For three days we had gloried in Quebec City’s SAQ New France Festival - for 13 years, an annual extravaganza. A celebration of the first Europeans to arrive in North America, it is an exciting event with its musicians, street entertainment and fine French-Canadian food all engulfed in an aura of exhilaration and joy.
On the last evening of our stay we capped our visit by attending ‘Les Chemins Invisibles,’ created by the famous Cirque du Soleil exclusively for Quebec City’s New France Festival. It was an evening of enthusiasm and ecstasy – what the Quebecois call ‘joie de vie’ (joy of life).
As I stood among thousands of people listening to the clapping hands, my mind was some distance away, deep in thought, contemplating Charlevoix. Designated as a world biosphere by UNESCO in 1989, the region offers a breathtaking landscape that we planned to briefly explore. I had traveled through this part of Quebec several times before, and each time I had found something new and exciting.
As the standing ovations of the crowd echoed on all sides, I was thinking of my upcoming venture through this, the first resort area in Quebec: a natural world of lakes, mountains, trees and other tourist enticements.
Early the next morning, our group of eight boarded a mini-bus and commenced our journey, driving along the Côte de Beaupré, following one of the oldest thoroughfares in North America. Called the Avenue Royale or the Route of Nouvelle-France, it is edged by structures that cover three centuries of history.
In about 40 minutes, after passing the majestic Montmorency Waterfalls, a spectacular natural wonder, we came to the famed pilgrimage site of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré - for 350 years a mecca for the faithful journeying here to seek healing for their ailments, or just to pray. Each year more than a million and a half pilgrims and visitors come to experience the calm and peaceful tranquility of this revered basilica.
After driving for a short time through a tree-filled countryside, we climbed a short distance upward, then turned and stopped on the edge of a crater formed some 350 million years ago when a 15 billion-year-old meteorite smashed into the earth. The 56 km (35 mi) wide crater, whose outline can be seen from outer space, is one of the few inhabited craters on earth. It forms today the heart of the Charlevoix region – a rich farming and tourist area with charming villages and brooding mountains that some 35,000 inhabitants call home.