It’s a 2.5-hour drive from Quebec City to the Saguenay region. We pointed our car toward La Baie, where we checked in to L’ Auberge des 21. Located on the shore of the Saguenay Fjord, the warm family inn also features fine regional (read: French) cuisine at a shockingly good restaurant for such a small inn.
The fact that the food was so good, however, should have come as no surprise. Saguenay may just be the most French of all the areas we visited during a one-week post-cruise vacation. Here, French is by far the predominant language.
Our guide Ingrid, who could express herself in English, had trouble pronouncing English words and phrases, such as ‘rural roads.’ The ‘r’s’ simply would not loosen themselves from her lips. Most of Saguenay’s tourists, Ingrid told me, come from France or Belgium, so there are plenty of opportunities to speak French but few opportunities to practice English.
The front desk receptionist at L’ Auberge des 21 had no trouble with English, however, and she waxed poetic about how great it was to live in this remote region of the world. Life is slower here, she said, and much of the emphasis is on nature and fine living.
‘We know how to breathe,’ she said, alluding to the fact that many of her guests came from the busy and breathless pace of the big cities. ‘It’s nature by day,’ she said, ‘and romance by night.’ Indeed, after a day of sailing, we dined exquisitely over a bottle of wine while looking out on the beautiful fjord.
If you seek cultural diversions, visit the Musee du Fjord, or Museum of the Fjords; Verrerie d’Art Touverre, a glass-art workshop; and Olivier Soapery, a living economuseum emphasizing the traditional craft of soap-making in the early 19th century. The latter two are called Economy Museums.
The highlight of our trip, however, was a morning sailing in Saguenay fjord. On many sailing excursions, whales, especially Beluga whales, are often seen, but we saw none on our sailing. Still, it was a wonderful day out on the fjord.
To get to La Baie, we drove through the interior, but to return to Quebec City, we charted a route along the St. Lawrence River, through Charlevoix, where we stopped in Baie-Saint-Paul. The entire town had turned out for a Tour de France style bike race. The streets were closed. Spectators sipped glasses of wine and cheered the riders. Had we not known better, we could have sworn we were in France. But that’s just the way our whole trip had been. It was hard to believe that we were just north of the U.S. border. Never had a place so near home felt so far away.