Wild Ways and a Farm Stay in Northern Quebec Province

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WILD WAYS & A FARM STAY IN NORTHERN QUEBEC
By Elaine Masters

It’s easy to imagine cobblestone streets, the lilt of spoken French and an urban adventure when thinking of Quebec. Glance at a map and you’ll see the province is immense and the city a mere dot on the St. Lawrence Seaway, tucked between peninsulas and nearby fjords. Water shapes this region of Canada from the days of early First Nation traders to today’s tourists exploring by ferry. Venture north and wild vistas open wide. Highway 138 terminates about three hours north of the city at Baie Sainte-Catherine, where ferries shuttle passengers and supplies across the Saguenay-Saint Laurent waters. It’s a short ride so be sure to get out of your vehicle to taste the salt air and gaze up the mountainous fjord. With any luck you might see a Beluga or Minke whale surface! At the end of the crossing the road north continues as it passes the gabled village of Tadoussac.

The city is carved out of the wilderness with forests and rocky inlets nearby. First Nation peoples foraged in the woods and today indigenous herbs flavor Chef Brisson’s menu at La Galouine Inn. His French and native roots blend in delicate pastries as well as sauces, entrees and soups. Shelves line the Inn’s small bar where rows of his Terroir Boreal herbs, fruit preserves and native teas are available. It’s as close as a traveler can get to foraging with Chef Brisson and his grandparents.

Tadoussac is also the local center of whale watching. The small bay hosts several mighty yellow zodiacs. They seat sixty each and weather-permitting, slide into the cool waters to spy on feeding whales. The boat tours include viewing an abandoned light house, sea lions posing on river rocks and a waterfall. Don’t worry about the cool spray or winds as Croisieres AML makes sure everyone is suited up in yellow slickers and matching Farmer John overalls.

There are two dozen parks across the 700 square miles of Quebec Province. A lighthouse trail winds from Riviere-du-Loup to Tadoussac running over 1,255 car miles and a three-hour boat ride. The rewards are plentiful, and itineraries can be adjusted. Three lighthouses sit along the coast on the mainland north of Tadoussac. Across the massive St. Lawrence River, a cluster of wild islands, the Pot a l’Eau de Vie Archipelago, shelters birds and seals. Two of the islands are open to the public and Brandy Pot Island’s lighthouse has been restored as an inn. Hiking trails and whale watching are available.

Follow the road into the Tadoussac countryside and you’ll find farms carved out of the forest landscape. The Deschenes family bought a few acres near Sacre Coeur in 1979. Longing to return to their agricultural roots, they built a farmhouse for their growing family and worked the land but it was their love for the region’s wildlife that has made Fermes Cinq Etoiles a destination.

Farm stays are welcome respites from urban life but there’s no need to rough it when visiting Fermes Cinq Etoiles. As the farm evolved a new business model helped the farm flourish. The owners’ five children (the five stars of Cinq Etoiles) worked on hospitality, cooking, and creating adventures for visitors. Today there is a yurt, a tee-pee, condos, a chalet, and year-round activities including sea kayaking, quad and horse riding, dog sledding, snowmobiling and snow shoeing in the winter.

Feeding the barnyard animals is a feature for guests in the mornings. First there’s a hearty breakfast with eggs from the hen-house and often venison sausage. Just out the farmhouse back door a large building houses hungry critters waiting for their breakfast. Feed bunnies and goats, squealing piglets and loud ducks. Admire the long-plumed pheasants and gather eggs. All is done with guidance of the staff in either French or English.

There are many more animals to greet throughout the farm acres. Outside the long house, a paddock shelters Bison. A small gaggle of geese hold court over a patch of ground outside another corral. Inside the fence a grand turkey struts, a pair of long-haired horses nibble and a long-horn cow rests nearby. Continue along the path and a small herd of deer will greet you, eager for handouts of the pellets available in the farm house. Spy a great owl, raccoons and other animals resting or healing the broken appendages which brought them here.

Years ago, the Deschenes received permits for observation and to create a refuge for orphaned and injured animals from the region. That’s how two wolves, Jacob the Grey and Luna, the Arctic, came to call the farm home. Raised from an early age they enjoy interacting with visitors – within limits. The family worked through trial and error to structure the encounters and keep both guests and the wolves safe. Wolves are pack animals and wary of any challenge to their status, perceived or real. For instance, certain men are seen as threats and won’t enter the pens. The staff also worked with the pack instincts of wolves by introducing a dog companion to each pen. Dogs set dominance on certain things they favor. A dog might be lord of the water tray and the wolf won’t care. Wolves have a more global dominance and as long as that’s not threatened, they’re comfortable with their canine companions.

Before each encounter the staff educates visitors on how to interact with the wolves and to expect hugs. Yes, hugs. Luna is an excitable girl and when guests first arrive she’s ready to play, jumping up to nuzzle and wrestle. Guests are taught to stand with their backs to the fence to brace for her enthusiasm. Jacob is calmer and larger. His deep white coat is grey at the base and he loves being ruffled. Once you’ve come face to face with a massive wolf you’ll never forget it.

The farm houses a Sugar Shack and during the maple harvest guests can help cook the syrup. Whether there’s fresh snow or a bucket of ice chips everyone is invited to try the premier Canadian treat, maple taffy. The farm’s best syrup is heated and poured deftly on the snow. Using Popsicle sticks, guests dip into the golden goo and roll it up before popping the syrupy sticks into their mouths. The sweet treat is just one sample of the bounty of the Quebec region.

Travel Planning Links:

Farm stay: www.Ferme5etoiles.com   

Whale watching: www.Croisieresaml.com

La Galouine Inn: www.Lagalouine.com  

Ever curious and hungry for adventure, Elaine Masters is a freelance travel writer and digital storyteller. Since founding www.Tripwellgal.com in 2010, her weekly stories and travel tips have been encouraging Boomer gals and their pals to go far, often and do it well. Her stories include urban to soft adventures, culinary explorations, cultural exchanges, and sustainable travel. With over 300 dives in International tropical waters, Elaine’s passionate about taking pictures and video, above and beneath the surface.

International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association

 

 

 


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