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Quebec's Haute Spot
There aren't many places where you can spend a day paddling past whales or biking in a boreal forest, then sit down to caribou mariné d'herbes et épices. That's the alluring double take that is the province of Quebecparticularly its inn-studded Charlevoix and Saguenay regions. The exchange rate is favorable, and there's plenty of potential for outdoor adventure: Route 138, which traces the St. Lawrence River, links national parks, rolling mountains laced with trails, and a 62-mile-long (100-kilometer-long) fjord edged by thousand-foot (305-meter) cliffs.
All prices in U.S. dollars.
WHAT TO DO
Quebec City's cobbled streets are your first stop and a perfect venue for resuscitating flagging high school French. The city is a reasonable drive for anyone in the Northeast (seven hours from Boston), and flying is inexpensive (about $235 from New York; $380 from L.A.). Twenty-five miles (40 kilometers) away, at Mont Ste. Anne (www.mont-sainte-anne.com), mountain bikers can access 140 miles (225 kilometers) of ski-lift-served trails. Boutique Sports Alpins (418-827-3708) rents bikes starting at $34 a day.
The artsy village of Baie St. Paul, 60 miles (97 kilometers) from Quebec City, is a gateway to two national parks, the Grands Jardins and the new Hautes Gorges de la Rivière Malbaie. (See www.sepaq.com for information on all of the province's parks.) September is the best season for hiking, according to Laurent Boudreault, a Grands Jardins ranger. The blackflies are gone, the days are still warm, and, adds Boudreault, "the autumn vegetation in this month, it is spectacular." The parks are connected by the 60-mile (97-kilometer) Traversée de Charlevoix, a multiuse trail speckled with overnight refuges. (This year, Hautes Gorges will close from September 1 until spring 2004 for construction, but the Traversée de Charlevoix will remain open.)
Continue on to Saguenay Fjord, where paddlers can cruise past blue, minke, and humpback whales. Rent a kayak at Atmosphere ($18 per day; 418-545-4945) in the town of Chicoutimi, then follow the Saguenay Fjord kayak trail, which has reservable camping platforms. Quebec Hors-Circuits (www.pomm.com/qhc) leads three-day trips for $300. And Otis Excursions (418-235-4197) runs no-effort, three-hour whale-watching tours ($40) out of the coastal town of Tadoussac. Return to Quebec City via Provincial Highway 175 for a windshield safari through the 3,035-square-mile (7,861-square-kilometer) Laurentides Animal Reserve.
LODGING AND FOOD
Auberge St. Pierre ($94; www.auberge.qc.ca) offers rooms in a 182-year-old building in the heart of Quebec City's old section. The staff at the Hôtel Baie St. Paul ($43; 418-435-3683) makes a point of advising on travel throughout the region. National park accommodations range from deluxe cabins to primitive tent sites ($13 and up); lodging along the Traversée de Charlevoix should be reserved ($15 and up; www.charlevoix.net/traverse). In Tadoussac, the Gîte La Maison Harvey Lessard ($66 and up; www.harveylessard.com) is a B&B in a historic home. Good food is ubiquitous in francophone Canada. At Aux Anciens Canadiens (www.auxancienscanadiens.qc.ca) in Quebec City, chase down boiled boar (mmm . . . good) with a bloody Caesar, the province's love-it-or-hate-it cocktail of vodka and Clamato juice.
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