Last week I was a very “happy camper” in Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec. The area is located in the woods north of Montreal and Quebec City known for the Saguenay Fjord, one of the ten longest fjords in the world. I have to admit that I didn’t actually camp in a tent. The adventure was more of a “glamping” experience where I engaged in camping-type adventures like hiking up the glacier-carved granite and gneiss hills, sailing down the salty waters of the fjord and zigzagging into gorges gouged into the rock by the huge ice flows of the Pleistocene Era. But instead of roughing it, this “glamper” had the luxury of dining at glamorous restaurants and sleeping in comfy chalets and hotels.
Adventures in Nature #1: Hiking
The challenging Statue Trail started near sea level on the shores of Saguenay Fjord. At dinner the night before, I’d learned that a fjord is a long, narrow glacial carved valley that is filled with salt water. After dinner, we attended the Saguenay Wine Festival, the largest international wine fest I’d ever experienced. I tasted Zonin Proseccos from Italy, French rosés and Spanish Riojas as well as Canadian wines, and rubbed elbows with Spanish wine maker, Roberto Alonso, who promised to show me around Bodegas Valdemar vineyards the next time I’m in Logrono, Spain.
|Annual Saguenay Wine Festival in Chicoutimi, Quebec|
Chicoutimi’s historic downtown is open to foot traffic only during for the annual street party. Vintners from across the globe, as well as spirit distillers, draw a cosmopolitan crowd made of locals and visitors from Montreal and Quebec City with over 40K people attending the three-day event.
|Statue Trail at Saguenay Fjord National Park|
The huge sculpture was financed by a Quebec City merchant, who went through the ice with his horse and load of merchandise on a sales trip to Chicoutimi in 1878. After praying to the Virgin, he pulled himself from the icy mire, vowing to give back to her. Years later after a series of further misfortunes, the statue was finally installed on the high Cape Trinité overlooking the Fiord.
Adventures in Nature #2: Boating
Because of the dangers associated with thirteen- to 20-foot fluctuating tides and the wind tunnel created by the high rock formations lining the fjord, canoes and river kayaks are not allowed on the big waters of Saguenay Fjord National Park. But a really convenient feature in the national park is the marine shuttle, Les Navettes maritimes du Fjord, which is a hop-on, hop-off water taxi that services trailheads to wilderness overnight backpacking trails, charming villages and marinas. I loved being on the water, that’s just who I am. I kept a lookout for beluga whales (even though I was told they did not come up this far in the fjord) as I enjoyed the storyteller who told tales of the north woods as we sailed to the remote village of L’Anse-St-Jean. Other experiences for water adventures include with Zodiac boat excursions, guided Fjord en Kayak sea kayak trips and sailboats.
That evening, we ate like foodies at Chez Montagner, a new restaurant by Quebec City restaurateur, Frédérick Montagner and slept like babies in the comfy Chalets du le Fjord motel.
Adventures in Nature #3: Via Ferrata
|Parc Aventures Cap Jaseux, Saint-Fulgence (c) Charles-David Robitaille|
Via Ferrata is a course that aids people in climbing steep terrain with fixed cables, suspended walkways and inverted ladders embedded into cliffside walls. The term is Italian for “Iron Path,” and adventurers can take part in the adrenalin rush at Saguenay Fjord, but I opted for its kinder, gentler brother at Parc de la Caverne Trou de la Feé.
There I walked swinging suspension bridges over whitewater as it raged through a narrow canyon. I didn’t know whether to close my eyes or leave them open. I enjoyed the wooden walkways were bolted into the canyon walls but skipped the zipline.
|Domaine Le Cageot winery|
In keeping with our glamping motif, we lunched at Domaine Le Cageot winery where we were led through a wine tasting during the outdoor le déjeuner. Later at Val Jalbert, a restored “company town” where we spent the night in upmarket, renovated townhouses, we experienced nature by riding a gondola along a powerful waterfall.
The river and falls, higher than the Niagara Falls generated hydraulic power that once ran the pulp mill. The pulp from this company town deep in the forest was shipped down the fjord to the St Lawrence Seaway to New York and London. Val Jalbert is now a living museum full of activities and fun for the whole family. Reenactors live out the days of old, autos are not allowed, but you can spend the night “in the museum.” Rooms are upscale and full of modern amenities.
Make plans to for your own adventures in nature by going to www.saguenaylacsaintjean.ca/en
"Unstoppable Stacey" Wittig is a travel writer based in Flagstaff, Arizona. The Arizona travel writer was was hosted for her stay in Quebec, and although that does not affect her opinions, she believes in full disclosure.