A spectacular, deserted sandy beach where you can find enough driftwood to keep a fire burning all night, drink water from a spring bubbling through the rock cliff, and camp for free, to be awakened at dawn by the quacking of wild ducks bobbing in the high tide a few metres away. Such places are increasingly rare, so I guess I should keep mine, at Cap-auxCorbeaux, Que., a secret. But then, there are plenty more of these unspoiled wilderness spots on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River in the rugged and beautiful Charlevoix region, a 90-minute drive east from Quebec City.
Charlevoix has been bypassed by modern times, and has scant economic relevance. Its a repository of the province’s past, a place where Quebecers go to experience where they come from: small, isolated communities, self-sufficient farms, and tiny village ports where les goélettes— locally designed and built schooners— used to dock, bringing in produce and carting off logs to the pulp mills upriver. Charlevoix also abounds in scenic traces of geological history, with its old mountains rounded off by glaciers and high cliffs jutting out into the fast-widening St.
Lawrence. It is where the salt water from the Atlantic and the flow of fresh water from the Great Lakes meet and mingle.
Not surprisingly, it is a tourist area. Many people go just for the drive, or to fish for trout in the lakes of the back country. You can do all kinds of outdoorsy stuff— hiking, sea kayaking and, near Tadoussac, whale-watching. Crazy people fly hanggliders off the cliffs near Baie-Saint-Paul, while even crazier athletes ride bikes up and the down the killer slopes. The food, meanwhile, is fabulous. Many farmers specialize in fancy, exotic produce—blue potatoes, unusual lettuces, unpasteurized goat cheese—favoured by the most illustrious chefs of Quebec City and Montreal as well as local restaurateurs. Charlevoix is the Quebec capital of fancy B & Bs and four-fork country tables.
Me, I go there to walk, to contem-
plate nature and to do absolutely nothing on secluded beaches like Cap-aux-Corbeaux, or to watch the cormor-
ants and belugas from the jagged, wind-swept rocks of Cap-aux-Oies. I might hike a few klicks along the old railroad track that snakes at the
foot of the cliffs to get to little coves and bays where one can get lost in the landscape for hours.
I know people who have suffered severe fits of vertigo-induced panic while sitting in a car going down the hill from Les Éboulements to Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, in the steep curve where the view opens on Ile-aux-Coudres down there and the capes of Baie-Saint-Paul, out there, and on the river, where container ships sail out to sea. But believe me, such distress is worth it. Park on the federal wharf at Saint-Josephde-la-Rive and walk west on the tracks for 30 minutes to my beach. At low tide, the mud flats will let you reach the middle of the St. Lawrence, the bracing perfumes of iodine and seaweed filling your nostrils, clay mud oozing between your toes. You pass towering rocks that will be totally submerged in a few hours, the incessant yin-yang of tides constantly redoing the picture around you.
Sitting on a rock doing and thinking nothing— go there, and do that, every year. We all need a place in our ever-changworld whose beauties never seem to alter.
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