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Our descent onto Anticosti Island, initially departing by plane from Montreal with a stop in Quebec City to pick up more passengers, reminded me that we were heading to an isolated part of the province. As we landed near Port-Menier, the island’s only populated hamlet with just more than 200 residents, all we saw were trees, trees, trees. Not surprising, as mostly only hunters and fishers know this place.
Deer, for instance, are easy to spot; not surprising, as French chocolatier Henri Menier introduced the animal, after buying the island in 1895, to create a hunters’ paradise. Now they are everywhere, including the patio of Auberge Port-Menier, our inn.
On the island, which is 1½ times the size of Prince Edward Island, nature is big – literally. The Vauréal Falls, taller than Niagara Falls, appear to spill out of nowhere. Hiking along Sentier des Télégraphes trail, one arrives at views of Baie de la Tour, a massive bay of turquoise water flanked by huge cliffs.
The best way to see the massive natural wonders here is by vehicle. Sépaq, Quebec’s provincial parks organization, has guides who will take you on hikes to various falls and surrounding canyons in day-long excursions. Should you want to explore the island on your own, 4x4 rentals are available.
But if it’s town you want to poke around, electric bikes are available at the inn, and all the areas you’ll need to see are close to Port-Menier. Within the town site are the remains of the Château Menier, where Henri Menier built an impressive manor to amuse 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 observed within bike range. Visitors can see abandoned Acadian villages, remains of shipwrecks and fossilized cliffs.
You’ll want to make time to see the fossils up close, especially along the cliffs between Anse-aux-Fraises and Cap de la Vache-Qui-Pisse. Here, there is no shortage of fossils – the area is the best place in the world to see the results of the first extinction of life on earth, and a UNESCO World Heritage site bid for the island is now being considered. Tourists are allowed to pocket up to five small fossils that have fallen to the base of the cliffs.
Many other islands in the St. Lawrence remain well hidden, at least from a touristic point of view, and their atmosphere is often other worldly. If island hopping appeals, consider adding the following to your list.
Île aux Lièvres
Like on Anticosti Island, humans here are the visitors in a true waterfowl domain. Forty-five kilometres of trails in dense forest and along the island’s shore make this a paradise for hikers and nature and wildlife lovers. Along with red foxes, muskrats and snowshoe hares, waterfowl abound. The island was bought in 1979 by the Société Duvetnor a conservation organization focused on preserving islands in the lower St. Lawrence estuary. “There are few places where waterfowl are as well protected as they are in the St. Lawrence Estuary,” Duvetnor president Dr. Jean Bédard says. Birdwatchers can spot common eiders “and the species that nest with them such as razorbills and black guillemots,” he says. duvetnor.com
Hidden at the basin of the huge crater of Charlevoix, and accessible only by ferry, the island calls itself “Twenty-Three Kilometres of Happiness.” Must-stops at this foodie paradise include the Boulangerie Bouchard and the Pedneault apple orchard, home to more than 30 apple varieties, and an award-winning ice cider. Les Moulins de l’Isle, a flour mill dating back to 1836, allows visitors to witness flour grinding and bring home sacks of wheat or buckwheat. tourismeisleauxcoudres.com
Although visible from the Château Frontenac in Quebec City, this island is only visited by a handful of non-Quebec travellers every year. It is home to century-old farms, tiny chapels, roadside crosses and colourful homes overlooking the St. Lawrence River. More than a half-dozen wineries dot the seven parishes here, and Cassis Monna & Filles has been producing black currant liqueurs for decades. On the other end of the island, La Boulange is the place to grab fresh pastries and a latte, and roadside farm stands are filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Walks along the south shore at low tide allow for fabulous views of the huge cargo ships steaming by. Although cycling is popular, it is best done on a weekday when there is far less traffic. tourisme.iledorleans.com
The author was a guest of Sépaq. The organization did not review or approve this story.