine at a little place called Cantine de Pêcheur in Cloridorme which was not listed in the guide. The Boutique du Havre directly across from this place was listed and barely had a food product in sight. We still have hope for the other side of the Gaspé but we think we have our work cut out for us.
The Folksblogen Volkswagen is at the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula in Québec this Canada Day. We are skipping some necessary posts (coming very soon!) to wish you a happy Canada Day! We are happy to be here in the beautiful province of Québec. Canada Day is ‘celebrated’ differently here or perhaps not at all as the campers are leaving the campground in full force. It is getting more quiet by the hour. We think they must be heading home to celebrate Canada Day. As for us, we will stay here at Forillon for two more nights, us and the mosquitoes, loving Québec and loving Canada. Our Québec includes Canada.