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Northeast of Quebec, you may feel you're in 17th-century France.

Northeast of Quebec, you may feel you're in 17th-century France

Downriver from the city of Quebec, the St. Lawrence widens. Mountains rise to the north, and small villages cluster along the shore. Shaggy peaks and imposing headlands alternate with narrow valleys and rushing streams, inspiration for the many artists who come here to paint.

In this area, about 400 miles north of Boston but at the same latitude as Seattle, the flavor of 17th-century France lingers. In an outing of a day or two from Quebec, you can sample fine food, browse in art galleries and craft shops, visit a tiny island, stay in a historic inn, or hike in a nature reserve. As you travel, try your French or navigate in English; you're welcomed in either language.

Summer offers mild weather with some rain, but less heat and humidity than farther south. And this year, with the Canadian dollar about the only major currency not rising against U.S. money, a trip north of the border can give you the flavor of France at much better value.

Provincial Highway 138 runs northeast along what's called the Charlevoix coast 156 miles to Tadoussac, at the mouth of the Saguenay River. (For attractions in Quebec and vicinity, see the October 1985 Sunset.) Here are Charlevoix highlights.

Beaupre coast to Baie-St.-Paul (33 miles). Best known along this stretch of shore is the much-visited shrine at Ste.-Anne-de-Beaupre. Cap Tourmente wild-life area protects the habitat of the greater snow goose, which stops here in spring and fall; nature trails lead along the shore and into the woods, while displays interpret the area's ecology. Close by, Ste. Anne falls (chutes) roar through a gorge; a 1-mile trail takes you close to and over the water. Admission is about $1.75 U.S.; you'll find a snack bar and lots of tour buses here.

Galleries, shops, and studios mark the summer art colony of Baie-St.-Paul. Walk around the small town with its 200-year-old houses and mills.

Baie-St.-Paul to La Malbaie (23 miles). Leave Route 138 here and take Route 362 as it follows the ups and downs of the coast. This is the prettiest section of road, with ever-changing views of land and water; the small towns of St.-Joseph-de-la-Rive, Les Eboulements, and St.-Irenee are all worth stops.

In an old schoolhouse in St.-Joseph, the Papeterie St. Gilles uses 17th-century methods to turn cotton pulp into high-quality paper. If you visit (8:45 to noon and 1 to 4:45 Tuesdays through Saturdays), you can see the process and buy finished paper, some with ferns and other plants embedded in it.

A car ferry crosses to Ile aux Coudres ("Hazelnut Island,' named by Jacques Cartier in 1535), a fine overnight stop. Four hotels have folkloric dancing and singing on weekends and some weekdays, and the close-knit islanders warmly accept strangers. Food is hearty, as befits seafaring tradition, though tourists have replaced schooners and whaling as the main livelihood. We enjoyed a hearty beef stew prepared by our hotel owner, a former sea captain who in days past had made it with salt beef for his sailors.

Cycling is a good way to see the island's windmills, chapels, old schooners, and two museums devoted to them; it's only 16 miles around the whole island. You can rent bikes at several locations.

La Malbaie, with 4,000 inhabitants, is the largest of the Charlevoix towns. Stop by its tourism office for brochures.

Above the town are grandiose Manoir Richelieu and rustically palatial lodgings in 19th-century vacation houses. Nearby Cap-a-l'Aigle has two country inns close to the river. At an overnight stop, the dinner menu--as interesting as any in the French provinces--included leeks in cream with puff pastry, veal with champagne vinegar sauce, profiteroles with chocolate; at breakfast, tiny blueberries added their intense flavor to crepes.

If you wish a quick return to Quebec City, turn inland and take Route 138 back via Baie-St.-Paul.

Before you go. For tourist information, including the Charlevoix Tourist Guide, write to the Quebec Government Office, Room 1520, 700 S. Flower St., Los Angeles 90017. The guide details points of interest (though they're not always easy to find), a wide range of accommodations, handicraft and art shops, and outdoor activities along the coast.

Photo: Gables and dormers, log fencing, and horses give Cap Tourmente manor a storybook look. Inside are farm artifacts; this reserve, for snow geese, also has trails and an interpretive center

Photo: Curly-haired chef announces small restaurant in St.-Joseph-de-la-Rive is "open.' He also presents the daily specials

Photo: North shore drive gives sampler of French-Canadian towns

Photo: Barnyard creatures in wrought iron and copper await buyers in forge at La Malbaie

Photo: Traversing the St. Lawrence, ferries make short crossing from St.-Joseph to Ile aux Coudres

Photo: Roadside chapel on Ile aux Coudres is miniature version of a French church. One of several, it's opened for pilgrimages
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1986
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