Viking Sky: After two days in cities, it was fun to explore the Quebec countryside

ABOARD THE VIKING SKY – For two days we were busy exploring two great cities in Canada, Montreal and Quebec City. So, it was a nice break to sail into the Saguenay Fjord yesterday and to check out a more rural and quite beautiful part of Quebec.

When you get to the region of Saguenay, it seems like you are in a very remote area but actually it is only a 2-1/2 drive from Quebec City. But when you consider that Saguenay is the farthest north settlement in Quebec and the only thing between it and the Arctic are a national park and a few small native settlements you get the idea.

Although there are small villages all along the 65-mile-long fjord, the main commercial center is Saguenay which consists of the districts of La Baie, Chicoutimi and Jonquiere where 146,000 people live. Cruise ships dock or anchor in the Ha!Ha! Bay at La Baie so all tours begin from this point.

My favorite angora goat at the farm

It is certainly a welcoming little town, with clowns and jugglers greeting passengers as they disembark for tours and giving everyone a piece of blueberry pie as they return to the ship.

Many passengers took advantage of the more adventurous activities offered here, such as inflatable boat rides into the St. Lawrence Marine Park, whale-watching expeditions or soaring in a seaplane over the cliffs that border this dramatic waterway.

A homespun highlight for many is a pageant put on by the locals relating the history of the region. This was an included tour for Viking, so some 700 of the 900 passengers on our ship attended and generally it got favorable reviews.

Our tour explored the history and highlights of the region and included stops at two local craft studios. One was the glassblowing studio of Giuseppe Benedetto and the other was the Le Chevier du Nord, a farm where they raise Angora goats and rabbits, spinning yarn from their fleece and creating handmade hats, blankets and other garments. A family enterprise, they maintain 60 nannies and their offspring, feeding them a very specific diet to improve the quality of their fleece.

Tourism – cruising, in particular – is extremely important to this region. The local pulp factory closed way back in 1930, putting some 600 people out of work, but the city now exports bauxite for the production of aluminum.  Many residents are involved in tourism one way or another. The cruise port opened in 2008 and they are expecting 50 ships to visit this season. An odd fact is that there are often traffic jams when cruise ships are in port because people who live in the vicinity want to come in and see them. The region has now arranged shuttles to bring the local people in when particularly popular ships, like the Queen Mary 2, are in port.

The little white house in Chicoutimini is a symbol of overcoming the flood in 1996

Saguenay is the only region in Quebec to have its own flag and they are proud of the fact that 99 percent of the people speak French. Tourism will probably change that over time, but about 20,000 residents here are descendants of one early settler…a Frenchman named Pierre Tremblay and the current mayor is a Tremblay and so was our tour guide.

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Today was our first day at sea and it brought rain and a temperature change. It was a dreary, dreary day confining all but the hardiest to the interior of the ship. Reading, games, napping and listening to lectures was prevalent.

The main restaurant, usually closed at lunchtime, was doing a bustling business and people lingered to chat or dessert and coffee.

Everyone kept an eye on the water outside, hoping to spot a whale. They are migrating at this time and we may see some over the next couple of days.

I am sure that the free launderettes were busy (I managed to get my laundry done yesterday) and that the spa and gym were also occupied but nowhere on this lovely ship was it crowded. 

Tomorrow: More details on the new Viking Sky!

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