The pretty Charlevoix and Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean regions are located east of Québec City, and are home to many hidden treasures, epic marine mammals and pure French-Canadian charm. Driving along the St Lawrence River you reach the Charlevoix towns of Baie Saint Paul and La Malbaie, whilst inland rolling pastoral hills and forest make up part of a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Continue east and you reach the Saguenay Fjord, seemingly guarded on either side by the small settlements of Baie Sainte Catherine and Tadoussac. Where the fjord meets the St Lawrence the mix of waters creates an environment teeming with marine life, and this is one of the best places in Canada to see a variety of whale species.
The Saguenay River stretches inland from here through towering, glacier carved canyons and majestic cliffs before reaching the quiet little town of La Baie and its big sister Saguenay. This city was for many years the hub of Canada’s pulp and paper industries, and the mill in the borough of Chicoutimi was the biggest producer of mechanical pulp at the beginning of the 20th century. The industry declined from the 1920s onwards but there are many remnants around the region – some of the mills are now National Historic Sites and the Village de Val Jalbert is a fully reconstructed company town.
Continuing west along the river you arrive at the shimmering waters of Lac St Jean. Here the huge lake is used by locals for watersports in summer and ice-fishing in winter, however, due to the low population of the area the shores are rarely crowded and the wooden houses and church spires that dot the lakeside offer pretty photographic opportunities for those driving past.
Perhaps the most beguiling part of these two regions though is the exceedingly laid back approach to life and the resident’s pride in and passion for the area. Ask a local where their favourite place in the world is and there’s a strong chance they will say ‘here’.