Please Go Away Experience:
Whales and Nature Trails of Quebec
September 25th - October 3rd, 2022
When you think of Quebec, French fur traders and cosmopolitan Montreal may come to mind. But we’ve made an enticing discovery you may not be as familiar with: Quebec has some of North America’s grandest natural landscapes and rich wildlife habitat!
Just beyond Quebec City, mountains, gorges, glacial valleys, dense forests and the St. Lawrence estuary converge. A host of wildlife inhabits these varied ecosystems, from five whale species, porpoises, seals and scores of birds to black bear, gray wolf, red fox and woodland caribou. In fact, UNESCO has granted World Heritage status to the entire region, creating the Charlevoix Biosphere Reserve that encompasses three of the five national parks and reserves we visit. And it’s all easily accessible, just north of Maine. Explore it with us on an early autumn adventure as the foliage starts to turn.
'Fall' in Love with Wild Quebec
Most tours to Quebec focus on its cities (and our trip starts and ends in Quebec City, whose 400-year-old French colonial Old Town is certainly beguiling) as part of a much wider swing through Eastern Canada, usually including Toronto, Ottawa, etc. For the nature traveler, however, Quebec’s greatest treasures lie in less civilized realms. And there’s no lovelier time than autumn to discover them...as only Nat Hab will show you!
Though Quebec is right above Maine, it’s one of Canada’s most distinctive provinces by virtue of its French heritage and French-Canadian identity. French is the first language of Quebec, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in Europe when you travel within Quebec! Quebec offers a unique North American travel adventure, with close proximity for U.S. travelers.
The section of Quebec we explore is a dramatic realm of mountains, deep gorges, glacial-carved valleys, wild rivers, lakes brimming with trout, and a major estuary that’s home to whales, porpoises, seals and other marine life where the Saguenay Fjord meets the salty St. Lawrence River. On this compact, week-long trip, you’ll experience it all! We travel in September when the weather cools down and early autumn color begins to brighten the deciduous forests.
In just eight days, we visit four national parks and a marine reserve. Yet you’re not rushed, as most of our destinations are relatively close to each other. Three lie within the UNESCO-recognized Charlevoix World Biosphere Reserve, which encompasses tremendous ecological diversity, with river ecosystems, estuarine tidal marshes, coniferous and mixed forests, stunted vegetation (krummholz) and mountain tundra.
Many people aren’t aware that Quebec is noted for some of the world’s best whale watching, with five different species congregating in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park—including the endangered St. Lawrence beluga. We make two private Zodiac outings in search of them, with chances also to see porpoises, seals and seabirds.
Four Dramatic National Parks - Hike, canoe and kayak in the glacier-carved terrain of four diverse parks: Saguenay Fjord, Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Riviere Malbaie, Grands-Jardins and Jacques-Cartier.
World-Class Whale Watching - On two private Zodiac outings, look for whales and porpoises in Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, including endangered belugas and giant blue whales
Scenic Autumn Train Journey - Ride the Train de Charlevoix along the St. Lawrence River and wooded Laurentian foothills on a 78-mile trip from charming Baie-Saint-Paul to La Malbaie
Day to Day Itinerary
Day One: Arrival in Quebec City
Arrive in Quebec City. The only intact fortified city in North America north of Mexico, Quebec City is one of the oldest settlements in North America, founded in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain. Old Quebec—the city’s original quarter, once the capital of New France—is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contained within still-standing ramparts, bastions and gates. From our boutique hotel in the old city, step out onto cobblestone lanes and wander down Rue de Petit-Champlain, North America’s oldest shopping street. This evening, gather with our Expedition Leaders for a welcome dinner.
Le Germain Hotel Quebec is a bold sense of style pervades Le Germain Hotel Quebec, a stunning boutique hotel tucked away within a labyrinth of narrow streets in the heart of Old Quebec just steps from the quays of the Old Port. All the old-city highlights are within a 5-minute walk, including Place Royale, the Old Quebec Funicular and the Museum of Civilization. The elegant boutique hotel is housed in a century-old building that's undergone an impressive renovation, flooding the space with an abundance of natural light. With a nod to the building's history, the design showcases the original dark wood and exposed brick walls within an overall modern-chic atmosphere interpreted in a palette of gray, black and white with stainless steel accents. Deluxe beds have goose-down comforters, feather pillows and Egyptian cotton and bamboo sheets. Contemporary bathrooms feature white subway-tile showers, clear green glass countertops, 100% Pima cotton towels and bathrobes, and signature Ruby Brown toiletries custom-designed for Germain Hotels. Rooms have free Wi-Fi, wall-mounted flat screen HD TV, Bose bluetooth alarm clock radio, minibar and a Nespresso pod coffeemaker.
During your stay enjoy breakfast in the breathtaking lobby sip cocktails on the sun-drenched terrace or call on our Clef Dor concierge service to arrange the best in Quebec City dining and performing arts. 60 luxuriously appointed rooms with spectacular views of the river and Old Quebec.
Awards include Fodors Choice Award Frommers Choice Award Multiple Quebec Grand Prix of Tourism Award Winner Best Hotel in Canada by the readers of the prestigious Conde Nast Traveler magazine.
Complimentary coffee and tea newspaper apples turndown service upgraded amenities.
Rest up from your journey then stroll the charming neighborhood and pick your choice of fine restaurant or bistro for your independent dinner this evening.
Day Two: Foodie Tour
Île d'Orléans is located in the Saint Lawrence River about 5 kilometers east of downtown Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. Alongside fresh berries, homemade jams, maple syrup, wine, and cheeses, Québec’s Île d’Orléans serves up a side of nature and history. The island was one of the first parts of the province to be colonized by the French, and a large percentage of French Canadians can trace ancestry to early residents of the island. The island has been described as the "microcosm of traditional Quebec and as the birthplace of francophones in North America." It has about 7,000 inhabitants, spread over 6 villages.
A foodie’s paradise, Ile d’Orleans is the ideal location for a taste trail food and wine tour. Filled with vineyards and orchards, farms, talented artisans and producers, Ile d’Orleans is an integral part of Quebec City’s food scene. Ile d’Orleans is known for its strawberries in summer and sugar shacks in spring, fresh vegetables and herbs, high-quality foie gras, wine and iced ciders.
On our half-day guided tour, discover specialty drinks and foods of the region at several different stops, including a vineyard. Taste wine, ice cider, cassis, and visit a chocolate factory. Learn about the history and early settlement of the island.
Return to your hotel with the rest of your day free to explore independently - everything is within an easy walk.
Day Three: Train to La Malbaie / Tadoussac
Drive north this morning to Baie St. Paul, one of the oldest communities in Quebec. This colorful small town is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil, where a troupe of street performers got their start in the 1980s. It’s also where we board the Train de Charlevoix for the 3-hour scenic rail journey to La Malbaie. Our 78-mile route follows the St. Lawrence River at the base of the Laurentian Hills, passing through charming coastal villages. Disembark in La Malbaie and head into town for lunch, then continue driving north to arrive in Tadoussac by late afternoon. This evening, our Expedition Leaders give a presentation on the variety of whales we may see during our excursions over the next two days.
Hotel Tadoussac is a Quebec landmark resort located in one of the worlds most beautiful bays. ideally located at the junction of Saguenay and St. Lawrence rivers just 3 hours of Quebec City, this seasonal resort reflects tranquility. its history and cultural background of Tadoussac - one of Canada's oldest villages.
Surrounded by a grandiose natural environment - under the protection of two parks national and provincial.with a single glance experience the whales the majestic Saguenay fjord - the mountains - and the St. Lawrence River.
Enjoy a variety of upscale hotel services and a very warm welcome from the Tadoussac locals a variety of activities at your disposal and savor our distinctive cuisine in our 3 restaurants inspired from innovative products from the Charlevoix region. A stay with us is what you want it to be a haven of tranquility and your springboard to adventure
Day Four: Whale Watching / Saguenay Fjord National Park / Tadoussac
From Marina de Bergeronnes, board Zodiacs for our first whale-watching adventure in Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. From May through October, five whale species frequent this zone where the Saguenay River meets the St. Lawrence Estuary. This confluence of waters from the Great Lakes, Saguenay Basin and Atlantic Ocean fosters an exceptionally rich food chain, sustaining creatures from microscopic zooplankton to the world’s largest animal, the blue whale. Look also for humpback, fin, minke and beluga whales, plus harbor porpoise and several seal species.
After lunch, head inland for hiking and kayaking in Saguenay Fjord National Park. The Saguenay River drains into this 65-mile-long gash in the Canadian Shield, hemmed by rock walls a thousand feet high. The fjord was formed at the end of the last Ice Age, when the glacier-gouged valley was inundated by the sea as the ice collapsed. Though wildlife is elusive, the park’s forests are home to wolves, black bears, lynx, moose and beavers, and several breeding pairs of peregrine falcons inhabit the high cliffs. We spend the night in Tadoussac at the mouth of the fjord. Tadoussac is the site of the first French fur trading post in North America, established in 1599 along a longstanding aboriginal trade route connecting the St. Lawrence River with Hudson Bay.
Day Five: Whale Watching / La Malbaie
Return to the marine park this morning for a second whale-watching trip. Among the whales, we hope to encounter is the endangered St. Lawrence beluga, the only marine mammal, along with the harbor seal, to live in the estuary year-round. Our local boat operator is part of the Eco-Whale Alliance, which helps fund research and education projects on the whales of the St. Lawrence. After lunch, drive back to La Malbaie to spend the night. La Malbaie is regarded as the birthplace of resort tourism in Canada, drawing wealthy Canadian and American families who summered here at grand estates in the 19th century. Our hotel overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, harks back to that tradition. The original 1899 hotel built by Canada Steamship Lines to attract well-heeled guests to the region burned to the ground in 1928. It was replaced a year later by the current grand chateau, built in the style of a French castle.
Day Six: Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Riviere-Malbaie National Park / La Malbaie
Today we discover one of Canada’s most dramatic natural landscapes, Parc National des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie, which is a centerpiece of the Charlevoix Biosphere Reserve. A testament to the titanic forces of nature that shaped it, the park is named for a series of deep, glacier-carved gorges cut into a high mountain range above the Malbaie River. These are among the tallest rock faces east of the Rockies, with steep, densely forested slopes that sweep down to the narrow blue ribbon of river. Among the predominant fir and birch are stands of ash and sugar maple, which create a bold mosaic of color in autumn. Lakes dot the plateau and valley floor, and waterfalls plummet from cliffs on high. Vegetation zones change with the altitude, with varied species inhabiting each, from white-tailed deer in lowland valleys to moose in the boreal forest and caribou on the alpine tundra atop the mountains. Golden eagles and peregrine falcons frequent the cliffs, while osprey fish in the rivers far below. Cars are not permitted in the park, and we enjoy peace and quiet as we explore on foot and by canoe. We'll stop for a picnic lunch in the park before returning to La Malbaie late this afternoon.
Day Seven: Jacques-Cartier National Park / Lac Delage
Just north of Lac Delage is Jacques-Cartier National Park, the last of the five Quebec nature reserves on our itinerary. Named for the French navigator who explored the St. Lawrence River in the 16th century, the park is yet another grand landscape within the Laurentian massif, and once more, we discover it on foot and by canoe or kayak. The 230-square-mile preserve is defined by a vast mountainous plateau cut by deep glacial troughs, including the massive U-shaped swath of Jacques-Cartier Valley. The Jacques-Cartier River, serene in places and turbulent in others, has sliced an 1,800-foot-deep channel into the plateau. The river holds Atlantic salmon, brook trout and Arctic char, which also entice anglers to the park's lakes. Atop the plateau, we find boreal forest, dominated by black spruce, while the valley holds mainly deciduous trees such as sugar maple and yellow birch. Wildlife abounds in the park, including more than 130 bird species. The moose is the king of the river valley, and we may also spot white-tailed deer, beaver, river otter, red fox and porcupine. This land became a conservation priority when the Laurentian Wildlife Reserve was created in 1895, forming the basis for the park that was established in 1981. Return to Lac Delage for a farewell dinner.
Day Eight: Quebec City / Depart
After breakfast, depart for the airport in Quebec City, less than 30 minutes' drive from Lac Delage.
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We have included an additional overnight in Quebec City and a wonderful foodie tour to discover and enjoy the local specialties prior to this itinerary starting the following day.