Cousins on a Trip to Matapédia
First-time fishing, pebble beaches, and berry slush: a long weekend in the Gaspé Peninsula with our colleague Camille Monette
Text and photos—Camille Monette
In partnership with
Day 1 (first half)
Taking the long way
Seventeen months. Seventeen months of missing our friends, our family, our restaurant outings, our trips to the office, our summer festivals, our impromptu vacations. Seventeen months of sharing daily life with the same partner for cooking, doing the dishes, Netflix marathons, endless games of Agricola, and iPod battles in the living room. We like each other, but at some point, there’s nothing left to say.
Needing to get away to find myself again, I invite my cousin to take a jaunt with me to the Gaspé Peninsula for a long weekend.
Her daily life is filled with rides to school, working remotely with a baby on her lap, managing tenants, and impromptu dinners with the live-in in-laws; this getaway is the perfect opportunity for her to catch her breath.
We choose to leave the minute we’ve zipped up our backpacks, rather than waiting wisely for the next morning as planned. You only live once, as they say. After a stop halfway to refuel, a first vacation patio in Québec City, and a night in a shared double bed like when we were 12, we hit the road again. We take the long way — stopping at every garage sale in the Bas-Saint-Laurent and chatting with the locals while negotiating the price of cups.
Day 1 (second half)
Take a right
Twelve dollars’ worth of vintage dishware and a few dozen kilometres later, we finally arrive at the famous gateway to the Gaspé: Sainte-Flavie. Already? Already. We opt to stop in at Le Ketch, a microbrewery that opened three years ago, steps away from the shore. Despite the cool air of the river, the outdoor picnic tables call to us. We enjoy our crab cakes and our hybrid Bloody Caesar–michelada while the sun sets on the horizon. Well, truthfully, the sky is covered with clouds; we just have to use our imaginations a little.
As we’re paying the bill, one of the staff suggests that we stay awhile longer to watch the fireworks at the end of the quay. The excitement grows as the minutes pass, waiting for the first sparks to fly.
And then we’re treated to about 10 minutes of colourful explosions, punctuated by “Oooohh” and “Ahhhhh” and “Oh, is it over? Ah no, it’s still going!”
We didn’t get our sunset, but we did get our festive sky.
While RVs, converted minivans, and various SUVs continue their journey along the scenic route, we take a right where the 132 splits off. It’s after 10 p.m., and we head inland for a few dozen kilometres to finally lay our heads on our pillows at Camping Bois et Berges, in Val-Brillant, La Matapédia.
The alarm goes off at 4:55 a.m., but we’re already wide awake, too impatient for our first ever fishing trip, at the Fournier Plein Air outfitter, near the Matane River and 30 minutes from our campsite. Gaétan, our guide for the day, welcomes us. His more than 20 years of experience in waders makes us feel like we’re in good hands.
“Where are your partners?”
“At home, with the kids.”
“And you two, you came fishing?”
“Yeah, we wanted to try it.”
“Well, I think it’s great you’re doing this. We don’t see many girls in the rivers. More and more, but not enough. I’m really happy to see you.”
He turns toward another morning fisher and suggests, with a smirk, that they change holes. “With these two real river bouncers, if I were you, I’d try somewhere else.” The four of us laugh.
Gaétan explains how to hold the rod with one hand and stretch the line with the other. The right movement, the right rhythm, the right angle. “Too fast, Camille, you’re not giving the line time to unfold before you reel it in.”
The pause, which is almost imperceptible, is necessary. Otherwise, the line becomes all tangled up.
By the end of the day, we still haven’t caught anything. Nothing but six hours of peace and quiet and the present moment. My Headspace app can take the day off.
Sunday cassolettes [casserole]
A few minutes from our campsite is La Vallée de la Framboise. It’s so close, in fact, that we drive straight by and have to find our way back on secondary roads. It’s not a bad detour; up on the plateaus, we have the perfect view of Lac Matapédia. The green valley, the fields, the blue sky, the cotton clouds — it’s like inhabiting the most beautiful rural cliché.
Agrotourism enthusiasts, we are very excited to fill our Tupperwares with freshly picked berries. The friendly attendant greets us with a big smile and tells us that the raspberries will be arriving in three to four days and that her last basket of strawberries has just been sold. We leave the store with two bottles of raspberry wine, “perfect for a good sangria,” a bottle of blackcurrant syrup, and two real fruit slushes — raspberry for my cousin, haskap for me.
We take advantage of our drive through Amqui to fill our bellies with a late brunch at Auberge Beauséjour. The servers buzz around us. It feels like the end of the morning service: we arrived just in time. “We’ll take two Sunday cassolettes [casserole], thanks.” We’ve found ourselves a new nickname.
For the afternoon, a plan-that’s-not-a-plan: spend the next few hours on the beach in Seigneurie-du-Lac-Matapédia Regional Park. We share it with at most three families; if it were in Montréal, this place would be packed.
A piece of lake just for us, quiet as can be. We take out the cards, the wine, the chips. On the other side of the point, a Saturday afternoon boat party. We check it out, but immediately take refuge on our quiet little pebbles.
We walk out as far as possible in the water; talk; float; look at the horizon in silence, feet in the sand. Once our skin is shrivelled up, we lie down on a blanket. And we dry off.
A real vacation is all about being able to dry off in peace.
We spend the night at the divine Auberge La Coulée Douce in Causapscal. Two solo rooms: my cousin couldn’t believe her ears. After a year of lockdown, sleeping with her two children and boyfriend, it was almost like finding out she had a winning lottery ticket. Almost.
In the morning we take the road again toward the municipality of Matapédia, the final destination of our journey. We can’t help but take a quick detour to Philomène Falls. A few steps from the parking lot, the suspended platform rises above the waterfall and offers a breathtaking view of the valley. We slowly make our way to the tip of the lookout, where the floor becomes transparent. Dizziness takes hold of us, then evaporates as quickly as it appeared. To get a closer look at the waterfall, we go down the long stairs. The sun shines through the droplets; the sound of water fills the space; the place is ours alone. A holy peace in the hollow of the mountains.
Breathless from our ascent, we get in the car for the final kilometres of the trip. On the agenda: an afternoon of paddleboarding on the Matapédia River. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the getaway. The Nature Aventure shuttle takes us 10 km upriver for the launch. On the water, our guide challenges us to follow him, to play in the surfable wave. Challenge accepted (with much less grace and ease, but we can keep that to ourselves).
The rest of the trip alternates between moments of great tranquility, where we float in silence on the clear waters, and moments of adrenaline, where the rapids wake us up and force us to be agile. A bit like salmon fishing. A bit like life.
Isabelle, from the Chez Casimir hostel, welcomes us for our last night of rest. We feel like we’re staying with a friend: she arranges our guest room and serves us drinks until late. In the morning, breakfast is delectable, with vegetables from the garden, bread from the local bakery, and ham that our hostess prepared for us the night before — after her meeting with the community garden management committee — while we chatted at the bar. She doesn’t fill our water bottles, suggesting instead that we go do it ourselves at the natural spring at the foot of the church. You can’t make this stuff up.
The gallon of spring water from Matapédia joins the bottles of alcohol and the boxes of berries (bought on the side of the road) that we’ll bring back to the city tomorrow and share with our family and friends.
Because, yes, we’re looking forward to seeing them again. The Gaspé Peninsula has returned us to ourselves.