Finale Ligure: Pizza, Playa & Outdoors

The “Outdoor Capital”

Upon entering the town of Finale Ligure in the Province of Savona, Italy nothing tells it apart from the other resort towns on along the Riviera – a continuum of densely urbanized settlements squeezed between the coastline and the mountains. Nothing but maybe a sign with Capitale dell’ Outdoor written on it.

Then upon taking a closer look, it doesn’t take long to realize that Finale is a place where all the enthusiasts of the great outdoors collide. In the brisk temperature of this late afternoon in December, a few surfers are gathered near the coast catching the few waves reminiscent of the last storm. Up high on the cliffs at the entrance of the town, a few stainless steel bolts are shining in the last sun rays. On the street, two mountain bikers with full-face helmets pedal down from the hills somewhere.

Late in the fall, sunbather and swimmers have vacated the place and trail runners, cyclists of all types, long distance trekkers and rock climbers are replacing them.

Welcome to Finale Ligure where you can get your outdoor fix at any time of the year!

The layout of Finale is quite interesting in itself and seems to have three very different towns crammed into one: 1- a mediterranean seafront resort with a sandy beach, long boardwalk and seaside touristy restaurants and shops, 2- an authentic modern Italian downtown core with streets busy with vespas, piaggios – the mini three wheeled pick up trucks – as well as elegant Italian women pushing baby strollers and talking on their mobiles with their arms moving like windmills, 3- the old fortified town – Finalborgo – that boasts ancient buildings, cobbled streets AND at least a dozen outdoor and bike shops, which is more shops per square foot than Chamonix or Zermatt!!

 

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The beach after the storm

 

On the outskirt of town lie an endless playground, very mountainous in nature, olive tree orchards and other agricultural lands, quaint villages and many campgrounds.

Blame it on my tourism development background by I soon realized that Finale and its surroundings have done a tremendous effort to develop, protect but also brand and market its territory in a cohesive manner around a shared love for the outdoors and the local culture. I found this was quite innovative and forward thinking in an area where the warmth, sun and sea suffice to fill most businesses on the seafront several months of the year.

 

That means that the public and private stakeholders have decided to share the wealth in a more sustainable manner beyond the beach and main downtown core to the many surrounding villages and rural areas and foster a year-round visitor base and a viable economy, while ensuring that the development of new trails/areas/routes is done in a respectful manner with the residents, the other industries and the environment.

 

Some online research has proven the theory to be true:

“On October the 14th 2015 in Finale Ligure an Agreement between the 5 municipalities of Finale Ligure, Calice Ligure, Orco Feglino, Vezzi Portio, Rialto and the Association Finale Outdoor Resort was signed. It established  the starting point of the union called Finale Outdoor Resort, thanks to which  Finalese is not just a territory but becomes an identity brand that defines a district from the great historical and cultural richness, strongly connected to outdoor activities.” finaleoutdoorresort.com

While the main pillars of Finale’s tourism development are the hiking, climbing and mountain biking, every outdoor sport can be experienced in Finale and the territory is well laid out to provide a great deal of enjoyment and skills development.

 

The Outdoor Pursuits

Having heard many great things about Finale and with a full week ahead of us before the holidays, we decided to check the place out. We are eager to enjoy a bit of warmer, drier weather than what can be found in France at this time of year.

Hervé has only had his knee surgery three weeks earlier but he is feeling great and would like to slowly get into climbing again. Since there is just the three of us with no other adult partners to climb, we also arrive in Finale with the goal to climb a little, hike quite a bit and get into the Italian vibe (meaning eat lots of pizza and gelato!) and walks on the beach.

On our first morning, our first stop – after caffe latte obviously – is in a friendly little climbing store with the goal of foraging some beta on accessible, kid-friendly crags.

The salesman at is a great source of information and the gear and clothing in his store so very attractive that Hervé can’t refrain but purchase an Italian-made E9 pair of pants. Might as well dress like Cesar when in Rome after all!!

At the Rocca di Petri, we find a nice south facing crag with mellow routes and an easy 20-minute walk access to spend our first family climbing day. If at first, we find a bit odd to drive right below the autostrada to access the crag, the view and the peacefulness aren’t disturbed too much once at the crag. There is plenty of space for our daughter to play safely and the rock is solid as well as the routes well equipped. It feels so good to enjoy a day out without a down jacket on!

 

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Cragging at Rocca di Petri on a warm December afternoon

 

The next day we set off for a hike in the nearby town of Borgio Verrezi where we find a varied network of hiking trails, all of them very diverse in length, elevation and also very well signed. They take the hikers from gorgeous rural churches to ancient caves, geological wonders and stunning sea views. There is even a trail that links all the towns on the Riviera and provides a one-of-a-kind multi-day hike.

 

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The Riviera- between coastline and mountains

 

Way up on a road so steep and winding, we find the trailhead to a great 5 km loop with lots to entertain us along the way. This close to Christmas, there are many outdoor nativity scenes around the hamlet and even in the caves. Some steeper sections of the trail are even equipped with iron cables and steps like a via ferrata, to our daughter’s greatest delight.

 

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Italy’s Holiday vibes

 

The other crags we explore over the course of the week are Monte Cucco near the village of Orco that is simply the best for young kids as some easy top ropes routes are located less than a 5-minute walk from the parking area. The only downside on a colder winter day is that it’s in the shade.

 

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The area boasts many sporty hikes and scrambles to suit every taste

 

 

Finally, we also spend a very nice day at Pianmarino, a spot popular amongst the mountain bikers and also one of Finale’s most historical crag. The hike in is fairly easy and short (25- 30 minutes), south facing and benefits from a very flat area at the bottom. The routes are however fairly short, and just like in Finale’s older climbing areas, the bolts are quite far apart and the routes quite challenging.

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Fall is the prime season for Mountainbiking

 

The lodging

Every night, we retreat to our humble studio quite early as the temperature drops fairly quickly after the sun goes down. We have rented the apartment for the week with Residence Adelaide, a rental agency located downtown on booking.com for the unbeatable prices and convenience. The place is spotless and fairly well appointed, there is a reception open during regular office hours with friendly and helpful staff (some even speak French!) and the prices are reasonable (300 euros for a studio for 4 people for a week).

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Our vacation rental in the morning sunshine

Finale counts a large number of apartment rentals and hotels as well as many campgrounds and outdoor people hangouts where you can meet fellow travellers from all over the world and ask around for information.

One day on our way to Monte Cucco our daughter was asleep in the car and we were desperate for a ristretto. (tiny little cup of very strong and delicious espresso).

 In the village of Orco, we asked the first guy we saw where we could find a bar and he answered in Italian “Let me go inside and get the coffee machine on!”  Actually, I must say that the only thing we understood was “la mac&china” and then we saw him run inside a building with a sign written “ Bed & Climb” on it… We figured in astonishment HE was going to make us a cup of coffee! We learned a great deal about the area by talking to Mauro who is just so knowledgeable and adorable and enjoyed a pure moment a warm Italian hospitality…or perhaps is it that strong worldwide connection between climbers.

Anyhow, we thought that his bed & breakfast and adjacent associative bar would be a cool place to stay in the future for an affordable and friendly experience and to meet fellow climbers and route setters. Orco Bed & Climb also offers guiding services and social events in the community.

Him & his wife Paula, along with their local climbing society had been investing time, energy and money in training the new generation of young climbers and getting the locals to open up to this new clientele and source of income while encouraging a healthy way of living in the local youth, all of which is fitting greatly in with the “Finale Outdoor Resort” philosophy!

 

The pizza, the pasta, gelato & Vino!

Blame it on the exchange rate or our tight travel budget, we were struck by how expensive the cost of living is in this resort town and namely the cost of gas, food and drinks. In Finale, an ordinary croissant costs 1.20 euros and at least 3.50 euro for a kilo of mandarines (although they were in season). The most simple bottle of wine costs way over 5 euros and poor quality bread that becomes inedible the next day costs 3 euros, which is way more expensive than in France. Hence, we have dined in most nights and have done most our shopping at the Co-op, the Fruiteria and the bakery and have packed a picnic lunch every day.

 

Of course, we have indulged in a few gelati here and there (those are inexpensive!) and a few happy hours with (German!) beer and an antipasti platter for 3 people for around 20-25 euros. There seems to be a rule in Italy that one shall not serve alcoholic drinks without some food to sponge it up! To the greatest delight of us, hungry penniless travellers!

 

 

 

On the last night of our stay, we have also treated ourselves pizza and tiramisu at the nearby Trattoria…because one can’t spend a week in Italy without eating pizza, right!?

The bottom line of our Finale experience is that this area really is worth visiting and it can easily be accessed from any western European cities (4 hours from Lyon, Geneva or Milano; 1.5 hour from Nice or Genoa and their international airports). This means it’s the perfect spot for a quick getaway any time of year but that could also be a destination on a longer euro climbing road trip in a van.

The climate is quite pleasant and the culture vibrant; the opportunities for outdoor recreation are endless (although the snow sports are a little far away!)

I personally never get tired of discovering the Italian flavours and of hearing my four-year-old practicing the few words of Italian she has learned during our trip: “Grazie! Ciao Bella! Brava! Per Favor!”

 Arrivederci!

 

More info:

Hiking guidebook Trails of Finale

Climbing guidebook: Finale Climbing by Marco Thomas Tomassini – translated into several languages and to be purchased at a local store or online.

Official Visitor Website:  www.turismo.comunefinaleligure.it 

 

 

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Ardèche in December: Castles, Cobbles & Chestnuts

La Coste: A Place with a Soul

The air is brisk and the almost full moon lights up the pebbled path to our cozy little apartment, a vacation rental or gite rural located on the floor above la mielerie – where the honey is extracted and stored.

 

Deep down in the valley, I can see the lights from the small settlements along la Volane, all the way to Vals-les-Bains and Aubenas, the nearest cities. I take a deep breath of pure mountain air and pause for a moment before making carrying on my way to bed.

 

We had arrived in La Coste a few hours earlier. This tiny hamlet part of the municipality of Genestelle is home to our dear friends Seb and Christine Martinez and their two boys,  Juneau (4) and Milo (2).

 

We have known the couple for as long as we have lived in Kimberley. From epic climbing adventures to family camping trips, a shared love for France, and several Christmas Eves spent together, we have woven a deep friendship.

 

After living in BC for over fifteen years, Seb, an Ardèche native, and his wife Christine,  a Saskatchewan girl, have made the decision to come home to take over the family apiary. Sad to see them leave our home-base but so excited for their new endeavour, we made the promise to come visit them here often.

 

This promise wasn’t hard to make for the ones acquainted with La Coste and its surroundings.

 

The location in itself is just stunning: a perfect steep south-facing slope perched at 650m of elevation, fertile soil and a mild and pleasant climate. Seb’s parents Didier and Sibylle have fallen for the place – remote, cheap land with a spring of fresh water. That’s not all however as the place also has a special feel to it – which they found out when scoping out the perfect spot to build their dream during the hippie era.

 

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The hamlet in the morning fog

 

Out of the ruins – piles of old stones reminiscent of a small settlement from the early 17th century – they created a home for their family, a roof for their apiary, and a massive garden -stone by stone.

 

Years later, they restored the adjacent ruins to their home into a few apartments, every one of them worthy of a feature in architectural and design magazine that the couple turned into vacation rentals.

 

Visitors to La Coste have been loyal over the years and mostly book their stays a year out. I sense that Didier and Sibylle’s passion for their area and warm sense of hospitality is just as important as the stunning location and unique accommodation units.

 

Completely sold out from June to October, the apartments can still be rented in April, May and from mid-October into November.

 

Vacationists in search of an authentic rural France experience and a large dose of peace and quiet, nature and sunshine won’t be disappointed. The breeze and spectacular swimming pool are sure to keep the visitors afraid of heat cool and happy. The fruit trees around the estate along with the fragrant and delicate-tasting honey to will keep their craving for sugar fulfilled.

La Coste in the fall
La Coste in the Fall. Photo by Seb Martinez

 

La Coste is the ideal base camp to explore Ardèche, a mostly rural département and so rich and diverse in its landscape and attractions. In the north, one will find a rugged hill and plateau landscape, harsh climate and the highest peaks around, le Gerbier-de-Jonc and Mont Mezenc; mountains made out of granite and volcanic stone. This is also home to la Loire river headwaters.

 

 In the middle, the volcanic hills of Centre Ardèche are softer and the climate milder. Snow seldom falls in this area, which makes it perfect to visit anytime and any season. Chestnut, oak and acacia trees are plentiful and on the adret the south-facing slope one won’t be surprised to find orchards of apricot, peach and kiwi trees. Quaint villages are all walking distance from each other and have the most interesting stories to tell and characters to meet. The area is home to some of the country’s most beautiful rivers that attract paddlers and canyoneers from all over the world.

 

In the south, lies a more open landscape, limestone cliffs, karst structures and massive caves – pre-historic sites of importance. The south has more of a well, southern or Provencal feel to it and farmers find the perfect soil and climate to grow grapes and fragrant lavender. Herds of Dutch tourists have made the area their destination of choice for its rivers, beaches, warm sunshine and the infamous canoe route of les Gorges de l’Ardèche. The heat there in the summer is suffocating and so is the crowd…which is why La Coste and the Centre Ardèche are so attractive in many ways.

 

To find out more about le gîte rural de La Coste and to make a reservation for your next vacation, click here.

Castles, medieval villages and Roman paths

 

From La Coste, a myriad of scenic hiking trails lead the visitors to the many nearby hamlets and viewpoints. One of my favourite paths is the one going to Antraigues, a medieval village among the most picturesque in the country. This village was made famous by Jean Ferrat, an iconic poet, songwriter and singer who made this place home.

 

This is the first outing we take our little crew on – a mere 2.7 km walk one way mostly downhill, to a well-deserved reward of hot chocolate and madeleines. On this ancient cobbled donkey path, we enjoy picking a few remaining chestnuts, walking in knee-deep beds of leaves and taking in the stunning views.

 

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In Antraigues, the townsite is quiet on this early December Monday. The kids can freely explore the cobbled streets and safely play on the Plaza. At this time of year, we’re happy to find out that a few restaurants, the bakery and a small grocery store remain open. We’re in France after all and there are real people living real lives in rural areas, no matter how small or remote they are.

 

It would take a lifetime to explore all the villages and stories that Ardèche boasts. I recall Seb telling us that he had himself only visited about sixty. I bet that now that he and his family have returned home, they will have plenty of inspiration for weekend outings and the boys will surely take great pleasure in adding a few to their papa’s list.

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Ardèche just like the Kootenays also boasts its share of illegal dwellings

Ardèche limestone: let’s climb some rock!

 

The region is known among climbers as a serious climbing destination. Many sites can be found in every corner of Ardèche with a large variety of rock types and routes. Le Cirque de Gens near Chauzon is definitely the most famous of all. Climbers beware however that the popular nature of the site combined to this type of limestone makes the routes in the lower grades (to 5.11) VERY polished and challenging.

 

We take the children to Balazuc for a quick afternoon session. In December, the periods of daylight are very short and temperature colder; Balazuc’s south-facing limestone towers offer a rapid and easy hike in and short routes that are ideal to set up a few easy top ropes.

 

While early spring and fall are the prime seasons for rock climbing in Ardèche, one can find locations throughout the winter in the spots sheltered from the wind. Some campgrounds remain opens and climbers can benefit from very low off-season deals on vacation rentals everywhere in Ardèche. If climbing isn’t our main purpose on this trip, it is still nice to touch some rock and enjoy a few hours of warmth.

Guidebook and more info on climbing here.

Fêtes de Village: Let’s meet the locals

 

In this land where tourism and agriculture are the main economic drivers, the locals literally work day in and day out from April to November. We are fortunate to be here at a time where Seb and Christine have a little downtime and are available to show us around and enjoy some quality time with friends. The boys normally in daycare and school are doing l’école buissonière – skipping school for a few days to our daughter’s greatest delight.

 

Late fall and winter are the time of year where the local social life picks up again and the many celebrations take place. Every village has a fête of some kind: fête de la Chataigne, fête de la Pomme, pre-holiday celebrations and craft fairs of all kinds. In those remote valleys, newcomers and young families are surprisingly quite numerous and they fear not going the extra mile to enhance the local social life.

 

Upon hearing that a nearby village is having a Fête de la Soupe, we make plans to spend our Saturday.

 

After a car dropoff, our little crew sets off by foot for the little village of Bise, which in French means “breeze” or “kiss”, whichever you prefer! Jérôme, Kelly and their two teenage girls Nea and Riley- a Swiss- American couple living in BC are joining us for the weekend and also take part in the fun outing that day.

 

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Our happy little crew
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Scenic trails, leaves and chestnuts

 

It has snowed last night and the day is sunny but chilly and windy. On the trail leading from Conchis to Bise, we meet several hunters in search of chestnut-fatted wild boars. In this country, it isn’t unusual for hikers and hunters to share the same trails and vigilance is key, as no one wants to end up with a bullet in the calf or a frightened boar running at them. Seb’s informs the hunters of our route and we carry along.

 

It feels strange to descend from the mountain and to arrive in the middle of the celebration. From a distance, we can smell the boiling soup and woodfire smoke and we can hear the laughter.

 

The Fête is well attended and the soups and crêpes are delicious. There is a bar -off course- and a craft fair, games for the kids and soup contest. After lunch, Christine and Hervé drive the children home for the nap and the rest of us head back to where we came from, on a different trail.

 

We hike to the valley’s end where we encounter a 93-year old sheepherding lady who’s eager to chat. Her strength and vitality are impressive.  She has sure lived a long healthy life although certainly not always pleasant and easy in this remote valley.

 

We take the scenic way home and follow the ridgeline for a long time so we can admire the unique landscape – hills spreading as far as the eye can see covered in scotch broom and dried fern with the odd stone hamlet and winding mountain road leading to it. In this faint winter light, everything looks still although on the ridge top the wind is quite strong.

 

Several hours later, we come home and all gather in Seb and Christine’s home. On the table we lay another delicious feast in which the chestnuts picked along our hikes were sautéed or roasted. The meal is obviously paired with local wines and liquor and some early Christmas treats. The conversation is lively, the belly full and the spirit’s high.

 

The following day we awaken to more snow on the ground – enough for the children to make snowmen. From climbing rock in a t-shirt to hiking with the goose down jacket on to making a snowball fight, winter time in Ardèche is definitely just as diverse as the region itself.

 

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snowball fight & snowmen…it’s beginning to look a lot like winter

 

Ardèche is full of surprises and delights that ought to be discovered in the offseason… and with good friends.

 

We are thankful to the Martinez family for their warm hospitality and pleasant company. One thing is sure, we will be back in Ardèche very soon!

 

For more trip-planning information about Ardèche click here.

Saint-Raymond-de-Portneuf: The Authentic Quebec Experience

Featured image by Philippe Jobin courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

Located fifty kilometres away from Quebec City, Saint-Raymond is the new outdoor recreation mecca in the Capitale-Nationale region.

The quaint town, home to roughly 10,000 souls, is surrounded by countless lakes, rivers, picturesque farmland, rolling hills and lush mixed forests where wildlife thrives. It boasts a long tradition of forestry, hunting, fishing and cottage culture.

Far enough from the city to benefit from many local amenities and not feel like a commuter town, yet close enough for thousands of recreationists to visit each weekend, the town is literally booming with a young and fresh energy. The vibe found there is reminiscent of the one found in the small hip mountain towns of Western Canada.

With the development of an award-winning sustainable tourism development model over the last fifteen years combined with a thorough downtown revitalization initiative, Saint-Raymond looks and feels better than ever.

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This place, so dear to my heart Photo credit: Pascal Cothet

 

Born and raised in the Portneuf region and descending from two local families of settlers, I have known Saint-Raymond forever and spent some of my best childhood moments there. I have always taken great pleasure in going back to visit my many relatives. This year’s visit was extra special as I got to take my husband and daughter for a two-week incursion into the awesomeness of this little town and its surrounding beauty. Wearing new sets of lenses – a blogger, traveller and mother always on the lookout for inspiration – I got to re-discover this beloved land and share the experience with my little family.

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Because the area looks pretty good in the fall as well.  Photo credit Pascal Cothet

I’d like to share the highlights of our stay and give some tips to anyone lucky enough to be planning a trip to Quebec and willing to experience this unique area’s authentic culture and way of life.

 

Lac Sept-Iles (Lake of Seven Islands) – For Lakelife and Relaxation #QuebecStyle

Along with my mother and sister, we rented a lovely cottage right on the water in this piece of heaven that screams “vacations” and “good times.” Cute cottages and manicured landscapes (also some very luxurious mansions!) surround this lake located a mere 10-minutes drive from town. The narrow winding 11km lake road, dotted with hand-painted address numbers and welcome signs and wrapped up in a dense canopy of ancient maple trees is worth exploring on two wheels or on a morning jog.

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Feeding the ducks, one of our daily activities

 

 

 

Connecting to the main lake is a natural haven, Lac aux Chiens (Dogs Lake). Part of the preserved land adjacent to the Station Touristique de Duchesnay, this protected area is ideal for a quiet paddle, a swim, and a picnic. Binoculars are in order as it’s quite frequent to observe a family of beavers at work, a hungry moose or some of the numerous bird species.  A good trail also wraps around this lake, which serves as the perfect destination for a trail run or family hike.

 

 

 

 

Lac Sept-Iles is popular amongst boaters, wakeboarders and waterskiers and can be busy on hot summer days. But by picking our stay later in August, and thanks to the cooler, wetter temperatures, we basically had the lake to ourselves.

Many cottages are available for rent for every budget and group size and usually include the use of kayaks, canoes, windsurf or paddle boats. The Camp Portneuf  also offers cottage rentals, serves as a watersport base, holds a summer camp and day camps for kids age 4-14 and even offers family camps.

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Camp Portneuf – Photo courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond
Camp Portneuf
Camp Portneuf – Photo Courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

 

The Vallée du Bras du Nord (North Arm Valley) – Outdoor Adventures for Everyone

 

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A valley where wilderness and agriculture happily coexist. Photo credit Pascal Cothet

 

The “Vallée Bras-du-Nord” or North-Arm Valley is certainly the major draw for many visitors traveling to Saint-Raymond, and with good reason. What used to be a hidden gem where locals would go backcountry camping and canoeing on the North-Arm of the Sainte-Anne river, is now an epic larger-than-nature outdoor resort. A full week wouldn’t be enough to check out all there is to do!

The topography of the place is perfectly suited to hiking, paddling and mountain biking, and a tremendous amount of work has gone into perfecting the trail network over the years.

The “En Marche” project, a youth workforce rehabilitation initiative, employs a dozen local youth each year who are dealing with personal challenges such as dropout, addictions, and violence, to build and maintain the trails.

This initiative, along with the social enterprise management model that applies best practices in local governance in relation to land use, funding, and development, truly contributes to making the resort even more remarkable.

 

 

 

 

Home to the best mountain biking trails in the vicinity of Québec City, riders can find a wide variety of itineraries for beginners and experts alike, a full-service rental shop, amazing vistas, slick rock, tacky dirt and wooden features of all sorts. The trail network, which serves as the course for the infamous annual “Raid du Bras du Nord” – the premier MTB event in Québec –  has now been extended to the local ski hill and the edges of town, as the local rider base keeps growing and so does the demand from out-of-town.

During our stay, my husband, sister and I got to ride La Neilson Nord and la Neilson Sud , a fun 25 km black-diamond flow trail loop dotted with some very techy sections, berms and skinnies, and runs along the namesake river and its stunning rapids and waterfalls. La Neilson Est provides a newly-added 10km extension, but unfortunately, we ran out of time to ride the full loop.  I must also say that with very little riding under my belt this summer, I already felt quite humbled by the challenge presented by the two trails.

The Valley is also an incredible hiking destination. It boasts state-of-the-art mountain huts dispersed along the scenic and rewarding multi-day hiking routes that can be completed year-round (with snowshoes in winter). Easy day hikes, a larger than nature guided via ferrata course, guided canyoning outings down the spectacular waterfalls and single or multi-day paddling are also amongst the activities offered in the Vallée.

In the winter, fat-bikers and backcountry skiers now have a new and ever developing playground to explore.

With a full array of accommodation options right on site including yurts, campsites, and fully equipped cottages, and a Welcome Centre open year-round, the Vallée is a destination worth spending time in to enjoy the wonders in every season.

 

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slick rocks and fast moving waters. Photo credit Hervé Durand
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Anne appreciating the craftsmanship on the trail
waterfalls and mountain biking
Idyllic backdrop. Photo credit Hervé Durand.

 

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Flowy goodness riding the trails of Vallée Bras du Nord. Photo credit Olivier Lachance, courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

La Vallée Secrète – For Your Little Gnomes

A dwarf here and a gnome there. Proudly wearing the green dwarf’s hat, your little ones aged two and up get to embark on a fantastic scavenger hunt. Through the woods, they will follow a path and discover the world of wood fairies and other creatures. Equipped with keys, a map, and a magnifying glass, they move along an age-appropriate course. The goal is to find treasure boxes tied to trees, open them up with the right key, answer the questions and unleash the secret code. Kids must use their logic and observation skills to move along, complete the course and be granted access to the dwarf’s musical show.

 

 

An award-winning family attraction, the Secret Valley is a great way to spend a half-day with and for the little ones. Located only a 20-minute drive from Saint-Raymond’s downtown, the park is popular with day camps and school groups. It boasts a covered picnic area, kid-sized washrooms, and a gift shop. It also hosts turn-key birthday parties. www.valleesecrete.com

 

Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Cycling Path – For the Two-Wheel Travellers

Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf @Philippe Jobin
Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf. Photo credit Philippe Jobin, courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

Linking Québec City with Rivière-à-Pierre, the 75 km-long cycling path takes cyclists along rapidly moving rivers, calm lakes, colourful forests and quaint towns. With a very gentle incline, this rail trail offers a fun and meditative way to discover Québec’s authentic countryside, while burning the calories from the decadent food eaten along the trip. Quebec’s Route Verte network is often stated as a best practice case study for cyclo-tourism for the quality of the network, the signage, the services offered along the way and the ability to easily travel across the province on two wheels. The Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Trail is part of the Route Verte #6.

 

Roquemont Craft Brewery – For the Thirsty Explorers

When we first walked into the Restaurant and Brewpub, we were struck by the smell of hop and smoky ribs.  Our little group sat down and ordered a pint of la Singletrack, la Bois Rond, as well as a few other locally brewed cold pints, and appreciated the refined and complex tastes, a testament to the master brewer’s savoir-faire.

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Craft beer for the mountain bikers at heart. Photo credit Pascal Cothet

The menu holds a dozen brews including some seasonal features. On a Friday night, the place was lively and full. With a few of my childhood friends visiting that night, we couldn’t help but comment on how hip the place had become.

The Roquemont is also known to feature pub food with a twist, like house-made sausages and boudin noir (black pudding), a signature poutine with game meat and beer gravy, and divine tartars. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sample the food menu this time.

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Boudin Noir and other delicacies – Photo credit Pascal Cothet
Pascal Cothet - Le Roquemont
A sleek-looking timber frame facade- Photo credit Pascal Cothet

In the parking lot, SUV’s of all sorts boast bike racks well equipped with the latest mountain bikes. Next door, Frenette Bicyclette has set up shop right at the trailhead closest to town and provides a full retail, repair and rental shop.

The Roquemont is also an affordable place to stay and offers 40 newly renovated rooms and all sorts of stay and play packages, which makes the hotel the perfect base-camp for weekend warriors.

Capitalizing on good vibes, good beer, good food and live music, the new management of the Roquemont definitely seems to have found the recipe for success. www.roquemont.com

 

Cheese & French Fries – Saint-Raymond’s Culinary Delights

Saint-Raymond’s very special cheese has already been the subject of its own full blogpost, and I could go on and on about how wonderful it is.

This year I felt so honoured to take my daughter to my grandparents’ old house to check out Alexis de Portneuf‘s boutique store. It was quite unique to see my mom showing my daughter where her bedroom was growing up in the home.

A stone’s throw away from the Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf Rail trail, it is the ideal location to grab some cheese, fresh bread, cold cuts and a craft ice cream cone to make up the best picnic. This place is also perfect for grabbing some edible and non-edible souvenirs from your trip.

The best tip for cheese lovers, the store has a selection of cheeses on special for $1, $2 and $3 daily…Heaven!

 

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My grandparents’ house is now the boutique store
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Sandwiches and cheese boards to go, yes please!
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Vive la crème glacée!

 

Obviously, my post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the other food institution in Saint-Raymond, the infamous Ti-Oui Snack Bar. This place has been around for at least three decades and serves Québec’s absolute best poutine. With loads of squeaky fresh cheddar curds, served over fresh hand-cut fries and a secret recipe gravy (BBQ is my favorite type), a trip to the Portneuf region isn’t complete without a stop at Ti-Oui’s.

While I am cognizant that what made our stay in the Saint-Raymond area so exceptional is the family connections we have in this place and the quality time we spent with our friends, uncles, aunts, parents, and cousins. But as a world traveler, I know for a fact that this area has a lot to offer the explorer in search of an authentic off the beaten path Quebec experience.

I would recommend to anyone considering a trip to this region to hurry up, as it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a preferred travel destination with all the hassles that come with it!

For more information visit: www.saintraymond.ca

I would be happy to provide more trip planning tips to anyone, just fire me a quick email!

Salut, là!

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