A favorite travel memory – riding a whale while speaking French

Greetings travelers!!  How was your week? I escaped for a beach day last week and thoroughly enjoyed the change of scenery in a quiet beach town less than two hours away. If you want to know about this hidden gem drivable from the New York metro area, reach out! 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my travel bucket list. It’s not just me – the pent-up desire to travel is palpable.  It’s weird not to be looking forward to fall and holiday vacations this year; instead, many people are planning and booking big trips for 2021 and 2022.  Following this trend, I’ll be highlighting some destinations and experiences in upcoming newsletters that are sure to make the cut for a spot on your list once travel reopens. PSA – if you know someone who loves travel but is not yet part of the Hidden Gem community, they can easily sign up on the website (www.hiddengemtravelconsulting.com) or email me to be added to the list. As you know, it’s free 😊.

Today, I’m sharing a favorite summer travel memory with you. You very well may have been there yourself, but repeat visits are highly recommended!  Can you guess the destination from the clue below?

A Francophile will feel at home in this region with views of a 9,500 mile-long river/seaway, a famous dish made with French fries, and a hotel that is in the Guinness Book of World Records as most photographed. 

Read on for the answer….


If you answered Quebec, you’d be right!  According to Wikitravel, the province of Quebec is the largest province in Canada by area and the only one with French as its official language. Most of the population lives along the majestic St. Lawrence River, and in fact, Quebec means “where the river narrows.”  Unfortunately, the US/Canadian border is closed for leisure travel (currently until August 21st and likely to be extended), but planning your trip now for when the border opens is a good baby step for getting back to travel – not too far but outside the US. 

I’ve traveled through Quebec multiple times, and each trip is special in its own way. I LOVE how Montreal and Quebec City, the two largest cities in the province, transport me to that feeling of Europe which is a huge driver for repeat visits.  Although most popular in the summer, the area is amazing to visit in the fall and winter (think fall foliage and winter sports). 


Montreal is very accessible by car as it’s only a 45-minute drive from the New York State border.  Old Montreal tops the list of things to do, including the bustling Place Jacques-Cartier and Notre-Dame Basilica, but the city offers many other attractions and neighborhoods that you won’t want to miss.  Our last trip was for the Montreal Jazz Festival which I hope will be back in future years. Live music played all over the city and created an unforgettable, festive atmosphere.  Oh and we ate our way around town too 😊.  Next time, we’ll catch a food tour with a local culinary expert.

Speaking of couples getaways, if you want to stay somewhere special and central, Le St. James is a Virtuoso network hotel (meaning you book in as a VIP with extra amenities) in a beautifully restored Merchant’s Bank dating back to the 1870s.  A Michelin starred chef creates magic in the restaurant in what was the gorgeous banker’s hall complete with two mezzanines and alcoves for an overall spectacular dining experience.  I consider this hotel a hidden gem. 

If you’re traveling with children, Montreal is a fantastic city!  Be sure to introduce your kids to poutine, Quebec’s famous dish that is a pile of French fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy. Take them to La Ronde, an amazing amusement park with regular fireworks over the St. Lawrence River. 

Quebec City

Travel+Leisure magazine named Quebec City its top city in Canada in 2020 for good reason.  The French culture and culinary scene, historic sites, and gorgeous scenery top the list of reasons to go. It’s a 2.5-3-hour car ride from Montreal so very accessible.  Old Quebec’s Quartier Petit-Champlain is the oldest shopping district in North America and has the feel of a small European city. The shopping is terrific (fun fact I bought my absolute favorite travel backpack there) as are the restaurants and bars for a trifecta of fun – eat, drink and shop.

For a bit of history and fanfare, I highly recommend watching the changing of the guard ceremony at La Citadelle.  The Citadel is occupied by the Canadian Armed Forces so not just for show.  According to their website, “The ceremony marks the arrival of new sentries to relieve those on duty at the garrison. It is a colourful military tradition and includes the inspection of the guard by the officers, the Regimental Band, and the regimental mascot Batisse the Goat.”  Yes, you read that right, there’s a goat in the parade!  Don’t tell the rest of your traveling group so it’s a funny surprise. 

You’ll find a funicular at the river end of the Quartier which takes you from upper town to lower town and offers some fantastic views. At this end of town, you will find the can’t-miss sight of the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac which dates to 1893, has won the Guinness Book of World Records award for most photographed hotel, and is a National Historic Site of Canada.  Full of wow-factor, the hotel was built on a raised landmass above the St. Lawrence River which is viewable from a wide terrace. Countless celebrities, including Queen Elizabeth II, have stayed at this historic hotel. Why not experience the grandeur yourself?  Reserving through Virtuoso provides fantastic perks and VIP treatment (just like the Queen 😊). Flanking the riverside of the hotel is Terrasse Dufferin which is a walkway along the river with street artists in the summer and an ice toboggan ride in the winter. 

Montmorency Falls

Heading north from Quebec City, you must stop at iconic Montmorency Falls.  It’s 99 feet higher than Niagara Falls, and you can take a cable car to the top, zipline across the falls, walk down the cliff-side stairway to the base of the falls, and enjoy the cool falls spray on a hot summer day. The TV show, The Amazing Race, has one of its famous flag boxes visible at the top of the falls so snap a pic for bragging rights before you ride the zip. In the winter, the fall’s spray creates a cone at the bottom, an unusual sight to see. 


If you love a drive alongside coastal scenery and incredible whale watching, head three hours north of QC to the town of Tadoussac, considered one of the most beautiful villages in Quebec. Route 138 is aptly named the Whale Route and winds along the St. Lawrence River.  On this trip, we had our youngest son with us.  He was 9 years old at the time and enchanted by whales.  Given the choice of a larger boat or a zodiac, we bravely chose the zodiac which required warm clothes underneath heavy, bright yellow jackets and pants. Once on the water, we came up close and personal with a variety of whales – beluga, minke, and humpback.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it was an unforgettable experience though somewhat terrifying at times.  I almost had a heart attack when my son, in great exuberance, threw himself almost over the edge of the raft to “pet the whale” and secretly hoping he might ride it – a moment of terror for me that I will never forget!! We capped off our bucket list whale experience with a local seafood feast, and for me a couple of glasses of wine. If you prefer a bit less adventure, there are large boats on which you can view the whales from a healthy distance. Either way, you won’t be disappointed! 

In summary, when the borders reopen, Quebec should be on your list for 5 reasons:

  1. The Francophile culture makes you feel like you’re in Europe.
  2. It’s a foodie’s delight with a wide range of restaurant experiences and cuisines.
  3. Couples and families will equally enjoy tailored itineraries in any season.
  4. It’s drivable from the Northeastern US states. 
  5. Both nature and city lovers will be satisfied with many fun experiences. 

Inspired and ready to add Quebec to your bucket list?  Hit reply to schedule a  call/virtual coffee chat or jump over to www.facebook.com/hiddengemtravelconsulting and comment on today’s post about this newsletter. 

Hidden Gem Tip: Quebec gets crowded in the summer so consider a shoulder season (late spring or fall) or even a winter trip. Every season shows this beautiful region in a different light, and there are plenty of activities year-round.  Specialty tours will enhance your experience by connecting you with locals who specialize in a variety of areas – culinary, history, culture, architecture, adventure, etc.  We have connections to companies that offer tours that aren’t your run-of-the-mill, big group experience.

Wishing you and your family continued good health,


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Hi, I'm Susan Wilson

I’m the founder of Hidden Gem Travel Consulting. As your personal travel advisor, I craft custom worldwide itineraries that astound and inspire you.


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