Options for whale-watching abound in Quebec’s Maritime region

Posted Sunday, Jul. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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If you go Where to stay The little town of Tadoussac offers a wide range of accommodations. Splurge on the Hotel Tadoussac, with its extraordinary Quebec-style buffet breakfast and lavish landscaping. Rates from $155. 1-800-561-0718; www.hoteltadoussac.com. A stretch of boutiques sells everything from high-end First Nations artisan art to hokey but fun whale pins and memorabilia. For a truly superb, top-flight seafood dinner, try La Galouine Auberge & Restaurant. 1-418-235-4380; www.lagalouine.com. Where to watch • Choices include a large cruise boat or a kayak tour (kids can go on them). Or even just take the free ferry from Tadoussac to Baie-Sainte-Catherine across the fjord. Some people just stay on shore — don’t be surprised if the giant creatures approach at just a few yards away. • At Tadoussac’s Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre, families can take a free class in making “whale music” with a balleinophone, observe enormous whale skeletons and models, and view a film on whales. Open May to October. $12, free for children. www.quebecmaritime.ca/cimm. • For a list of off-shore observation and education sites, go to www.whales-online.net. Other activities • A more sedate option is sea kayaking. We opted for Mer et Monde Ecotours, owned by a young couple who operate a campground on an exquisite piece of coastline. www.quebecmaritime.ca/mermonde. • Another kayaking operator is Ferme 5 Etoiles Family Vacation Site, which also features accommodations, a restaurant, a spa and an animal sanctuary on the premises with wolves, sled dogs, deer, owls, raccoons, a cougar, a moose and more. www.ferme5etoiles.com. • Nearby is the Cap-de-Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre, a well-designed facility with a pretty lighthouse and more whale observation sites and information. www.quebecmaritime.ca/capbondesir. • For a special treat, sleep in a treehouse of sorts at Canopée Lit, a forest enclave run by three young French cousins. These tiny homes are too small for teens, probably, but just fine for younger kids, although romantic couples will probably love this spot most of all. www.quebecmaritime.ca/canopeelit.

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Less than four hours by air from Fort Worth, you’ll find a world of “Oui, madame’s” and “Non, monsieur’s,” warm croissants, misty green forests, and the haunting songs of the largest creatures on Earth.

In the Quebec Maritime region, French-Canadian culture and cuisine reign. This is the Whale Route, considered one of the best regions on the planet to see 13 species of whales, particularly those rather fetching white belugas (about 1,100 in the area) and four migratory types — fin, minke, blue and humpback.

Here, it’s possible to hear a many-tons whale’s mesmerizing cries and watch it rise many feet into the air before crashing down into the cold Atlantic waves. You just might even be lucky enough to see a three-school-bus-long, 100-ton blue whale — the area has 200 or so of the highly endangered creatures, the largest on Earth.

The Maritime region of the French-speaking province is where the fresh water from the St. Lawrence River mixes with the cold water of the North Atlantic to form nutrient-rich, food-filled waters (a banquet for those whales and seals).

Le Québec maritime is the easternmost tourism zone in the province of Quebec. It’s dotted with small New England-like villages, like the pretty town of Tadoussac, filled with small, well-kept wooden homes topped with sloping red tile roofs, fabulous French bistros and tiny, rustic, sublime seafood cafes. There’s a pleasant absence of chain stores and restaurants, and a decidedly French feel. Yes, you can definitely brush up on your high school French here, although you’ll also be just fine with English.

All ranges of accommodations are available, from camping or “glamping” in treehouse cabins, to cozy inns, to rental condos, to full-service hotels.

Natural entertainment

Folks from the area say visitors are practically guaranteed to see whales during their visit but are advised to stay for at least three days to better the odds. The warmest and best weather conditions are June through early September, and that’s also the best whale-watching time — although belugas live here year-round. The all-white whales would be difficult to see in the winter, however. This region is known for enormous snowfalls and excellent cold-weather sports such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

To see the whales, you can opt for a thrills-and-chills Zodiac inflatable boat, typically with a 12-passenger limit. On a cool, drizzly day in June, I welcomed the yellow flannel-lined slicker, rubber pants and rubber galoshes the folks at Croisières Essipit ( www.essipit.com) had riders wear.

I also was bundled in my oh-so-French striped scarf, hat and gloves — and I was glad to have them while being sprayed from the Perfect Storm-like waves that tossed us. Up and down we went on our ocean roller coaster, with many whoas and wows and various words of more serious impact, along with French epithets yelled out by two couples from Paris.

Suddenly, our captain called out to us in heavily accented English: “Look, 2 o’clock, a minke whale!” Sure enough, with flashes of pink and white belly, a glimpse of a huge eye, and whipping wild splashes of water pouring from its flanks, a minke whale was right in front of us. It was fast and furious, but its performance was dramatic, mesmerizing and more than I had hoped for — well worth the wet cold and soggy feet.

Even our captain and crew seemed quite enthused. They assured us that it never gets old to see whales. A few moments later, we saw a group of gray seals swimming right by our boat, and other whales in the distance.

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