Family Trip to Chaleur Bay
Local delights, dips into history, and promenades by the sea: the tale of a short stay in the Gaspé Peninsula, with Sophie Desbiens.
Text and Photos—Sophie Desbiens
In partnership with
– Day 1 –
Sunday morning, 6 a.m. Thule loaded, a lot of camping gear (never enough), and a lot of snacks (too many) to endure the eight-hour-and-five-minute drive.
A four-year-old kid, a three-month-old baby, and two parents ready to go: we hit the road, the Gaspé awaits us!
A landscape of buildings slowly gives way to suburban homes, to comely country houses, to boldly coloured mustard fields, and then to rocky beaches with an endless view of Chaleur Bay. Several kilometres down Highway 132, we finally arrive at Manoir Belle Plage in Carleton-sur-Mer, our accommodations for the night.
After settling in, we revel in a gourmet feast at Tosca, a family-run Italian restaurant combining Italian specialties, produce from the garden, and marine delights from the Gaspé Peninsula. It’s fresh, it’s exquisite, and the charming staff share their local secrets with us: it’s all good. Bonus points given for the extensive wine list and highly appreciated selection of Auval beers.
– Day 2 –
It’s a vacation morning, just the way we like them: a stroll by the sea, our hair drying in the salty wind, in search of coffee.
The Brûlerie du Quai seems like the local go-to spot for our morning dose of energy.
Next, we head toward Parc national de Miguasha. It’s a Sépaq territory unlike any other: an exceptional place that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site where fossilized plants and fish reveal the origins of life.
We meet Olivier Matton, the park’s conservation and education manager, who generously guides us. The whole family is fascinated by the fossils dating back 380 million years — long before the tyrannosaurs, to put this timeline into perspective. Matton talks to us about his work in the vault conserving fossils that have been classified as museum pieces before inviting us to explore the famous cliff where many of the specimens were collected.
We then leave the sea for the mountains. Olivier Côté Vaillancourt, the general manager of the Parc Régional du Mont-Saint-Joseph, is waiting to take us to the summit where, he assures us, we’ll have the most beautiful views of Chaleur Bay. Promise kept. After exploring the area and contemplating the panorama, we meet two couples from Québec who are grilling hot dogs on their camp stove. We visit the magnificent domes on the side of the mountain where you can spend the night — in our case, this experience will have to wait until next time.
When we arrived in Carleton the night before, we noticed the O’Migoua casse-croûte in Saint-Omer (“Stomeur Beach” for locals). We finally succumb to temptation and treat ourselves to a luxury picnic on the shores of the tidal lagoons.
Our stomachs full, we head to the foot of the Carleton-sur-Mer lighthouse to attend the La Petite Grève storytelling show. About 50 people are gathered there, with their folding chairs, around a man with a lantern and a knack for repartee. From the outset, Patrick Dubois engages in conversation with his audience: he asks a participant to take a token from his story bag, which will decide the evening’s tale. Then he dives in.
Though hanging off the storyteller’s every word, our four-year-old son, Eugène, decides that the northern gannets diving into the sea behind us are more interesting. Parental management takes the punch; we end the evening admiring scenery worthy of a screen saver. No complaints here.
– Day 3 –
Day is breaking over Carleton-sur-Mer and our little family. We stroll along the wooden boardwalk on the water’s edge while a man stretches his fingers on the public piano. The air is beautiful, in every sense of the word. In the café, there’s a crowd: the Adirondack chairs in the courtyard are filled with early birds warming their faces in the rising sun.
On this lovely morning, we board the TaxSea for a sailing excursion. Our designated captain: Patrick Dubois, the storyteller from the day before. Decidedly, the world is small, and the tour will be pleasant. The bay is calm, so it’s slow going despite the hoisted sails. On the other hand, the elements let us observe marine mammals: porpoises, seals, and a few little finbacks. The bravest on board — including Julien, my partner — jump into the water, while the rest of us wonder why the place is called Chaleur (warmth) Bay!
Back on dry land, we hit the road to see where the wind takes us. The local radio reports that the weather will be good for the day. After some time in the area, we know that “good” doesn’t necessarily mean the classic sun/heat combo, but rather favourable winds and tides. But it’s all there today, and we look for a beach to enjoy it.
We head to Caplan, lured by a sandy beach against a backdrop of red rock walls. It’s a vast playground for our son, who has fun collecting 1,001 treasures that he wisely releases at the end of the afternoon.
Before returning to our accommodations for the night, we stop at the unmissable Mam’zelle Maria canteen to savour its legendary poutine. Our attention is drawn by a spectacle of modern poetry, which is taking place on the edge of the bank. Two slammers and serial poets tango with their words. Their flow, rocked by the waves and another unforgettable sunset, makes the moment magical.
See you tomorrow.
– Day 4 –
This morning, it’s a total downpour. It’s hard to make out the horizon, the rain blurs it so much. On the way to Bonaventure, we stop at the Poissonnerie du Pêcheur, where Diogène welcomes us: “You missed something. I just filleted a fish this long!” This, as estimated by his hands, equates to about two metres. We would have loved to have witnessed this classic fishing story in real life but content ourselves with taking a seat in the dining room and enjoying a crab chowder. It’s good: generous, smooth, rich, and salty. We’ll be back tomorrow to get some treats from the sea to cook.
When we arrive at Cime Aventures, our base camp for the final two nights, we notice that the place is packed. We pull out our camping gear and settle into our cabin, a kind of ready-to-camp structure with a queen bed — ideal considering our youngest child’s age.
Our stomachs grumbling, we pack up the kids and head for Café Acadien, located at the end of the lighthouse marina. The place is authentic and the menu is filled with local flavour. We find the hot dog–loving Québec couples from the mountain dining next to us. Everything is in everything.
We return to base camp to light a campfire and roast a few marshmallows. Tonight, the cracking fire will soothe the children to sleep.
– Day 5 –
We awaken to the sound of tent zippers opening to give their occupants some fresh air.
After a croissant mission to the artisanal bakery La Pétrie, we head to the Bioparc de la Gaspésie to observe the best Québec flora and fauna have to offer. Along our way, we learn, among other things, how several of the resident animals arrived at the park and were rescued. Our family favourite: the snowy owl with an honest smile that appears to be wearing palazzo pants.
We then consult the beach circuit map to find the best place to rest and cook our seafood feast, picked up at Poissonnerie du Pêcheur. We choose Fauval Beach: intimate, magnificent landscape and waters that are warm enough for a swim. The name “Chaleur Bay” finally makes sense.
We return to our campsite to finally enjoy the Bonaventure River and confirm that the images we see online aren’t Photoshopped; the water is actually turquoise.
Tomorrow morning, Montréal awaits us. Thule loaded, a lot of memories (never enough), and a lot of sand in the car (too much): Gaspé, you’ll see us again!
Sophie Desbiens is the brand director at a creative agency. For her, everything happens outside. After a childhood spent in the fresh air of the Saguenay Fjord, she now leads an active life between the cottage and the city. She likes to discover the little nooks and crannies of La Belle Province and, above all, show them to others.