If you're lucky, you might be escorted to Gaspe (GAS-pay), in Quebec, Canada, by the whales that favor the bay here in summertime through late fall; the region is home to seven species, including minkes, humpbacks and right whales. The latter could also impact your visit; when they are sighted in the area, cruise ships are required to slow their speeds, causing occasional port call adjustments -- albeit for a very good cause.
Even without whale sightings, anticipation will build as you glide past the craggy coastline of the Gaspe Peninsula toward the city that sits at its tip. During autumn, the peninsula's landscape of russet leaves and rocky shoreline make it a favorite stop on New England-to-Canada fall foliage voyages. Add mountains, lakes and three major rivers (not to mention the brilliant blue Atlantic Ocean) and you've got an embarrassment of natural beauty that rivals anyplace else in the Canadian Maritimes.
Located in the Gaspesie region of Eastern Quebec, this city of 15,000 people gets its name from the Micmac Indian word gespeg, meaning "end of the lands." There's definitely a lands' end feel to this place, where, as guides will tell you, "Gaspesians live for the outdoors." The word "city" is a bit of a misnomer, though, since the City of Gaspe is 87 miles long and encompasses 17 coastal villages. The best way to get a feel for it is to do as the locals do and celebrate nature: Explore the rock formations, woodsy trails and glorious seascapes of Forillon National Park, located an hour's drive north of the city, where residents include black bear and moose. Or, head an hour south to Perce and take a ferry for close-up views of Perce Rock and Bonaventure Island, home to the largest bird sanctuary in North America: a rocky islet that hosts 122,000 nesting gannets, the largest colony of these birds in the world.
A quick chat with any local will reveal another source of pride: the history of French Canada started here. In the summer of 1534, Jacques Cartier sheltered his fleet in Gaspe, and officially took possession by planting a wooden cross with the king's coat of arms. History-lovers can learn more at the Musee de la Gaspesie, located at the edge of town.