Monday, August 13, 2012

Quebec -- Gaspe Peninsula

Traveling the coastal road around the Gaspe Peninsula has been something we've wanted to do for years. The views are often dramatic the farther east by northeast from Quebec City. (Alternatively, there are a couple of ferry routes that will allow you to cross the Saint-Lawrence to the northern side or vice versa. Very handy it would seem.)

We got an early start Sunday morning, checking out of the hotel in Quebec City and were soon out of the city and onto Route 20 heading in the direction of the Gaspe. Before beginning our tour around the peninsula we had one stop to make, and it was right on the way: Cap Saint-Ignace, one of numerous tiny villages along the water. I was in search of a former member of the 3rd Michigan Infantry, George Bernier, and from his pension files knew that he was buried in the parish cemetery in Cap Saint-Ignace. A few minutes driving around the town was all we needed to find the parish cemetery. We parked in the shade and commenced to search for George the old-fashioned way: on foot, stone-by-stone.

After about 30 minutes -- the cemetery was rather small -- and after passing some dozens of stones with the name Bernier on them, we, or rather Susan concluded that he was likely buried with extended family members although the name was very difficult to read.

With the heat and the sun now bearing down on us it was a pleasant respite to return to the car and head back to the highway and off for our first stop, Matane. After leaving Cap Saint-Ignace with the mystery of George Bernier's final resting place largely unresolved, we pointed the car roughly in the direction of France. We found our way back to Route 20, which eventually became Route 132, the coastal route around the peninsula and, for the next couple of days our friend and guide.

Cruising along the coastal highway, basking in the sun, and keeping the heat at bay and the ever-widening Saint Lawrence River on our left, we slid into wind-swept (literally) Matane, one of the few ferry stops for crossing the river (the trip takes about an hour I'm told). Our evening passed quietly and  quickly into history as we savored a delicious meal overlooking the river -- and before we knew what hit us we were back on the road and in the heat.

The road edges its way around the peninsula and is dotted almost solely with small villages constructed mostly from even smaller beach homes, hinting at the wildness that lay just beyond the hills in the interior. In fact, as we neared the very tip of the peninsula we stopped and hiked out to the very tip of the Gaspe itself, along with several hundred folks who apparently were struck with the very same idea at the exact moment.

Before there were fog horns, there were fog cannons

After strolling through the high heat of midday we returned to the car and headed back on the road.

Our stop for the night was in Perce, just south of the village of Gaspe and a short drive from the park. Perce's claim to regional fame rests on geography, or rather on a large hunk of geology sitting just offshore , "La Roche," the rock.

After checking in and dropping our bags in our room we strolled through town as the sun dipped ever further in the west, just about the same time that the tourist bars and restaurants ramped up for the evening. We opted to eat in the quiet of our hotel and enjoyed a tasty meal indeed.

The next morning -- our last in Canada -- we cruised south out of Perce and began our return to the US. Turning west, we crawled through seaside town after town on the southern side of the peninsula, mostly English names here and much more developed than the northern edge to be sure.  We left Quebec for New Brunswick before crossing into the US. Zipping through the heart of Maine potato country we quickly found our way to I-95 and before long stopped in Orono to spend the night with family before making the final run back to Providence.

The road around the Gaspe is certainly a picturesque drive, and occasionally strikingly dramatic. The road itself is in OK shape, and rest areas, of varying levels of sophistication, are scattered here and there, along with the occasional village, a nice benefit to traveling in Canada. (One stop between Matane and Perce had an incredible outdoor photo exhibition of some of the more fascinating women of the Gaspe.)

Wold we go back? Most probably not. But if you haven't gone, you should. Maybe. Or maybe not.

One thing is for sure: it's not France. It's Quebec!

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