Come September, when many ships dock or anchor at La Baie on fall foliage cruises, the village charm instantly unfolds portside. Immediate visuals include cheerily painted houses and crimson- and gold-hued trees in lush hills beyond. This neat-as-a-pin village is easily walked on a delightful stroll.
Saguenay (Sag-uh-NAY), founded as a French colonial trading post, is a city with three boroughs, including La Baie. It's linked with nearby Lac Saint-Jean as a tourism region and playground for Quebecois, drawing folks from more urban areas like Quebec City, about 130 miles to the south. The downtown and cultural districts are in nearby Chicoutimi, about a 20-minute drive from the cruise terminal.
Most passengers book tours showcasing the area's unspoiled natural beauty. The Saguenay River Fjord, one of the 10 longest in the world, and the southernmost navigable fjord in North America, ranks as the primo lure. Sculpted by ancient glaciers, the 60-mile-long, 1-mile-wide fjord is lined with towering cliffs up to 1,150 feet tall, and plunges to depths of up to 900 feet. You might spot whales, falcons and other wildlife on tours, so bring a camera. Explore this majestic waterway by land, boat or even helicopter and seaplane -- each transport guarantees thrills.
Another port option is to take in the 30-year-running iconic musical revue called "La Fabuleuse." The show stars about 100 enthusiastic volunteer actors and showcases the region's dramatic history (including a great fire, landslide and flood). This revue offers everything from fireworks and vintage cars to cannon blasts.
Or, board a hop-on, hop-off bus for an easy-peasy visit through La Baie and other boroughs. Local artisan tours are another fun way to pass the day. One foodie tour showcases Saguenay's indigenous products; you might visit a cheese factory and try blueberry sparkling wine at a nearby farm, while another tour includes stops at a family-owned goat farm and a glassblowing workshop.
Canadian French is different in its accent and expressions from the French we know a la France. So don't be surprised if your high school French fails you (beyond the basics) in Canada. Fortunately, locals speak some English, and are overwhelmingly friendly and eager to assist visiting cruisers. And like anywhere in the world, thank you (merci in French), goes a long way.
Canada's currency is the Canadian dollar. Visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com for current rates. Credit cards, particularly MasterCard and Visa, are accepted nearly everywhere. Local shops usually accept U.S. dollars, but change will be given in Canadian currency. The closest ATM to the cruise terminal is across the street, in front of Au Pavillon Noir restaurant.
The region is primarily French-speaking and signage is mostly in French. But English is spoken in tourism and service areas, including the cruise port terminal.
The cruise port terminal teems with smiling crafters peddling handmade soaps in scents like blueberry and lavender, glass art, and soft sweaters and scarves expertly woven from Angora goats' yarn. Even if you don't buy anything, you'll find the vendors charming and eager to converse. You'll find more crafters at the public market by the Saint-Alphonse-de-Liguori church.
If seeking heavy-duty warm clothes for the approaching winter, head into the village to find stores teeming with hats, jackets, scarves, mittens and other serious cold-weather clothing that Canadians don so well. At Authentique Origine, browse arts and crafts made solely by Native American, Metis and Inuit artists from Canada, from paintings and dolls to sculptures and moccasins.
Nearby boutiques, like Galerie Depliee, sell Quebecois artwork ranging from simple to sublime. Other shops, such as Magasin General, sell foodie faves that make great gifts (include yourself as a worthwhile recipient),. Gourmet itemsinclude blueberry coffee, maple syrup and maple butter - even maple-glazed popcorn dusted with sea salt. If you want to go truly exotic, purchase such coveted gourmet goods like spruce vinaigrette or jams made with berries like haskap (Canadian honeyberry, also called blue honeysuckle). This shop also sells aprons touting popular Quebecois sayings like Fais pas simple! (Stop kidding around!) or Hey, chose! (You there!).