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Quintessential Quebec
Experience hospitality, old-world charm and great food in the largest Canadian province

Published: Mar/Apr 2003
By Gary Peterson

A street scene from Old Quebec, Quebec City/ ©Debbie Harmsen photo
Hurricane Gustav’s outer fringes roiled the waters off Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula and its bludgeoning winds made it difficult to traverse the flaked shale shore to the base of Perce Rock, the peninsula’s trademark landform. Yet, the inclemency perfectly punctuated a journey along the ruggedly beautiful St. Lawrence River.

After all, scenery is a star during much of Brennan Tours’ nine-day Quebec Gaspe Peninsula By Rail tour. But it thrusts itself into top billing when the tour enters day six, and the road between Matane and Perce winds through sheer granite cliffs lording over the waterway. By the time the trip reaches land’s end at the Gulf of St. Lawrence and heads back by train to Montreal, a collective, satisfied sigh is what could be expected from the tour participants.

That’s due, of course, to the wonder of Quebec, but equal credit must be rendered to an excellent itinerary.

The stay’s the thing

Keeping a tour group happy is aided when each day ends at a lodging of consequence. This Quebec adventure begins and ends in Montreal, where the name of the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth says it all. The high-rise property sits prominently downtown and atop the train station. It also is connected to Montreal’s amazing underground city–thousands of subterranean shops, restaurants and more. Days two and three are spent in Quebec City. Its centerpiece, because of distinctive architecture and its perch above the St. Lawrence, is the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac. The historic hotel is close to the hilly city’s many shops and restaurants.

In Pointe-Au-Pic, the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu’s country estate-like setting allows for fun outdoor activities all year long. Its overlook of the St. Lawrence is arresting and the Casino de Charlevoix is located next door for more excitement. In Matane, day five’s accommodations are at The Belle Plage, a family inn right on the riverbanks. It’s more of the same on day six at La Bonaventure Sur Mer in Perce, where the gulf stretches to the horizon.

Day seven’s stay is in a private berth aboard the Chaleur, a VIA train to Montreal. If a bit cramped, the ride is nostalgic and relaxing.

A palette for the palate

Keeping tour participants well fed is as important as keeping them well rested, and the Gaspe Peninsula excursion doesn’t disappoint. Seafood is king along the St. Lawrence, as evidenced by the shrimp and scallops at Le Manoir Richelieu, the shrimp cocktail and seafood salad at The Belle Plage and the grilled salmon at La Bonaventure Sur Mer.

Other local cuisine that bears attention includes poutin, French onion soup and French Canadian split pea soup. La Belle Exceuse in Baie Saint-Paul serves up a healthy portion of poutin–French fries and cheese curds covered in gravy. The Hotel/Motel de Grande Vallee offers a heavenly onion soup and The Belle Plage does the region’s heritage proud with its split pea soup.

More to it

Comfortable stays and pleasing platefuls are amply complemented during the tour by Quebec’s beauty and its pivotal history. The sprawling dairy farmland, quaint fishing villages and the collision of French and British Colonial cultures make for a splendid experience, especially when doled out the Brennan way.

Gary Peterson is an associate editor at “Home & Away” magazine.

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