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Our descent on Anticosti Island, departing by plane from Montreal with a stop in Quebec to pick up more passengers, reminded me that we were heading for an isolated corner of the province. When disembarking near Port-Menier, the only populated hamlet on the island with a little over 200 inhabitants, we only saw trees, trees, trees. No wonder, because most of the time only hunters and fishermen know this place.
Deer, for example, are easy to spot; not surprisingly, because the French chocolatier Henri Menier introduced the animal, after purchasing the island in 1895, to create a hunter’s paradise. Now they are everywhere, including on the patio of Auberge Port-Menier, our inn.
On the island, which is one and a half times the size of Prince Edward Island, nature is great – literally. Vauréal Falls, higher than Niagara Falls, seem to spring out of nowhere. Walking along the Sentier des Télégraphes trail, one arrives at views of Baie de la Tour, a huge bay of turquoise water flanked by huge cliffs.
The best way to see the massive natural wonders here is by vehicle. Sépaq, the body of Quebec’s provincial parks, has guides who will take you on hikes to various surrounding falls and canyons on day trips. If you wish to explore the island on your own, 4×4 rentals are available.
But if this is the city you want to browse, electric bikes are available at the hostel, and all the neighborhoods you will need to see are close to Port-Menier. Within the town site are the remains of Chateau Menier, where Henri Menier built an impressive mansion to entertain and house his wealthy guests at the turn of the 19th century. Today, the charred foundations that remain are part of a public campground. And much of the island’s past can be seen within reach of cycling. Visitors can see abandoned Acadian villages, remains of shipwrecks and fossilized cliffs.
You’ll want to take the time to see the fossils up close, especially along the cliffs between Anse-aux-Fraises and Cap de la Vache-Qui-Pisse. Fossils abound here – the region is the best place in the world to see the results of the first extinction of life on earth, and a UNESCO World Heritage nomination for the island is now being considered. Tourists are allowed to pocket up to five small fossils that have fallen at the foot of the cliffs.
Many other islands in the St. Lawrence remain well hidden, at least from a tourist point of view, and their atmosphere is often from another world. If island hopping is your thing, consider adding the following to your list.
Ile aux Lièvres
As on Anticosti Island, humans are visitors here in a real waterfowl domain. Forty-five kilometers of trails in dense forest and along the shores of the island make it a paradise for hikers and lovers of nature and wildlife. Along with red foxes, muskrats and snowshoe hares, waterfowl abound. The island was purchased in 1979 by the Société Duvetnor, a conservation organization focused on the preservation of the islands of the lower St. Lawrence estuary. “There are few places where waterfowl are as well protected as in the St. Lawrence estuary,” says Duvetnor’s president, Dr. Jean Bédard. Bird watchers can spot common eiders “and the species that nest with them, like razorbills and black murres,” he says. duvetnor.com
Hidden in the basin of the immense Charlevoix crater, and accessible only by ferry, the island is called “Twenty-three kilometers of happiness”. Must-sees in this gourmet paradise include Boulangerie Bouchard and Pedneault Orchard, home to over 30 varieties of apples, and award-winning ice cider. Les Moulins de l’Isle, a flour mill dating from 1836, allows visitors to watch the flour being milled and bring home sacks of wheat or buckwheat. tourismeisleauxcoudres.com
Although visible from the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, this island is visited by only a handful of non-Quebec travelers each year. It is home to century-old farms, tiny chapels, roadside crosses and colorful houses overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Over half a dozen wineries dot the seven parishes here, and Cassis Monna & Filles has been producing blackcurrant liqueurs for decades. On the other end of the island, La Boulange is the place to grab fresh pastries and a café au lait, and the roadside farm stalls are stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables. Walks along the south shore at low tide allow stunning views of the huge cargo ships passing by. Although cycling is popular, it is best done on a weekday when there is much less traffic. tourisme.iledorleans.com
The author was the guest of Sépaq. The organization has not reviewed or endorsed this story.