Last Updated on February 27, 2023 by MacNaughtan
Just last summer while on a driving holiday through the incredibly scenic Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean region of Quebec (210 kilometers from Quebec City), I learned about l’Association des plus beaux villages du Québec. “The Most Beautiful Villages in Quebec.” There are 38 in total and I was lucky to spend a couple of days exploring one of them: l’Anse-Saint-Jean.
Every now and then I’m assailed with a wave of “travel envy” when I encounter a region, an experience or a gem of nature that prompts within me a certain wishfulness: “Oh, if only we had something like that closer to home.” “Can you imagine living in a place as beautiful as this?” I felt that way three years in the south of France, where I visited the gorgeous towns of Roussillon and Les Baux-de-Provence and discovered they were on the country’s official list of “Les beaux villages de la France. (The Most Beautiful Villages in France).” I remember thinking, “I wish we had that kind of designation back home in Canada.” Turns out we do!
The picturesque town of 1,208 inhabitants, which dates back to 1838, sits on a quiet bay on the shores of the Fjord-du-Saguenay.
Bucolic L’Anse-Saint-Jean contains all of the elements of a landscape painting: rock cliffs bordering the Saguenay fjord (one of the longest fjords in the world); a tiny island afloat in silver-blue waters; contented cows grazing in rolling pastures along the shore; white-painted century-homes spread along rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste that bisects the village; family-run boulangeries with views of the water; turn-of-the-century farmhouses hugging Saint-Jean River; and verdant Mont Eduoard (the fifth tallest mountain in Quebec) in the distance.
And, of course, there’s the most Instagrammed image of l’Anse-Saint-Jean: Le Pont du Faubourg, the covered wooden bridge, which, in the 1950s, graced the back of Canada’s $1,000 bill. Locals nicknamed it The Bridge of a Thousand Bucks.
View this post on Instagram
Un peu d’histoire ! Saviez-vous que l’anse-saint-jean figura au verso des billets de 1000$ en circulation de 1954 à 1992 ?! Curieusement, ce n’est qu’en 1972 que les citoyens de L’Anse se rendent compte que leur village apparaît sur celui-ci! #history #oldbills #canada #lansesaintjean
The beauty of l’Anse-Saint-Jean extends beyond the aesthetics of the village. Spending time in a Quebecois town like l’Anse-Saint-jean places visitors right in the heart of le vrai Quebec, what people lovingly refer to as, “Quebec Authentique.”
Here are 5 ways to appreciate the beauty of l’Anse Saint-Jean:
sea Kayaking in the fjord
Admiring the beauty of l’Anse Saint-Jean from the seat of a sea kayak while paddling in the fjord – one of the longest and deepest in the world – gives a different perspective of the idyllic village. Local outfitter Fjord en Kayak, which was honoured by Aventure Écotourisme Québec as a Certified Best Ecotourism Practice, offers numerous water-based excursions.
Highlights of the three-hour sea kayak outing: spotting loons, gray seals, peregrine falcons (whales sometimes make an appearance); paddling around l’îlet Saint-Jean, which are nesting grounds for the spotted sandpiper; and majestic views of Capes Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité.
dining on local fare – with locals
L’Anse-Sant-Jean has a handful of excellent restaurants, which favour locally-sourced food (from land and water) along rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste. We ate our favourite meal at Auberge la Fjordelaise . Follow the server’s recommendations to start with traditional Quebecois potage (soup), then onto fish and seafood (I had perfectly caramel-coloured scallops), and homemade dessert.
Blueberries (abundant in the region) and maple syrup figured into both main dishes and desserts. The welcome treat that came with our supper: talking to the locals at the next tables during our meal, and out on the terrace during after-dinner drinks.
embracing the outdoors in parc national de saguenay
L’anse Saint-Jean is an excellent base from which to explore Saguenay Fjord National Park, which is an easy 25-minute drive from town. The park is a haven for nature-lovers and outdoor enthusiasts who can hike, sea kayak, camp, watch beluga whales or join a zodiac cruise.
Plus, there’s always the thrill of the adrenaline-packed via ferrata (think rock-climbing in the safety of a harness) along the rock face of Cap-Trinité. There are whale-watching excursions in the Baie-Sainte-Marguerite sector of the park, well-marked hiking trails in Baie-Éternité, and endless marine animals and birds in the Baie-de-Tadoussac area of the park.
relax in édouard-les-bains nordic spa
Located on a hilltop about a 15-minute drive from l’Anse-Saint-Jean is Édouard-les-Bains, a modest Nordic Spa where one can soothe the muscles after a daylong hike or kayak outing.
Locals and visitors alike gravitate to the outdoor whirlpools, hammam (steam room), dry and traditional saunas, and rushing waterfalls (so good for the back and shoulders).
morning coffee with locals
Every traveller has their tried-and-true technique when it comes to connecting with locals. Mine is morning coffee. What worked for me in l’Anse-Saint-Jean could work for you: Head to Pâtisserie Louise, right on rue Saint-Jean Baptiste, and purchase one of Louise’s homemade goodies, perhaps a blueberry tart, brioche, croissant or fruit-filled muffin.
Then saunter up the street to Café du Quai, and ask Breton-native Sebastien Birot for a cappuccino or coffee to go. Then take your breakfast down to the marina, watch the boats and within minutes you’ll be talking to locals. It’s one more way of appreciating the beauty of l’Anse-Saint-Jean.
For more information on Saguenay-Lac-St. Jean and l’Anse-Saint-Jean, visit: https://www.quebecoriginal.com/en-ca/where-to-go/regions-cities/saguenay-lac-saint-jean