By Donna Mulligan
After a spring break vacation of roller coasters and amusement park rides in Virginia, I planned a summer family vacation with our kids to Canada. My boys wanted to know what kind of roller coasters they had in Canada. I tried to paint them a picture of the great outdoor playground we would experience in French Canada. They were skeptical.
Quebec is the French-speaking province in Canada, steeped in history, rich in culture and an excellent choice for a family vacation. We flew into Montreal and headed north to the Laurentian Mountains. In the winter, this is a skier’s paradise, but the summer brings opportunities for fishing, biking, hiking, gondola rides, picnics and more.
We rented bikes (equipped with the piggy back for my 4 year old), and the boys found an amazing spot on the river with hundreds of tadpoles. They were disappointed they could NOT bring them home, but were quickly distracted because the sky was bluer then ever and the trees were definitely greener …Maybe we just found the time to notice the sky and the trees. And it was amazing the amount of stars that filled the night sky in Canada. Away from all the city lights below, I swear we saw at least 10 shooting stars! The kids were thrilled.
From the Laurentians, we headed east to Quebec City and Charlevoix. In Charlevoix, we stayed at the most spectacular Fairmont Le Manoir Richeleau, which sits on a bluff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Here the river is so enormous it is like looking out to the ocean.
Charlevoix is a haven for artists, poets and writers. Galleries, displaying magnificent local paintings, dot the countryside and invite visitors with their quaint, genuine charm. Every home is meticulously maintained with fresh bright paint and flower boxes galore — a true expression of the proud “Quebecois” who live here.
Our French skills were minimal, and communicating in the local restaurants and markets in the Charlevoix countryside was interesting. The “French Toast” we ordered in “English” didn’t translate well — so we settled on 5 plates of plain ol’ toast and jelly for breakfast. It wasn’t a disappointment to us though. It was a fun experience and the kids liked paying the bill with the new “colored” currency.
In Charlevoix, we also went whale watching on the St. Lawrence River. I bought disposable cameras for each of the boys (ages 4, 7, 9) and they went crazy taking pictures of all the whales we saw. Even though the guide was French speaking, the boys quickly learned what the “nord” side of the boat meant.
We took a ferry (with our car) to Isle-aux-Coudres. We rented tandem bikes and rode around the island exploring windmills and treasure hunting on the beaches.
We spent the last night of our vacation in Quebec City, the only walled city in North America. The kids enjoyed shopping and buying hockey souvenirs from Canada.
This was our first international family vacation and a very impressionable one for our boys. Without the jet lag of European travel we all experienced the friendliness and charm of French culture, closer to home.
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Donna Mulligan is a full-time working mom to 3 hockey players. Her family's favorite travel destinations include Killington, Vermont, the Adirondacks, Florida's Gulf coast, and Quebec City.