Exploring Quebec: La Grande Hermine at Chalets de l’Anse Ste-Hélène on the Gaspé Peninsula

There was a point where it looked likely that this trip would not take place. Luckily, the evil virus decided that it would accept that the vaccination programme was working and the border between Ontario and Quebec and the stay-at-home order was rescinded in a timely manner in order for us to have our trip to the Gaspé peninsula in northern Quebec.

We were very much looking forward to this for two very good reasons: firstly, getting away is always good especially after such a long time and the Gaspesie area is meant to be beautiful; secondly, we were going to be staying in a chalet right on the Baie de Chaleur, a real seaside stop. Oh, and the chalet was shaped like a ship.

Yes, that’s right. The chalet was shaped like a ship. Not a little ship but like a proper pirate style ship. In fact, it was a scaled down replica of intrepid French explorer Jacques Cartier’s ship called La Grande Hermine (The Big Weasel, to you non-French speakers), Cartier being one of the earliest Europeans who charted the St Lawrence River in the 1500s.

As some of you who read my blog regularly may know, my youngest son loves pirate ships and such like and had commissioned me (although he didn’t pay me anything) to make him his own galleon which I duly did out of Amazon boxes, brown paper, Mod Podge and other bits and pieces that I had lying round at home. As a result, he was super excited about the whole trip and we couldn’t wait to get there so that we could see the expression on his face.

Actually, if I am honest, the person who was probably the most excited was me. I mean, we were going to stay on a ship and not just a houseboat – this was in the shape of a pirate ship! I have to say that the romantic side of me was suitably stimulated by the idea of life on the high seas and searching for treasure and all of the other likely pirate activities that would have taken place on such a ship, excluding the actual nastiness and violence of it, of course. Mine would have been the life of a Disney pirate.

I had seen pictures of the ship online and the night before we were due to depart, I found an interactive webpage where you could navigate your way around the ship so I had a good idea of what to expect. But nothing could have prepared me for quite how good it was.

The chalets were easy to find at the side of the road, just outside a village called Maria, which was just as well, as we had had a daunting 10 hour drive to get there and we were weary travellers when we pitched up, despite the frequent Tim Hortons’ stops and the scenery. The other chalets were pedestrian compared to our majestic vessel; their normal shape of boxy squareness with a pitched roof might look just the thing on the side of a Swiss alp or in a wooded clearing in a Canadian park but here, they were eclipsed completely by our ship.

It didn’t disappoint. The boat was split into three sections: there was an outside seating area in the middle of the ship, where you gained entry to it and the other parts; at the rear of the ship (is that the bow or the stern? I don’t know!) was the first double room up a short set of stairs, with views onto the Baie de Chaleur, accessed from the galley kitchen and seating area. There was also a table with four chairs in case of inclement weather conditions.

The third section was at the front of the ship and comprised another double room with a shower room and toilet, the Captain’s quarters, no doubt. It was compact but for the three nights that we would be staying, it was perfect.

I’m not sure that photos can do it justice but it was pretty special and very well put together. We had no sails when we were there but, according to Myrna, the lovely lady who books the chalet and who I was fortunate enough to meet while we were there, they do hoist the mainsail. I think that it was impressive enough without it but I can imagine it’s quite a spectacle in full sail.

Attempts had been made inside to decorate it sympathetically so there was a bunch of heavy antique keys and a pair of pistols which my youngster was suitably taken with.

Our first day was a quiet one where we found a walk along the river close to some waterfalls. We were conscious of the fact that we had been in the truck for a long time the day before and none of us wanted to be cramped up for longer than was necessary.

Besides, our plan for the following day was to head to Gaspesie National Park which was a longer drive away so today would be a day for stretching legs and exploring our local environment.

A short walk along a river, swatting mozzies and watching Quebecers place kayaks in the river and we were sufficiently exercised for the day. Now, to return and enjoy the view and the novelty of sleeping on a ship!

I have to say that having been on ships previously and not having enjoyed the motion of moving on the rolling sea overly much, the night on La (Petite) Grande Hermine was very restful. If I had a complaint, it was road noise which sounds a bizarre thing to state about a stay on a ship but it was true. There was not a lot between us and the road and we had already been informed that it was not insulated – it is only open for part of the year – and this obviously contributed to its inability to diffuse the sounds of passing cars and trucks.

Having lived next to the Rockies for three and a half years, I cannot express to you how much I missed no longer having these on my doorstep. It only takes about 45 minutes to get to Kananaskis from where we lived in Calgary; to hikes and lakes of the strangest colours and wildlife and the most wonderfully scenic skiing. Moving to Ontario meant that we had to leave all of that behind, and whilst Ontario has attractions of its own, it doesn’t have dramatic peaks. It has smaller mountains like Calabogie and the Niagara Escarpment but they’re different.

I was hoping that this part of northern Quebec would be comparable to what I had known and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by Gaspesie. It was wild, rugged, verdant. It’s not the Rockies but it is similar in the way that the road follows the river and winds through trees, enclosing you but as you travel further, opens out to the rock strewn river bed or the steep slopes of forest stretching towards the sky.

We were lucky too as we had a beautiful day to explore this part of Quebec.

You know, having lived near and explored the Rockies in Alberta for so long, you’d have thought that we would have been better prepared for a day in the mountains but unfortunately not. Dressed in shorts with no outerwear – it was hot by the ship! – we were deterred from doing a hike when we could see our breath. However, we did find a walk that took us by the river at the side of the road and this was just perfect. It was warm, bright and Nature was showing us just how lovely it could be and it was a tonic. After months of being restricted it felt like we were finally travelling again.

Tangled tree roots; gushing water; clear river bottoms, suggesting hidden boulders and the chance of icy toes – just glorious.

Tomorrow, we would have to travel the ten hours back to Ottawa and would once more be back in the suburbs. So, it was only right that we should see if we could find somewhere to have lunch and savour the mountains and lakes for a little longer. We headed to Lake Cascapédia along a dirt road that tested the suspension on our truck as well as our abilities to keep our teeth in our heads. But the bone-rattling drive was worth it as we parked and headed towards the lake and encountered the views below.

It looked like this could be a nice place to stop and enjoy tranquil surroundings with some kayaking or canoeing with the lake before you and the dense forest behind. It was a grand view and the cabins that were there were nestled to disguise them within the landscape whilst affording their occupants wonderful unobstructed views. As you can see from the photo above, a tourist partially obscured the lake from for a small portion of the day but some might say that this merely augmented the landscape rather than marred it? One can hope.

So, with long drives in mind, we headed back to our last night at La Grande Hermine which we were very much looking forward to as well as the beauty of Nature surrounding us and the warm waters of the estuary to sample.

Quebec was a treat and I would recommend that anyone in eastern Canada explore Gaspésie as you will not be disappointed.

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