Gaspe Cruise Port
Port of Gaspe: An Overview
If you're lucky, you may be escorted to Gaspe (GAS-pay) by the whales that favor the bay of Gaspe in summertime through late fall. Even if that doesn't happen, 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, Canada, this city of 15,000 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 northeast of the city, where residents include black bear and moose. Or head south to Perce, and take a ferry for close-up views of Perce Rock and Bonaventure Island, home to 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 here, 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.
The terminal has tourist brochures and maps aplenty, clean restrooms and strong free Wi-Fi. Just outside is the parking lot for coaches that will take you on shore excursions. Bear to the right to head into town; it's about a 10-minute walk across the bridge to get to the town center of Gaspe.
Forillon National Park: Set at the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula, this is a wonderland of seascapes, cliffs, mountains and unusual rock formations. Set within the territory of the town of Gaspe, the park covers 600 square miles with 90 miles of saltwater coastline. Nine hiking trails lead to enchanting vistas and offer their own wild beauty; some of these are part of the IAT (International Appalachian Trail) that runs from Forillon National Park to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Perce and Perce Rock: A twisty, 60-mile road with glimpses of bright blue bay leads to the fishing village of Perce (population 3,000), home to a collection of small shops and restaurants. Here, you can board a ferry for strikingly pretty Perce Rock, a monolith made of 5 million tons of limestone. Measuring about 1,420 feet long, 295 feet wide and 288 feet at its highest point, it is one of the largest natural arches in the world.
Bonaventure Island: Typically, the same ferry will also circumnavigate Bonaventure Island, aka I'lle–Bonaventure-et-du Rocher-Perce National Park, the largest migratory bird refuge in North America. Upon closer view, the little white specks that dot the island are Northern Gannets—the largest colony of these birds in the world (up to 122,000 or so when nesting is at its peak.) You won't disembark the boat to explore the island, but should be close enough to get some great shots of these large white seabirds with black-tipped wings. Also look for harbor seals; you'll see their heads bobbing nearby.
International Appalachian Trail: Feel like doing some exploring? A hiking/biking trail, the International Appalachian Trail (see above), is accessible right outside the marina; rent a bicycle inside the cruise terminal at Boutique Gaspe No Stress Recycl' Art (113 Rue de la Reine; 418-355-5060) and head south about 10 miles to the beach at Haldimand. There's also a closer beach en route called Sandy Beach. The folks at the cruise port welcome desk have maps and details.
Fort Prevel Golf: Prefer to hit the links? Fort Prevel Golf (254 Boulevard De Douglas, Saint-Georges-de-Malbaie; 413-368-2281), located about 20 miles south of the marina, is a beautiful 18-hole course, with one hole (#2) with a par 6 and gorgeous bay views.
On Foot: From the port, it's a short walk into town, where there's a nice selection of shops and restaurants, plus a couple of interesting sightseeing options: the Gespeg Micmac Interpretation Site, the Muse'e de la Gaspesie and the Jacques Cartier Monument. Just outside the marina is a 10-mile hiking/biking trail that leads to a sandy town beach at Haldimand, southeast of Gaspe.
By Shuttle: During the summer season, the Regim shuttle leaves from the shopping center in Gaspe (just across the bridge from the marina) twice a day to transport visitors to Forillon National Park. The park is a 40-minute drive, heading northeast from the city center, so this is an affordable option (as opposed to taking a taxi.)
To get to Perce, most people take a shore excursion. Rental cars are available at the marina/cruise terminal, but they are expensive and you'd still have to arrange for the ferry on your own, an added expense.
Food and Drink
Of course, you can get a nice, gooey dish of poutine; the signature Quebecoise dish of cheese curds and fries smothered in gravy is a staple at roadside food stalls, and nearly every sit-down restaurant offers its own take. And you won't go wrong with the fresh local seafood. Locals recommend the mixed platter (typically fried) so you can sample it all. Lobster, shrimp, crab and halibut are the usual suspects. In Gaspe town, most of the action is centered on or around rue de la Reine, the main drag. There aren't a bazillion choices in this small town, but what's here isn't bad. The village of Perce also has a few small cafes (lobster rolls and hamburgers are menu mainstays), located close to the ferry dock and near the spot where shore excursion buses park.
Brulerie Cafe des Artistes: Cold beer, whimsical art and a local following make Brulerie Cafe des Artistes a fun place to grab lunch in downtown Gaspe. An outdoor balcony overlooks the water here, where food is on the lighter side (or so it will seem if you've been cruising!), including salads, sandwiches and wraps. Desserts are made in-house, and nearly everyone (of appropriate age) orders a Pit-Caribou La Gaspesienne, a locally brewed porter. Bonus: free Wi-Fi (135 Rue de la Reine, Gaspe, 418-368-3366; daily from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.).
Bistro Le Brise-Bise: Shrimp poutine and maple syrup pie, oh my! Those, and the reasonable prices, will make you a fan of Bistro Le Brise-Bise. The main floor is home to a casual restaurant, while the basement is pub style. Either way you go, the menu will make you happy, featuring French standards (think bouillabaisse and escargot) along with crowd-pleasers like fish-and-chips and heaping piles of mussels steamed in fragrant broth. Just try to get out of here without at least sharing a piece of maple syrup pie (if not now, when?) (135 Rue de la Reine, Gaspe, 418-368-1456; daily from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.).
Where You're Docked
A 15-minute tender ride gets you to the cruise terminal, where you'll likely encounter a battalion of cheery greeters wearing red shirts or jackets. Inside, the modern terminal is staffed with members of the local chamber of commerce (or Bureau d'Accueil touristique de Gaspe), who have maps, information and lots of ideas about where to go and what to see. There's also a Budget rental car kiosk here.
Good to Know
Getting in and out of the ferry to Perce Rock and Bonaventure Island can be bumpy, which makes it challenging for those with mobility issues. Also, for those visiting Gaspe in the fall, note that some of the shops in Perce, a touristy fishing village known for its shopping, will be closed for the season.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Gaspes currency is the Canadian dollar, divided into 100 cents. Visit www.xe.com for current rates. Credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere, especially Visa and MasterCard. Most retail shops and restaurants will accept U.S. dollars, but will give you change in Canadian currency. The closest bank to the cruise terminal is the TD Canada Trust at 134 Rue de la Reine in Gaspe.
Gaspe is primarily French-speaking, but English is widely spoken and well understood, especially by those in the tourism and service businesses, and at cruise port terminals. Signage is mostly in French and, if you rent a car, note that mileage is given in kilometers.
Given that this area is famous for its gannet colony, anything with gannets on it is a cool keepsake. Gannet sculptures range in price and artisanship, and you can find them in virtually every gift shop and gallery. Some artists to look for: Suzanne Tetreault-Masse, Marie-Josee Tommi and Nathalie Cadet. Also look for agate jewelry made by local artisans.
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