Two roads diverged…
You know how the poem goes, but we took the road to the right, not because it was any less traveled, but because it ran along the St. Lawrence River rather than up into the mountains. Mountains are not to be taken lightly when you have a trailer in tow.
The road to the right was the River Road—La Route du Fleuve, which sounds so much more mellifluous in French, don’t you think? This particular fork in the road occurred at Baie St. Paul, a city which was more than I expected. I know this because within 10 minutes of entering town, we were lost.
“No problem,” says Julia, my navigator. “ We can turn here and backtrack through town.”
Several random turns later, we are facing a dead-end in the parking lot of what I think is a vocational school. By the grace of God, cars are staggered in such a way that I can turn around.
At moments like these desperation trumps pride. I chase after a woman on the sidewalk accosting her with what is to become a phrase I will use many times in the coming weeks: Parlez-vous anglais?”
She doesn’t. Not even a little. But she knows where our campground is, and if I wait a minute, she will lead me there. Don’t ask how I understand this. Desperation has a way of leaping over trivial barriers like language.
I follow her zippy little car through town and down a two-lane through the quaint and picturesque countryside at a clip that has my little trailer airborne most of the time.
But she gets us there. By God, she gets us there.
* * *
From the glimpses of Baie St. Paul that whizzed by on my way through town, I know we have to return, and after two restful days at the campground, we do.
Baie St. Paul is one of the oldest towns in Quebec, so everything is quaint and charming. (These are very handy adjectives in Quebec. So is picturesque.) It sits in a valley on the River Gouffre (which sounds like “guff” in French) surrounded by lush green hills. All this water and verdant greenery made the place a mecca for artists and creative types at one time. Members of the Group of Seven, which were famous Canadian landscape painters in the early 1900s, palled around here and painted landscapes.
This idyll fizzled by the 1970s, and Baie St. Paul has been trying to resuscitate the thrill ever since.
Actually, it’s doing a pretty good job.
The day we visited, the town was bustling. I drove over the River Gouffre, inched through town, turned around, and parked for a quick getaway. A tour bus disgorged passengers into restaurants and bistros. There had to be 50 galleries and boutiques on the few blocks along the Rue Saint Jean Baptiste in addition to restaurants with terraces (a big deal here) surrounded in greenery. Many galleries had the bona fide good stuff—an interesting variety of quality work by selected artists. Busts with biographies of the artists that put Baie St. Paul on the map are scattered through town.
We attempted to walk down to the river along the Rue Sainte Anne, the oldest street in town, and didn’t make it, but we did find an example of the architectural style immortalized by the famous artists because of its “simplicité et symetrie.”
Baie St. Paul: two thumbs up. It’s a pleasant place to spend an afternoon—or a day. Bring money.