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.

st-leonard. Photo credit Pascal Cothet
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.

 

riding la Neilson- vallée bras du nord
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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Two and a Half Paddlers in the Valhalla Kingdom

There is just no word to describe BC’s Valhalla Provincial Park. The granite spires of the Devils range stand proud and tall over the forest-covered & rolling hills, steep talus, pristine alpine meadows, glacier-fed lakes and deep unpopulated valleys.

With only a few access points up endless kilometres of rough forest service roads, this little enclave in the majestic Selkirk mountains has little to no amenities to serve its adventurous visitors.  It’s most iconic mountain, Mt. Gimli is slowly starting to get more attention from climbers and hikers escaping from the crowds. At its base, a rustic camping site and no other amenities. Most of the year, one can count more white fluffy mountain goats then humans there.

The “Valhalla” are, if not a heaven for warriors killed at war, as suggested in the Norse mythology, a real Eldorado for alpine climbing, with certainly many firsts yet to be completed.

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Mount Gimli and the classical South Ridge route during our first visit to the Park in 2011

From those high peaks and the thin remnants of ancient glaciers flows pure water, into raging creeks, down thick and impenetrable forest, into steep thalweg, down high drops creating impressive waterfalls and, finally, into the deep turquoise of Slocan Lake. The West side of Lake, as the locals refer to it; the wild side of this 40-kilometre long lake.

If the mineral world up high is inhospitable to the living, down below, by the lake, plants & creatures thrive. Crystal water, home to thousands of fish, bushes fat and heavy with berries and other delicacies to the animal reign.

The quietness and the beauty are not quite disturbed by the few motorboats circling around on hot summer afternoons. Not yet….but certainly soon.

The lake is calling. A canoe is the perfect vessel to explore it. At the marina in Silverton, one of the few settlements on the East side of the lake, we get ready for our 3-day paddle. Filled with food, a shelter, some clothes, our canoe is ready for its passengers. The lake is renowned for unexpected weather changes and wind gusts. We would like to get across quickly.

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Absolute cuteness moment in this stunning nature

But only after a few strides, the charm operates. We all relax and tune ourselves to the lake’s pace.

For us, humble mountaineers, being on the water is unusual, but not completely foreign. For now we enjoy letting the canoe carry our heavy load…and our 15-kg 3-year old. Some have had the same brilliant idea…we are not the only family with small children on the water.

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My crew in its new environment

We soon reach the wild side and the first sandy beach where we enjoy our first of many daily swims. Inviting beaches are plentiful which makes it easy to find the privacy we want to lay in the sun and enjoy our the moment in peace. For those who prefer, company is also easy to find in July and August.

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There, far from any distraction, quality family time just happens

We set up our first camp next to the freezing cold Nemo creek, directly on the sand. Tent pads, food cache, fire rings and an outhouse are also available a few metres away in the forest, sheltered from the wind. The evening is beautiful and warm. After a late afternoon swim, we enjoy a simple and tasty meal together, make a fire and roast some marshmallows.

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Our home for the night

The next morning, after a restful night and a polar bear dip in the creek, we enjoy a hearty breakfast before exploring the land around us. A good trail is set along the creek and we are able to observe the waterfalls. The moss on the ground, the trees and the oversized ferns really add something magical to this surreal nature. We don’t hike the whole trail as we don’t have our child carrier…and the lake awaits.

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Just soaking it all up

That day we paddle, slowly but steadily, sometimes in silence, sometimes to the sound of our own songs and laughter. Our daughter sleeps in a small cave we made in the canoe with thermarests. She rests, recharges her batteries. We paddle in peace and avoid stopping not to wake her up. The sun is hot but the cool of the lake tempers the air and makes it very comfortable. The heat must be almost unbearable ashore, we think.

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A restful nap, gently rocked by the motion of the boat and steady sound of the paddles diving in the water

We reach Evans creek by the middle of the afternoon and set up camp for our second night. Two young guys have already set camp near us on the beach. Later, around the campfire, we learn that they’ve been traversing the park by its ridgeline for over a week. They are two 23-year old local twin brothers. Evans Creek is their finish point and their father is picking them up with his power boat. “They have been fishing and hunting in the area since they were kids”, say their dad. There are no climbers, per say…but certainly hardcore adventurers…They ask us about climbing, what gear we use, how heavy our pack is when we climb and such.

They tell us that around Lake Beatrice, the bush was so thick and they were so tired they built a raft to cross the lake as they didn’t want to bushwack their way around it…Their mom sent their dad to pick them up with bacon, eggs and potatoes that they eat with a lot of appetite. Their appetite for food certainly equals their appetite for adventure.

That night, as we get ready to go to sleep, a huge thunderstorm hits us. Our little one is so tired from her day of swimming and being outdoors in the sun, she drifts off to sleep while the wind gusts shake our small tent and the thunder rages around us…

On the second morning, we feel we now have our camping routine well established. It doesn’t take us long to be all packed up and ready to go. Too bad this is our last day. We are really enjoying the simplicity of living with only what our canoe contains.

Slocan City, our final destination, is only a few kilometres away. We know we can reach it in very little time. Eva still finds the opportunity to have one last restful nap in the canoe. On the way, we take time to make a swim stop, jump off rocks and make the delight and pleasure of this trip last a little longer.

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Water so clear we can see the texture of the lake’s bottom

In the Valhalla Kingdom we will be back, by land. On this lake we will be back, as it is the perfect summer journey to enjoy with the family and certainly how we like to experience lake life.