Weekend Getaway to Tadoussac, Quebec

The distinctive Hotel Tadoussac opened in 1864.

The distinctive Hotel Tadoussac opened in 1864.

Story and photos by Charles Williams

Charles is the editor for Pursuits with Enterprise. Email the author.

Take a scenic drive from Quebec City to see whales.

You don’t have to love whales to adore Tadoussac, Quebec. But who doesn’t love whales?

The confluence of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence rivers is a playground for 13 whale species, including the largest animal on earth: the blue whale.

The three-hour drive from Quebec City to Tadoussac passes through the beautiful Charlevoix region, sometimes compared to Switzerland because of its rolling hills and deep valleys. The road follows the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River and goes through the charming towns of Baie-Saint-Paul, La Malbaie and Saint-Simeon.

Beluga whales breed near Tadoussac, and about 1,000 are swimming in the area year-round. Compared to other whales, they’re a talkative bunch. Nineteenth-century sailors called belugas "sea canaries" due to their high-frequency, bird-like sounds.

Adult belugas are white allowing them to blend into the Arctic environment, but newborns are dark grey — taking up to eight years to change colour. And if belugas appear to spin their bulbous heads, don’t be surprised. Their neck vertebrae aren’t fused, so they can turn their heads up, down and side-to-side.

Whale watching is offered May through October. Learn more about these gentle creatures at the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre in Tadoussac.

Whale watching is the primary reason people go to Tadoussac, but there are many other ways to relax.

The Hotel Tadoussac dominates a grassy knoll overlooking Tadoussac Bay. Opened in 1864, the distinctive hotel features a bright red roof, dormer windows and a cupola. The place has an old-fashioned feel, making it a great spot for family gatherings. Children will enjoy the pool, tennis courts and the nearby beach.

Movie fans might recognize the hotel from the 1984 movie “The Hotel New Hampshire,” adapted from the John Irving novel and starring Jodie Foster and Rob Lowe.

In downtown Tadoussac, we started our day at the delightful Cafe Boheme. Photographer Alain Bosse and anthropologist Diane Gauthier opened this popular restaurant in the old Tadoussac general store in 2000. I tried the Le Bucheron breakfast, a cheese and squash frittata topped with maple caramelized onions. The dish is served with sausage, breakfast potatoes, bread, and homemade wintergreen and blueberry butter.

From Cafe Boheme, it’s only a 10-minute walk to Islet Point. A boardwalk trail leads through the spruce and fir trees to some craggy rocks. We watched the sun rise over the St. Lawrence River while keeping an eye out for whales. But they must have been sleeping in that day.

For longer, more dramatic hikes, venture into nearby Saguenay Fjord National Park. The area surrounding the 104-km-long Saguenay Fjord features hiking trails among its 350-metre-high cliffs and dense forests. Look out for black bears, beavers and moose.

After a long day of exploring, we had dinner at Chez Mathilde. The bustling restaurant serves locally sourced, regional specialties. We ordered the Curried Sea Plate, comprised of lobster, mussels, shrimp, scallops, Arctic surf clams, coconut milk and curry — a delicious feast for seafood lovers.

Whether you’re seeking a romantic dinner, a family getaway or just an exciting brush with a friend from the deep, Tadoussac is a memorable destination.

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