SAINTE-FLAVIE, Que. — The St. Lawrence River in Quebec is like a pastoral painting along most of its length, wild in so many places, gently settled in others – a sea of tranquility for the spirit no matter how rough the waters or dark the sky.
You can pick your peace here. The choices are endless, from the outskirts of Montreal to Land’s End in the Gaspe Peninsula some 600 miles (960 kilometres) away. Which side of the river is better? Which, on official lists of Quebec’s most beautiful villages, is fairest of them all? There are no right answers.
But on this grand canvas, here’s one vibrant brush stroke, about 50 miles (80 kilometres) long, where you can find solitude by the wide water, natural beauty all around, art that melds into the landscape, memorable sunsets and some pretty great bagels if the man who makes them happens to be around when you roll into his driveway.
This stretch runs, as the river flows, from Saint-Simon nearly three hours east of Quebec City to Grand-Metis at the edge of the Gaspe. Some highlights:
In Quebec’s too-short summer, nature goes bonkers: brilliant flowers everywhere, exploding in the wild, dressing up every street in every village.
Les Jardins de Metis, also known as Reford Gardens, is a half-day’s diversion or more, combining traditional manicured gardens with an edgy, whimsical series of sculptures and art installations.
One of the most popular is among the simplest: “Making Circles in the Water,” by New York City urban landscape artist Diana Balmori.
A series of walk-through circles looking out on the river, like an oversized telescope, the installation invites serenity-seekers to stroll through _ but not really to dig for deeper meaning.
“There is nothing that you need to remember about this,” Balmori says in a video about it, “just to look, and see how a landscape looks, from different angles.”
In Sainte-Flavie, 15 minutes away, the Gagnon family of artists runs an inn and art centre (Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon) with cozy, well-appointed rooms looking out on the river, galleries inside and dozens of statues stretching out into the water, made by the patriarch, Marcel.
The dramatic tides swallow and lay bare those sculptures, which look eerie in fog but weird anytime. The shore here is a gorgeous, quiet stroll, perfect for beachcombing and carving initials in hard-packed sand.
The Appalachian Mountain range that begins in the southeastern U.S. sinks into the water here, with seals sunning on rocks in a cove, carpets of rose bushes lining trails, hills rising sharply from the water and photographers with long lenses and tripods feasting on the scene like pelicans.
Bic Park, outside the city of Rimouski, offers a network of trails for hiking and cycling, big enough to find your own retreat in a popular but not overrun destination.
The quintessential Quebec village – meaning pretty, immaculate houses, a commanding Roman Catholic church, zero litter, those ubiquitous flower beds, and charming bakeries and coffee shops – is in evidence here and well beyond.
Sainte-Luce, for one, has the feel of a small resort, lively but with grace.
In one of these places, take in the sunsets for which this leg of the river is known. On an August night last year, slashes of scarlet, pink and gold played out in skies over the distant shore, 30 miles (50 kilometres) across the water.