Our 550 km adventure swept us northward from Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Montreal to two regions within Québec, Canada’s largest province. The aerial approach to YUL hinted at the watery proportions below, as did the myriad blue squiggles on my maps, yet I was unprepared for this land of lacs.
Here, the dominant language is French and smiles are universal. The name of the game is an as-you-like-it blend of rustic and sophisticated, comfort and edgy, relaxation and sport.
My colleagues and I were guests of Tourisme Québec for a media trip to discover Québec Authentique, or Authentic Québec. As swiftly as the Saint Lawrence, we were transported- literally and metaphysically- to Mauricie and Lanaudière. Over four days, we were wooed by provincial bounty on the table, inviting hosts, unique auberges, and nature’s panorama in blue and green.
The regions’ inhabitants are eager to share. Tourists originate primarily from Europe, China, Mexico and the U.S. Summer and winter are prime seasons for an abundance of water and snow activities for all ages. What’s fun is how the regions and the activities interconnect.
Halfway between Montreal and Québec City is Chez Dany Cabane à Sucre (Sugar Shack) in Trois-Rivières at Highway 40, exit 192. For twenty-one years, this establishment has been frequented by locals and tourists alike for its maple syrup confections, le tout a volonté (all you can eat) comfort food, outright ambience and the opportunity to engage with owner Dany Néron.
The crowd was line-dancing when we stepped in. The country music was familiar. The walls are blanketed with money from around the world. Menus are available in multiple languages.
After Natalie’s tour of the maple production process, we appreciated that forty liters of sap becomes one liter of maple syrup, though restraint wasn’t evident in the liberal application in and on everything. I couldn’t help but think of Will Ferrell’s fascination with it in Elf as I poured.
With an abundance of maple syrup (10,000 producers in Québec ; 80% of the world’s), it shouldn’t have been a surprise to find there are Québécois beverages with the ingredient. We obligingly sampled Caribou (port, whiskey and maple syrup) and Sortilège (Canadian whiskey and maple syrup) with a touch of guilty pleasure.
Soupe aux Poix *French Canadian Pea Soup
Fèves au Lard*Baked Beans
Pâté à la Viande *Meat Pie
Omelette au Four*Baked omelette
Pommes de Terre*Potatoes
Oreilles de Crisse* Grilled Salt Pork
Betteraves Marinées*Pickled Beets
Jambon à l’Érable*Maple Ham
Crêpes au Sirop d’ Érable*Maple Syrup Pancakes
Tire sur la Neige*Maple Taffy on Snow
Dany’s demonstration of Tire sur la Neige (maple taffy on snow) outside made a sweet impression.
Hôtel Sacacomie is the stuff of dreams in its perch in the boreal forest on the edge of Lake Sacacomie. Rooms in the magnificent white pine log cabin boast tranquil lake views, fireplaces and Jacuzzi baths. My chambre 317 was front and center: I was severely tempted to languish on the balcony’s Adirondak chair, but it was not to be.
Trapper Daniel Simard beckoned us to the great outdoors on the hotel’s vast 500 square kilometers. Into the woods we nine went in a military transport vehicle to witness the industry of Charlotte the beaver, whom he attracted with an aspen sapling and a whistle. She surreptitiously snatched the snack and retreated underwater or into her lodge.
The banks nearby were evidence that these animals, at times, eat only to chew. The dam constructed to secure her water source appeared masterful.
At dusk, despite our silence and a maple syrupy treat, none of the area’s Brown Bears showed up. Yet the experience made its mark, as we learned about the amazing animal and its habitat from our guide. A hefty porcupine, cousin to the bear, ventured into the feeding area twice.
Dinner at Hôtel Sacacomie was elegantly served in the dining room. The Table d’hôte from soup to appetizers to plats principaux (main courses) and desserts offered regional specialties that sated. Carrot soup, a duo of Saint-Alexis trout, braised bison parmentier with red wine and shallots, and sugar pie with fresh cream delighted.
After raspberry compote, yogurt and coffee the next morning, in the same Mastigouche Wildlife Reserve, we drove two-passenger Kawasaki quads over hilly paths of stone, dirt, mud and vegetation. At a mere 10-15 kilometers per hour, we felt exhilarated and challenged to remain upright with our goggles and helmets intact. We were told that these same trails are utilized for snowmobiles in the winter at much, much greater speeds.
Indeed, the winter promises a slew of activities: ice skating, tubing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling (motoneige) excursions, ice fishing, an ice driving (racecar) circuit, dogsledding, trapper tours and seaplane tours.
Fishing instruction on nearby Lac Cantichez was provided by Marty Landry, who grew up in Mauricie and first fished at age 4. Here we caught and released Bass in the lake’s calm waters as the sun emerged and enjoyed a picnic lakeside.
Hôtel Sacacomie’s GEOS Spa was calling. We gratefully surrendered to the glory of indoor-outdoor tubs, saunas and rest spaces, senses piqued.
À Lanaudière! Approximately 85 km away at the Black River and Lac Goyer is the Auberge du Vieux Moulin (the Inn at the Old Mill). This idyllic enclave of twenty-one rooms at the inn, two chalets and two teepees (with electricity and full bathroom) is the creation of one remarkable family. Since 1995, proprieters Kevin Fournier and his parents, Sylvie Vivier and Yves Marcoux have dedicated themselves to a labor of love. They’ve been busy pleasing others since 1998, growing all the while.
Inside, there is an indoor pool, wet and dry sauna and massage.
Outside are three Jacuzzis, river access, a sandy beach on the lake, paddleboats, canoes, fishing, swings, a fort with slide and a trampoline. Equipment is available ad lib to guests.
Winter activities include ice skating, ice fishing, cross-country ski, dogsledding, snowmobile tours, and an alpine slide.
You’ll find handcrafted wooden structures and water features. On your way to the teepees, meet Belle and Beau, resident elks, nine American baby deer and two horses.
Their own sugar shack built in 2011 produces 350-400 gallons of maple syrup annually, enough for The Auberge ‘s needs, in the period March 15-April 15. The Auberge’s menu proudly notes the inclusion of Kevin’s sirop d’érable (maple syrup) in many of the preparations. It has replaced sugar in the kitchen. Their toddler is a fan.
Meals are cozy affairs in the rustic dining room. Yves and Kevin take turns cooking. Sylvie is a gracious hostess.
My dinner began with a tulip-shaped filo pastry stuffed with vegetables in a Bocké cheese crust. I selected grilled pulled deer in hunter’s sauce garnished with dried cranberries and peppers. We enjoyed local red wine. After the main meal, guests sample regional cheeses and seasonal fruit from the sideboard.
At breakfast time, we each toasted our bread outside on the wood stove. With maple butter and berry preserves, it’s sensational. Crêpes grand-mère looked yummy.
I appreciated the grand design and minute detail here. Sylvie recalled “cutting and peeling the wood” years ago with a five and seven year-old at her side.
My room in the latest addition overlooking the lake was spacious and accommodating, with a primo clawfoot tub and bath salts. I slept like a rock.
If you can’t decide where to lay your head, opt for time spent between the inn and the teepees.
Our stay here was both intimate and fun. I imagine what The Auberge would be in the eyes of a child. Pure joy comes to mind.
Our next destination, Pouvoirie Domaine Bazinet , was a mere 9km away. Pourvoirie is the French term for outfitter, for hunting and fishing. Proprietress Cindy Auger warmly greets and tells us that their 20 square km establishment is geared mostly for fishing, and summer is their biggest season. Families gravitate to the great outdoors at their doorstep. The lakes are pure, stocked only with Trout: Speckled (on five lakes) and Rainbow (on one). Kids really take to the fishing lessons offered here.
Paddleboats, canoes, kayaks, water trampoline, power paddles, waterslides, swimming, badminton, volleyball, and ping-pong are free of charge.
While hiking, you may see birds, including Bald Eagles, deer, moose, fox, and wolves.
In the winter, go ice fishing on the lake, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling. As a snowmobile relay station, Domaine Bazinet offers gas, food and lodging to guests on the TransQuebec circuit.
There are seven ensuite rooms and 24 cabins in a pristine setting on the lake, some with private dock and boats.
Cindy and Martin, our outfitter, prepared our gear for a bit of fishing and we hopped into waiting boats. The lake was smooth as glass and the only sounds were my cohort screaming as she replaced her worm on the hook.
You may take your catch to the evisceration shack and grill it yourself by a picnic table.
Inside the dining room, we were treated to an amazing lunch: leek soup, Brie stuffed with smoked trout and maple syrup, bison burger with frites dipped in pesto mayonnaise and local beer. Wow.
The sign at the crossroads reads:
Auberge du Lac Tareau*Villégiature (vacation stay)*Spa*Gastronomie.
Flower baskets welcome to this gorgeous log resort on the lake. Lodging is available in one of 100 rooms or 24 condos. You’ll find a campfire for nightly marshmallow roasts, twenty kilometers of hiking trails, a sandy beach, seadoos, kayaks, paddleboards, two pontoon boats, fishing and mountain bikes. Enjoy the indoor pool, spa and massage year-round. You can opt for a massage in the teepee at the water’s edge. An outdoor sundeck features chaise lounges and gas fireplaces.
On a pontoon ride on this 94 square km lake, the exuberant Matthew, who also checked us in, provided some history. The lake is artificial, 110 years old, drained in the winter to provide flow to the reservoir in order to regulate current to make hydroelectricity. Winter sports include cross-country ski, ice skating, snowmobiling, ice fishing.
In the lodge dining room we enjoyed yet another spectacular meal. Though the list was long with regional cuisine, a skillet of three-cheese mac ‘n cheese with lobster tail had my name on it. A couple spoonfuls of apple tart with whisky-maple ice cream satisfied.
The Lac Tareau area is rooted in history and culture. In the evening, we were guided on the beach and forest trail to observe Manawee built reproductions of teepees and an Iroquois longhouse for one or two clans.
I adored retreating to my lovely room with poetry on the walls.
Body, mind and spirit, Québec’s Mauricie and Lanaudière regions inspire.
Prenez le large: immerse yourself!
When you go:
Chez Dany: 195, de la Sablière, Trois-Rivières, Québec, G9B 7A9; cabanechezdany.com
Hôtel Sacacomie: 4000, chemin Yvon-Plante, Saint-Alexis-des-Monts, Québec , J0K 1V0; www.sacacomie.com
Pourvoirie Domaine Bazinet: 3000, chemin Bazinet, Ste- Émélie -de-l’Énergie, QC J0K2K0; www.domainebazinet.com
Auberge du Vieux Moulin: 200 chemin du vieux moulin, Saint – Émélie -de-l’Énergie, Québec, J0K2K0; www.auberge-lanaudiere.com
Auberge du Lac Tareau: 1200 Chemin de la Baie-du-Milieu, Saint-Michel-des-Saints, QC J0K 3B0; http://www.lactaureau.com