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Alberta   Jasper   At Spirit Island   Credit Jasper Tourism

"You want to see the jewels of Jasper National Park! I suggest you take two tours: one to the Columbia Icefields and the other to Maligne Lake.  They are two gems set in one of the most beautiful spots on earth,"  a resident of the town of Jasper advised when I asked him what were the most important sites to see during our four day stay in one of Canada's most charming parks. I thought of these renowned attractions as we settled down in our luxury abode, the Fairmount Jasper Park Lodge. I was thrilled with its picturesque panoramic setting.  It was conducive to dreaming of traveling to the Columbia Icefields with their glaciers virtually as old as time itself and Maligne Lake, the charming jewel of Jasper National Park. 

We began our vacation by exploring the mountain resort town of Jasper nestled in the bosom of the Rockies.  It is an overgrown village of 4,500 people in the winter and 10,000 people in the summer.  The well-kept buildings, cuddled by towering mountains, have made it an idyllic vacation spot. Its first-class tourist facilities make it easy for visitors to be comfortable and at the same time enjoy the many attributes of Jasper National Park.  Restaurants, art galleries and a selection of shops cater to thousands of tourists who crowd the town, especially in the summer. Whatever the season, travelers can partake in mountain adventure and make contact with the wild animals. Laid back and peaceful, some call it “an alpine paradise.”  It’s an authentic urban center that has a small town aura.  The inhabitants are friendly and welcome visitors;  in the words of a Scottish tourist who went on a tour with us, "It's only a small trading post with a polished 21st century veneer."

Alberta   Jasper   Athabasca Glacier   Credit Jasper Tourism

From this cosy resort travelers begin their Icefields’ tour by driving through the heart of Jasper National Park to the Icefields, 103 km (64 mi) away.   Soon they are surrounded by a vast world of unspoiled grandeur—pine tundra, emerald lakes, deep canyons, snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, wildlife and the Athabasca River—one of the most historic and beautiful rivers in Canada.  On Highway 93, known as the “Icefields Parkway” and considered to be the most scenic route in the world, travelers usually stop at Athabasca Falls to gaze in wonder at its roaring waters then further on at the Sunwapta Falls to watch the Sunwapta River tumble into a limestone gorge; a panorama of plummeting waters in a setting of white-tipped mountains and the tree-filled valleys.

By mid-afternoon the tour reaches the Columbia Icefields, a wonder of nature formed by six glaciers: the largest accumulation of ice south of the Arctic Circle.  Edged by eleven of the twenty two highest mountain peaks in the Rockies and covering an area of 325 sq km (126 sq mi) and averaging 3,000 m (9,840 ft) in height, the six glaciers form a true “Continental Divide.”  Their waters pouring from the Athabasca and South Saskatchewan Rivers into three different oceans: north to the Arctic, east to the Atlantic and west to the Pacific.

Alberta   Jasper   Maligne Canyon  Ice Walk   Credit Jasper Tourism

The first stop is the Icefields Center, a huge chalet like stone building. Opened in 1996, the Center houses interpretive exhibits  located on the spot where the Athabasca (one of the six glaciers) is visible.  From the Icefields Center parking lot visitors can walk to the glacier's edge and gaze at the enormous expanse of crevassed ice.Thousands of tourists take the Snocoach Tour onto the icy slopes of the glacier; a three ton vehicle especially designed and built by a Calgary based company for the Columbia Icefields. The Snocoach takes visitors to the middle of the Athabasca Glacier.

 

As the Snocoach moves along, drivers and guides explain the intricacies of the awe-inspiring glaciers.  They pepper their talk with jokes such as, “Give me any question and I will give you an answer.”  When no one raises a question he continues, “Mind you, I will likely not give the true answer.”  Most of the passengers are often still snickering when the bus stops at the turn-around below the glacier's head wall.  Here tourists are given a chance to walk atop centuries of accumulated snow, dotted with icy crevasses and ice-fed streamlets. As the Snocoach moves along, the guide points to the edging glaciers advising "See these glaciers, if they continue receding at the present rate, in 650 years they will disappear.” After returning from the 90 minute Icefields’ exploration, visitors return via the Icefields Parkway to Jasper.  

The next day we ended our tours from Jasper by taking the serene Maligne Canyon and Lake Tour.  Our first stop was in an area of a gorge formed by the Maligne River’s swirling and churning waters roaring from the lake, which have worn the limestone rocks in places 55 m (165 ft) deep.  Located 11.7 km (7 mi) from the town of Jasper, it is one of the most spectacular gorges in the Canadian Rockies, incorporating an extensive above and underground river system. Continuing on our tour we stopped at Medicine Lake, which has no surface outlet, and disappears in autumn and winter through a series of underground channels, giving rise to the Karst topographical phenomenon—causing the lake to completely drain every year.

Alberta Jasper  Maligne Lake From The Bald Hills

Driving through a deep green forest edged by majestic snow-capped mountains we reached Maligne Lake – stunning in its beauty.  Stretching for 22 km (14 mi) with a depth of 198 m (318 ft), it is the second largest glacier fed lake in the world.  Set in Maligne Valley, the lake, the largest in Jasper National Park, is surrounded by glacier studded mountain peaks. The lake boasts sparkling deep blue waters and for beauty has no equal in the region.  Gazing at this postcard of scenic delight my daughter mused, "It's a scene made by the hand of nature for the camera."

Alberta   Jasper   Black Bear Mom  With Cub   Credit Jasper Tourism

We stopped by the Maligne Lake Day Lodge & View Restaurant from where there is a fine view of the lake and its surrounding white capped mountains. It is said to be the most famous view in the Canadian Rockies.  The docks edging the restaurant (the best eating place on the shores of Maligne Lake) had a series of boats standing by, waiting for customers.  After enjoying lunch, we joined in a 90-minute scenic boat cruise to Spirit Island.  

Spirit Island, known as the icon of the Canadian Rockies located on the southern end of the lake, is a small islet that is wrapped in legends and can only be reached by private boats or cruise vessels.  The stop allows passengers to walk the island and stop at a viewpoint that offers a spectacular panorama of the lake and mountains.

Our guide seemed to love his job as he entertained us with his historic and geographical stories about the lake intertwined with anecdotes and jokes. The scenery around us was eye-bulging and I continued to be entranced with the aura of lake waters caressing the feet of the majestic mountains until we docked on Spirit Island for a short stroll. 

Alberta   Jasper   Bighorn Sheep   Credit Jasper Tourism 

With the departure from Spirit Island our exploration of Maligne Lake ended.  We had come to see why within the Jasper area, there is no competition in the beauty of its setting.   After our tour, the saying that “once you have seen it, Maligne Lake will forever hold a place in your mind” seemed appropriate.

That night, comfortable in our 4-star Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in the town of Jasper, I reminisced about our tour of the Maligne Valley and Lake.  It had been a fulfilling experience.  The sky reaching mountains and surrounding vistas, the colorful lake with its disappearing water and Spirit Island with its romantic legends all made the tour worthwhile and a destination anyone would want to explore more than once.

 

©Habeeb Salloum

Picture credits (c) Jasper Tourism

 

IF YOU GO

How to Get There:

The town of Jasper is situated about the same distance from Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta's capital—about a five hour drive.  Both have excellent air, road and rail connections.  Also, there are good rail and bus connections with Jasper.  However, the ideal way to travel through Jasper National Park is to rent an auto and explore the park.  The roads inside the park are excellent and the viewpoint sites are endless.  In addition, there are excursions offered from both Calgary and Edmonton.

 

Important Sites, Not Mentioned, to See in and Around Jasper:

Jasper Tramway, the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada.  It transports one to Jasper National Park’s alpine tundra where there are unprecedented views, six mountain ranges, glacial fed lakes, the Athabasca River and the scenic town of Jasper. 

Miette Hot Springs, about 60 km (37 mi) east of Jasper.  At 53º C, they are the hottest mineral springs in the Rockies. However, their waters are cooled to 40º and chlorinated for bathers.

Pyramid Mountain and Pyramid Lakes, just 8 km (5 mi) from the heart of town, it is well worth the trip just to view the beauty of the two lakes in the shadow of the towering Pyramid Mountain.

 

Top Place to Stay In Jasper:

The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge—the hotel, spreading along the curve of Lac Beauvert, a short distance from town, incorporates a golf course and combines the ultimate in luxury with tranquillity and natural beauty.  A village unto itself, it consists of lavish log cabins and cedar chalets.  1 Old Lodge Road, Jasper, Alberta, Canada T0E 1E0.  Tel: TOLL FREE: 1(866) 540-4454  or (780) 852-3301.  Fax: (780) 852-5107.  E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  Website: http://www.fairmont.com/jasper/

 

Some Interesting Tours to Take From Jasper:

Jasper Adventure Centre offers these tours: Maligne Valley, Canyon and Lake Tour—cost with boat cruise $109. 

Miette Hot Springs and Watchable Wildlife Tour  $74. 

The Columbia Icefields Tour from Jasper $129.  Toll Free: 1-800-565-7547.

Maligne Tours Ltd., specialize in tours to the Maligne Valley, Canyon and Lake—cost with boat cruise $103.95.  

 

For Further Information Contact:

Tourism Jasper, P.O. Box 568, Jasper, Alberta, Canada TOE 1EO. Tel: (780) 852-6236 Website: http://www.jasper.travel/

      

 

 

 

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QuebecfestivalFor 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. 

 

QuebecSainte Anne DeIn 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Quebec CharlevoixAfter 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.

 

 

 

 

We followed the shore of the St. Lawrence River, stopping a number of times to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, until we stopped for lunch at Le Domaine Forget – a tranquil music school set in a serene country atmosphere, where about 600 summer students pay $500 per week to be professionally trained and then put on concerts in a very modern music hall.

 

Once a large historical estate, it is located on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, in St. Irénée.  From May to September, the school hosts an International Festival and is home to a Music and Dance Academy where these students come to hone their skills in music and dance with the greatest teachers in the world.

 

Leaving the serene world of music, we drove to Maison du Bootlegger, located at La Malbaie (Sainte-Agnes).  With a clandestine history going back to 1860, it gives one a peek into the underworld of the surreptitious activities that occurred during Prohibition.  During that time, the owner of Maison du Bootlegger decided to thwart the authorities by building walls inside the house and hide the real vocation of the facility: gambling and drinking.  It is now a tourist restaurant featuring fine food, entertainment and guided tours that take you through a maze of fake walls, secret passages and hidden corridors and bars. 

 

Quebec Charlevoix 1The current owner, Johanne Brassard, in her charming way, welcomed us into the attic where in the days of Prohibition, the owner used to welcome important people in its Club des Monts.  Doctors, gentlemen, judges, lawyers, and many others of the Canadian and American elite came here to drink and gamble in those days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quebec Charlevoix 2We sampled the house’s delicious drinks, and then were taken on a tour of the house by Johanne’s daughter.  We went through an amazing labyrinth of secret passageways and noted many famous people’s names, such as Elvis Presley, that were engraved upon the walls. 

 

Our guide and her mother, like all the staff, were fun people who doubled as workers and dancers, or other entertainers.  Like one of my colleagues said, “You need not be a gambler or a drinker to enjoy yourself here. It looks like even the workers enjoy their jobs.”

 

That night, resting at the nearby elegant L’Auberge des 3 Canards, I reflected on our day’s journeys through the picturesque tourist region of Charlevoix and ending up at the Bootlegger.  I felt contentment thinking of Brassard and her flourishing business built on the reputation of a historical episode.

 

 

 

 

The next morning, after driving for a little over half an hour, we were in the village of Baie-Saint-Paul, located at the bottom of the crater.  A lively tourist village par excellence, it is filled with antique shops, art galleries, gift stores, tiny museums, pleasant restaurants and inviting inns.  A charming town where Cirque de Soleil began, it is said to be mainly inhabited by tourists.

 

After strolling along the town’s main street and browsing through some of the edgy shops and art galleries, we ended up touring the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Tired and weary from our time at the Museum, we entered for lunch at the La Microbrasserie Restaurant le Saint-Pub– a homemade beer establishment, with an attached fine restaurant.  After the owner explained his brewing process and talked about his new brewery that is about to open, we dined on locally produced products washed down by the unique beers of the house.

 

Quebec Charlevoix Baie SainSated, some of our group went kayaking while the rest, like myself, strolled the main street of Baie-Saint-Paul, the Niagara-on-the-Lake of Charlevoix, enjoying the flower-decked structures and innumerable art galleries.  Our home for the night was the tiny 12 room inn, Auberge La Muse, located in the heart of Baie-Saint-Paul.

 

That evening, as we waited to dine at the inn’s Chez Boquet Eco-Bistro, I thought about a saying I had heard: “Staying in one of Charlevoix’s quaint inns hid amid the beauty of nature is like drinking all evening without a morning hangover.” – this truly was exemplified by this quaint inn.

 

© Habeeb Salloum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IF YOU GO

Le Domaine Forget de Charlevoix, 5 rang Saint-Antoine, Saint-Irénée, Québec, Canada G0T 1V0.  Tel: 418 452-8111.  Fax: 418 452-3503. E-Mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Website: www.domaineforget.com


La Maison du Bootlegger
, only a 1 1/2 hour drive from Quebec City, the Bootlegger restaurant specializes in steaks, $30- $50 CDN. 110, Ruisseau des Frenes, La Malbaie (Sainte-Agnes), Québec, Canada G5A 2C8.  Tel: 418 439-3711. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Web site: www.maisondubootlegger.com

Two Good Places to Stay and Dine in Charlevoix:

 

Auberge La Muse, 39, Saint-Jean-Baptiste St., Baie-Saint-Paul, Charlevoix, Québec
G3Z 1M3.  Tel.: (418) 435-6839 / 1 800 841-6839.  Fax: (418) 435-6289. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  Website: www.lamuse.com

 

Auberge des 3 Canards, 115, Côte Bellevue, La Malbaie (Pointe-au-Pic ) Québec G5A 1Y2. Tel: 418 665-3761 / 1 800 461-3761.  Fax: 418-665-4727. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  Website: http://www.auberge3canards.com

 

For Further Information Contact:

 

Tourisme Québec: for complete tourist information in Québec, call: (514) 873-2015 or toll free: 1-877-363-7777, or visit the web site: www.bonjourquebec.com or http://www.bonjourquebec.com/ca-en/charlevoix0.html

 

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The railway station at Divisadero, one of Copper Canyon's most popular stopovers in the southwest region of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, was a riot of activity. It was a shopper's delight and gave us a chance to buy Tarahumara handicrafts and gain a brief glimpse of Tarahumara women weaving baskets, indifferent to the clamor around them.

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“You will have to live the life of a cowboy for a while,” an acquaintance I had met in Val Marie commented when I told him that I would be spending the next night at the Historic Reesor Ranch edging the Cypress Hills. Now, after touring those seductive hills, I turned to enter this historic and tourist-friendly ranch, and was impressed. Surrounded by an inviting, wooded and hilly countryside, its location was appealing, especially for those seeking solitude and quiet country life. Tucked away in a valley sloping down from the Cypress Hills, with over a hundred cattle roaming on its 1,000 acres, the ranch appeared like a jewel encompassed in greenery – truly an ideal hideaway for honeymooners.

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No sooner had we sat down than a large body of Roman legionaries appeared and the rattling of shields, swords and armour clamoured amidst the blaring of trumpets and martial music. Roman soldiers drilling, gladiators fighting each other and chariot races all followed, depicting the days of Roman splendour.

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