Là où il y a des joncs au bord de l’eau
French translation of the Algonquin word “Kamouraska” meaning “Where there are reeds at the waterfront”
The name “Kamouraska” hints at the essence of the village (and the county of the same name) with its access to the rich bounty of the St. Lawrence River. Kamouraska was settled by the French in the 17th century and much earlier by the Algonquin First Nations peoples and fishing, particularly eel fishing, has long been important to the inhabitants. It’s also a beautiful name that aptly reflects the picturesque village and its position on the banks of the St. Lawrence with views of the Kamouraska Islands and the distant mountains across the river,
Although I had only an afternoon to visit Kamouraska on a three-day road trip in Québec’s maritime region, I was captivated by its charm, scenic location, and delectable culinary offerings.
Walking along Avenue Morel, the main road through the village, and the few side streets leading to the shoreline, it’s easy to see why Kamouraska is one of the “Most Beautiful Villages of Québec” and why National Geographic Travel’s former editor in chief, Keith Bellows, listed it as one of his favorite Canada places.
I loved the vibrant shade of blue and the classic white picket fence of L’Amuse Bouche, a bistro on the waterfront on Rue Chassé.
The homes and small inns of Kamouraska are beautifully maintained with colorful facades, decorative trim, and pretty flowers and plants. Many of the buildings have very distinctive roofs that resemble a boat’s hull, an appropriate design for sea-faring Bas-Saint-Laurent (region of Quebec on the lower St. Lawrence) communities. The curved eaves extending beyond the roof are designed to keep rain from the sides of the building and protect from the wind.
I noticed some of the buildings had ladders on their roofs which were historically important aides for access to chimneys for cleaning or dousing fires.
Kamouraska’s General Store has a perfect old-fashioned small-town feel, and especially around the 1930s, it was the main local gathering place. They carry a diversity of products — gourmet foods, including cheeses, cured meats and sandwiches; household goods; accessories; and gifts.
One of my travel companions showed me one of her special places, Café du Clocher — a stop she always makes during her travels in Québec. It’s cozy inside, but the outside seating area is also lovely for a quiet lunch while enjoying the gardens and views of the river. Next door to the café is Atelier du Clocher, a boutique with unique jewelry (in exotic woods, silver and gold) from Québec designers and craftspeople.
The soaps made from rice bran oil at Quai des Bulles look good enough to eat, don’t you think (see above)? As soon as you walk up the steps to the door, you begin to smell the fragrances. Quai des Bulles carries a range of natural and organic body care products. My personal favorite was California Dreamin’, a patchouli and poppy creation adopting the name of the Mamas and Papas 1960s song.
In Côté Est, located in a lovely Victorian home built in 1848 as a presbytery (a rectory, or home of Roman Catholic priests) and library, Chef Kim Côté and co-owner Perle Morency serve regional dishes to residents, summer vacationers, and travelers passing through. It is a gourmet dining experience in a comfortable and charming setting on the St. Lawrence River.
On the Côté Est placemats is printed, “s’unissent pour faire de votre sejour un moment inoubliable” (“unite to make your stay unforgettable”), a statement of the bistro’s philosophy. Côté Est’s menu is inspired by the traditional cuisine of maritime Québec using fresh local meat, fowl, and seafood prepared with innovative recipes. The bistro’s mixologist has also created regionally-inspired cocktails using local ingredients.
It was the first time I’d ever seen seal on a menu. The most popular menu item is the “Phoque Bardot Burger” (“phoque” is the French word for “seal”), a seal meat burger with foie gras and plum jam. Seal meat, high in protein and Omega-3, has been a mainstay of sustenance for the people of Québec for generations and the restaurant showcases foods of the region. The owners say the name was clearly intended to be a humorous reference to French actress and activist Brigitte Bardot who long has been a critic of the Canadian seal hunt. However, there was some controversy a few years ago when news of the seal burger reached animal rights activists who took offense to Bardot’s name being used and incorrectly believed that baby seals are being hunted in Québec. I was very surprised to learn that there are seven million seals in the St. Lawrence River (an all-time high) and the seals here have no predators.
I didn’t have the seal burger, but I tried a taste of the seal appetizer (top left in the photo above). Washed down with a French Chardonnay, I’d say it tasted fine (a bit like beef liver, I think), but I don’t feel a desire to try it again.
My favorite food of the day was the grilled cheese sandwich with regional cheeses, ham marinated with rosemary, and accompanied with pear butter.
Côté Est also has an impressive selection of wines, including several organic vintages from the SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec, the government’s alcoholic beverage sales agency) as well as private imports. With lunch, I sampled two French wines recommended by our friendly and knowledgeable waiter Steven — a floral chardonnay from Domaine de la Patience and a crisp and food-friendly rosé from Domaine des Béates.
The terrace would be a great place to enjoy dining with an amazing view. It was a little cool for that on the day we visited.
La Fée Gourmande
La Fée Gourmande is more than a chocolate shop. The store sells specialty chocolates, other candies, ice cream and sorbets that are made in the on-site “chocolate factory” in the adjacent building. The enthusiasm of owner Jean-Philippe Champagne for making chocolate is infectious. Just a few years ago, Jean-Phillipe was a frequent customer of La Fée Gourmande. When the owner decided to sell the business, he eagerly expressed interest in acquiring it and began learning the trade from the owner as well as taking classes in France. The La fleur de lavande (Origine Rare Tanzanie 75% cacao with infused lavender flowers in dark ganache) chocolates were irresistible to me and I came home with a small box to share with Mr. TWS. At least it was my intention to share.
I’ve tried my hand at bread and pasta making before, but this was a first experience at attempting to make something on the sweet side and I really enjoyed it. Each person in our group had a chance to get hands-on with various steps of chocolate making, including picking fresh mint from the garden, the task in which I excelled. Sadly, I don’t believe that I’m cut out to be a chocolatier, but I appreciated that Jean-Philippe was very patient and cheerful in his instructions. A few in our group seemed like naturals in easily grasping the art of chocolate making. There are many time-intensive steps and culinary skills involved and Jean-Philippe clearly has a passion for his work.
Reasons to return to Kamouraska
Be amazed: Because we headed back on the road to our night’s lodging in Rivière du Loup in the late afternoon, I didn’t get to witness the famed gorgeous sunsets for which Bas-Saint-Laurent and particularly vantage points in Kamouraska have gained notoriety. Imagine what this view from Côté Est would look like at sunset.
Visit: The Musée Régional de Kamouraska has exhibits about the history, cultures, and traditions of Kamouraska
Eat: I’d like to go back to Côté Est for another grilled cheese sandwich and La Fée Gourmande for lavender chocolates, but there are other cafés, restaurants, and bakeries such as Boulangerie Niemand for me to try.
Sail: There is a Zodiac boat adventure that sounds like a great way to see the area from the waters of the St. Lawrence River. I’m told the view of the villages along the shoreline are beautiful.
Hike and bike: For the outdoor enthusiast there are a number of activities including kayaking, camping, hiking and my favorite — biking.
Relax: Although many shops, restaurants and inns may not be open in the winter, if you’re looking for solitude and beautiful winter landscapes, this may be the place for you! Steven at Côté Est referred to Kamouraska in winter as a “white desert”. It’s a rather tempting thought. Or start making your plans now for a road trip in maritime Quebec for spring, summer, or fall.
Film buff bonus tip
Check out the 1973 film “Kamouraska” starring Geneviève Bujold, an adaptation of a novel by Anne Hébert based on the 1838 murder of Achille Taché, the seigneur (lord) of Kamouraska, by his wife’s lover and the events before and after. It’s an intriguing movie with captivating scenes from all seasons (I particularly like the winter ones) that were filmed in various locations in Québec.
Disclosure: My afternoon in Kamouraska was hosted by Québec Tourism, but my opinions and perspectives are totally my own — as always.