If La Route du Fleuve is a byway along the St. Lawrence River, the road to the village of St. Joseph de la Rive is a byway of a byway. I don’t know what idiocy lured me there, but as I mentioned, it’s a doozy. Actually, the road is fine; the grade’s a killer. So—once down, I wasn’t going back until I was darned good and ready.
Surprisingly, St. Joseph de la Rive has a lot to recommend it for such a tiny village. Besides cute little auberges (B&Bs); it has a maritime museum because it was a big shipbuilding center when freight was hauled by sailing schooners. It has a fabulous old boulangerie. (Which means “bakery.” You’ll want to remember this word.)
It has a funny little place that makes painted clay figurines of famous old-timey townspeople, which, apparently, were meant to populate the Christmas crêche, but have become famous as collectibles. Fun to look at, but like so many things in Canada, beyond my budget.
It has a papeterie that is an economuseum, which is a place that
carries on a traditional craft and teaches visitors about it. I’ve only seen economusées in Quebec, but it’s an interesting concept. Some do a better job at education than others. Some charge admission. They all sell what they make.
This one makes paper out of cotton by-products, and it offers an informative film on the process. Beautiful, thick, creamy paper with herbs and flowers embedded in it.
But the best thing about St. Joseph de la Rive, besides the charm of the little town and its setting by the water, is the free ferry to the Isle aux Coudres that leaves every half-hour.
Apparently, the island was so named by Jacques Cartier, who discovered it and claimed it for the king of France in 1535, because it was covered with hazelnuts. There are still a few growing on the
island, but I didn’t try to find them. (If you think about it, Cartier is nosing about way down the St. Lawrence, discovering stuff only 30-odd years after Columbus bumped into the Caribbean. When it comes to claiming land, these guys just don’t quit.)
Our day on the isle was entrancing. A cornucopia of sensory delight. I do not overstate.
Julia had persuaded me that we should rent bicycles and take a spin around the place, which is a lovely thing to do on a small island, except I wasn’t sure I would survive the 14 mile circuit, so we settled on going halfway to Les Moulins—an economeum that grinds flour with both a windmill and a water mill. (Now that I think about it, going halfway and back is a circuit.)
We arranged with the velo (bike rental) company to pick us up at the ciderie—yet another economuseum that goes lite on the education, but offers an array of hard and soft beverages made from apples and other fruit. The best part was the tasting, of course—hard and soft, apéritif, mistelle and cidre de glace (ice cider), which, like ice wine, is made from fruit that’s left on the tree until after a hard freeze. Being the lightweights that we are, we bought a small bottle of sparkling ice cider.
A red-haired college kid from Georgia who spoke good French (his mother lives on the island) outfitted us, and we were off.
The day is sunny; the temperature is perfect; the road is flat; the tide is out, leaving salty smelling swampy stuff along the coast. The salt smell alternates with gusts of rose scent from the mounds of wild rose that line every roadside throughout Quebec. Phlox, lupine, and other wildflowers I can’t identify bloom in carpets beside the road.
The mills are, um, quaint and charming. Les Moulins takes its educational responsibility as an economuseum very seriously, but the $10 charge and hour of time are beyond our allowances. We don’t take the tour. We do buy a loaf of bread made from the flour ground there. Then we eat lunch beside the sea, surrounded by roses.
On the way here, the wind had been at our back, so I hadn’t noticed it. Now it’s blowing in my face and my coat is a sail working again me. I am panting. I am dying. Julia is way ahead. Just keep moving, I think. Don’t be a wimp. By the time we crawl the last quarter-mile back to the rental company, even Julia is dragging.
It was, however, a perfect day.
Clear, sweet, with a hint of fizz. Cheers!