There we were, sat upon a real bear pelt, in a large, fire-lit tent, while a First Nations aboriginal elder banged a drum and regaled us with stories from her culture.
Entranced, we thought; “this isn’t the Canada we were expecting. Where were the Mounties? When will we see a moose? And when can we get some of that famous maple syrup?”
Well, it turns out that there’s a whole lot more to Canada than just age-old clichés. The Aboriginal culture of Quebec is something the Canadian tourist industry is very proud of, and want to open it up to intrepid holidaymakers looking for something a little more adventurous than a Toronto city break.
And given the state of politics in the United States, now’s the perfect time to brush up on your French and opt for the enticing embrace of Justin Trudeau’s Canada.
We spent a week in Quebec, ticking off all the bucket list mainstays in the process. Whale watching? Check. Spotting black bears? You betcha. Seeing the Northern Lights. Most definitely.
So, to celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary, here are four things you should stick on your list when visiting Canada’s largest Province.
Throw yourself into the First Nations Aboriginal culture
Leave all your Canadian stereotypes at the airport and embrace the culture of Canada’s indigenous people. Discover their history, learn their beliefs, and hum along to their native songs. We did all this and more in Wendake – a Huron-Wendat reserve three hours from Montreal.
Even our lodgings, the First Nations Museum Hotel, were steeped in culture, from the animal pelts scattered around (and, word of warning, slung on your bed) to the fire pit in the lobby.
It’s a modern take, tastefully inspired by tradition Wendat long houses. But the hotel was just the start of it. The Huron Traditional Site, just a short drive from the hotel, is an authentic recreation of an Indian Quebec village that gives an insight what the lifestyle was like in the 17th century, and in some respects, still is.
With our newly-crafted ‘medicine wheels’ in hand, we were treated to a Endi-Wendake show, featuring traditional drums, humming, dancing, and, oddly, some killer guitar solos.
Get back in touch with nature…sort of
If you’re planning a trip to Canada, you won’t want to be sticking to the cities. You’ll want to get off the beaten track. 42km off it to be precise, at Club Claire Outfitters and Fishing Lodges in Essipit.
With tarmac roads a distant memory, and not nigh on a hint of phone signal, wifi, electricity or even safe drinking water, we were deep in the Canadian wilderness. But upon clapping eyes on the beautifully calm, reflective fishing lake nestled cosily within the hills, you’ll quickly forget all about the rest of the world.
All you’ll have to worry about is making sure you’ve got enough insect repellent and which one of your #blessed humblebrag pictures to post on Instagram when you’ve got some wifi.
But, with dinner still in the lake, it was up to us to strap on a life jacket, grab our fishing licences (which were extremely simple to acquire), crack open a beer and head out onto the water to catch our food – with the help of the camp’s rangers, of course.
Sitting out on the lake with a fishing rod in hand, you’ll be forgiven if you forget to actually catch any fish as you’ll be in total awe of the scenery. This was our excuse anyway. But despite a slow start, we managed to catch ourselves seven small trout, perfect for tossing on the barbecue.
The following morning, with our bellies still full with trout, we hit the bumpy road back to town, sad to leave this peaceful, picturesque piece of paradise behind.
Tick off some things on your bucket list
In the space of 24-hours we saw the Northern Lights. We had enjoyed the Canadian delicacy of Poutine (chips, cheese curds and gravy). We had seen whales frolicking in the Saint Lawrence River, and we had watched black bears enjoying their dinner.
People go their entire lives hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. We stumbled upon them while drinking a beer and enjoying a barbecue beside a lake. I think we can all agree that that 24-hour window will take some beating.
Explore the capital city
No trip to Quebec would be complete without visiting beautiful Quebec City, the Province’s capital. With a proud Aboriginal and European heritage, there’s a unique blend of interwoven cultures that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. There are two distinct parts of the city, upper and lower. The upper city has a more modern, American feel to it. But the lower city, beyond the fortified walls, can boast all the culture.
A World Heritage Site, Old Quebec has a distinct, romantic French feel to it with architecture and street designs dating back to the city’s beginning. And with the world famous Fairmont Hotel dominating the skyline, looming over Old Quebec like a Disney castle, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into Beauty and The Beast. So, if you’re looking for a holiday with a difference, Quebec has everything you could wish for. Ohhhh Canada indeed.
Quebec by numbers
Air Transat economy flights from London Gatwick to Montreal start from £349pp for 2017 and £367pp for 2018. Enhance the economy experience with the Option Plus package for extra perks. We flew Club Class which includes meals prepared by renowned Chef Daniel Vezina. A double room at the First Nations Museum Hotel in Wendake start from CAD$129 (approx. £77) per night including breakfast . A stay at Club Claire starts from CAD$98 (approx. £58) per night. Condos Natakam costs CAD$136 (approx. £81) per night. A double ensuite room at Le Monastère des Augustines starts from CAD$165 (approx. £96). A standard room at Marriott Chateau Champlain starts from CAD$149 (approx. £89) per room per night.
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