Story by Jennifer Merrick
SAGUENAY, QUEBEC — “Are we really going to sleep in a treehouse?” is the first question my daughter asks as our family begins our drive north of Quebec City.
“Absolutely, we are!” I reply.
“Yay!” she shouts, but then pauses, a concerned look crossing her face. “But how will it stay up with all of us in it? Is there a bathroom in the treehouse?”
I’m not sure about the bathroom, I tell her, but I’m sure we won’t fall out of the tree.
A long silence follows.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be an adventure,” I finally say.
It would be very difficult not to have an adventure in this part of world.
The Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean region in Quebec is known for its glacially sculpted landscape of rocky cliffs, forests, and waterways, most notably Saint-Jean Lake and the Saguenay Fjord. This deep glacial river is the southernmost navigable fjord in North America and one of the largest in the world, stretching 100 kilometres (66 miles) from Saint-Fulgence to Tadoussac at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.
And it’s in this natural playground that our treehouse is located. The drive on Highway 175 North from Quebec City is about two-and-a-half hours, but it takes less than 15 minutes before the city disappears, replaced by thickly forested rolling hills. With light traffic and beautiful views, the time goes by quickly, and before long, we’re looking up at a wooden cabin perched high among the evergreen boughs.
Before we even have the chance to point out the sturdy cables or the outhouse, our kids are clamouring up the two flights of stairs to take a look. Made entirely of wood and furnished with wicker furniture, I feel like we’ve stepped into a fairy’s hideaway. The main floor has a double bed, a table with four chairs, a dresser and a rocking chair. A ladder leads up to a loft with two more single beds, and there’s a balcony with a barbecue grill. The kids immediately claim the loft, and we venture out on to the balcony.
The air is so fresh we can almost taste it, and we breathe deeply and take in the view of the fjord. But not for long. Cries of “I’m hungry!” “When’s dinner?” “MOM — can you hear us?” brings us reluctantly off the balcony and back into our vehicle.
La Vieille Ferme
Just down the road from the park, La Vieille Ferme (The Old Farm) is a working farm, family home, restaurant and market all rolled up in one gorgeous property. Though the farm-to-table restaurant was highly recommended to us, we had planned for a sunset sea kayak paddle; and so instead, we go to Le Petite Marche. Almost everything on the shelves is made on the premises and includes homemade bread and baked goods, smoked meats, cheeses and fresh produce. Especially for campers (treehousers, too) are home-cooked meals in a bag, which can be placed in a pot of boiling water and enjoyed. The lamb stew looks delicious, but the kids veto this suggestion, and so we buy supplies for sandwiches.
Back on our treehouse balcony, we savour smoked lamb, crusty bread and flavourful cheeses, and marvel at how the French manage to make simple food taste so good.
Sea Kayaking in Quebec
When we signed up for sea kayaking upon arrival, I thought we would be hopping into kayaks for a quick paddle close to shore. But when we arrive at the beach for our excursion, it’s clear that this is the real deal. To start with, there’s wet suits to squeeze into and equipment to haul. Once we’re finally in the boats, we have a lesson from our guide. It all feels like a bit too much work, until we’re 10 minutes into the trip and finally get into a rhythm. I look up at the horizon, and a feeling of peace and contentment washes over me.
The pale oranges and the pinks from the setting sun contrast against the deep blue of the fjord. As we paddle, the colours deepen, the fjord widens and the park disappears from view. Our kayaking group of seven seems tiny compared to the vastness of the wilderness that’s around us. After about an hour, we stop on the shores of a bay.
The kids throw rocks and dip their toes in the icy water, while I’m awestruck by a sky that changes by the second. It’s one of those pinch-me family travel moments when I look around incredulously and can’t believe just how beautiful the world is.
I want it to go on forever.
Of course, it doesn’t.
As we paddle back, my son is starving (like 12-year-olds always are), and my daughter is sooo tired. We paddle faster, and I stop turning back to look at the sunset. The moment is over, but not forgotten.
MORE ABOUT SAGUENAY
Cap Jaseux Park: Sea kayaking is just one of the outdoor adventures to be had at the park in the midst of a 453-acre forest. The aerial rope course dubbed Via Ferrata (or “Iron Way”) consists of 73 suspended bridges, vertical rock faces and zip lines for those who like their adventures on the extreme side.
For younger thrill-seekers there’s the Mini Aerial ropes course. Hiking trails, beaches and lookout points are available for those who prefer to experience the views and wilderness without heart-stopping action. In addition to the treehouses, accommodation at the park ranges from alien-like domes and a suspended sphere to log cabins and traditional camping sites. For more details, telephone 418-674-9114 or visit the website, www.capjaseux.com.
Getting There: There are flights to Saguenay from both Montreal and Quebec City. Driving distances are approximately 210 kilometres (130 miles) from Quebec City and 460 kilometres (285 miles) from Montreal.