We Go Where Sister Wants to Go | A Day Trip in the Cowichan Valley

Cowichan Valley Kinsol Trestle Bridge View

Oh, man, guys. I don’t know how I let these things happen. It’s been nearly four months since my lil’ sis and I visited Vancouver Island. I’m just now getting around to posting. Sure, I’ve had other things going on, I’ve been working a schedule approximating something like full time (sometimes more, sometimes less depending upon the week), but mostly I feel like I’ve just been trying to sneak in as much biking, as many microbrewery visits, and Spanish classes as our schedules allow.

I promise, though, the fact that I let so much time pass before writing about this does not mean you shouldn’t make a point to visit this region of BC. (Alas, so much BC, so little time!)

Before visiting, Sister did some research, found some things she thought looked interesting, and told me she was leaning toward visiting Cowichan Valley. I’ll admit, I was caught unawares. I’ve heard of oodles of things to visit in BC, and this wasn’t really one of them. I even asked some Vancouverite coworkers who responded with, “Where?”

But when a visitor actually researches what she wants to do, I do not get in the way.

We hopped the Tsawwassen ferry to Victoria* and rented a car to explore the valley for the day. Sadly, just a day, but we made the most of it.

Early on we stopped a bit, so Midwest Gal #2 could meet the Douglas firs and moss of British Columbia.

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vancouver island tree

We continued north, making our way to the Kinsol Trestle. (From the parking area, hit the trail, turn left, and walk an easy mile to the bridge. It’s an impressive piece of construction and has been rehabilitated. There’s no doubt it’s safe enough for you to walk or bike across these days, but imagine loaded trains crossing these old wooden trestles years ago. Eek! The bridge really does make for a nice walk, a nice view, and a nice excuse to get out of the car.

The weather was chilly, so the sunny patches on the trestle were much appreciated.

kinsol trestle cowichan valley

kinsol trestle cowichan valley view

kinsol trestle cowichan valley

kinsol trestle

Post trestle, the hour became nearly justifiable for visiting wineries. The Cowichan Valley is home to quite a few–far too many, I assure you, for just one day. You’ll have to do a bit of research and choose those that suit your wants the most. Or, you can just go to one and ask them about the others.

The gentlemen at Enrico Winery were chatty and had some good recommendations for things to do nearby and in Victoria. They also took a good bit of time to explain some basics about BC varietals to us. The owner (too much time has passed, I forgot her name) at Cherry Point Estate Wines is full of fun stories and lovely to chat with as well. Also, be sure to stock up on Lágrimas Negras and a bottle of the Solera dessert wine (a gift that the Mister thoroughly enjoyed). Finally, we visited Averill Creek, which has a wonderful view and terrace. Really, we should have picnicked there, but we were ill-prepared. Still, a lovely visit. Still several other wineries that could be visited on a second trip.

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cowichan valley

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Lavender!!

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averill creek cowichan valley

cowichan valley averill creek

I know, I know, I said this about the Okanagan Valley as well, but Cowichan Valley really is a great place to visit wineries for people who aren’t well-versed in the lingo of wine. Asking questions was more than tolerated, it was gladly welcomed. Everyone with whom we interacted was very low-key and wasn’t concerned with whether we knew a lot about wine or if we’d end up buying a lot of it from them. It was nice. It was relaxing. It was worth  it. I’d visit again gladly.

Although winery visits took up the bulk of our Cowichan Valley time, we did manage to sneak in a lunch and flânerie time in Cowichan Bay (I recommend visiting the cheese shop and bakery for some foodie splurges) and a bit of time in Duncan (stop by the Garage–check out some used books and some delicious treats!).

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

cowichan bay

the garage duncan

There’s not much in my guide books (why, yes, we actually do have a Frommer’s Canada) about the Cowichan Valley. I hadn’t heard about it, and it’s not typically on the top of bucket lists. But there was a good tourist time to be had nonetheless. This little day trip reminded me that nearly every place, if you look just a little, has a lot to offer.

Thanks for joining me, Sister. Thanks for joining me, reader. Next time we go to the Cowichan Valley, let’s all buy sweaters.

Duncan, Cowichan Valley*Seems like we really ought to have a direct line from downtown to this ferry without hopping SkyTrain to bus. On the way back, we were stuck at the ferry terminal without a bus for nearly 2 hours. Well done, transit planners, well done.

 

When You Need a Moment | Bowen Island, British Columbia

Snug Cove Bowen Island

I get antsy. It doesn’t take long either. It’s weird: I long to live in a place for longer than a couple years and really make it my home, but I also get extremely antsy. It had been approximately one month since our Okanagan getaway, and I’d had a brief escape to Steveston to run a half marathon (Thanks, Verena!), but I was still antsy. This blasted bougeotte, it really needs a fix. And when I’m saving my [already pretty generous and long-advanced-asked] vacation time for things in August and September, I need to find close escapes. Cheap escapes aren’t bad either.

Bowen Island fits the bill.

From Vancouver, you just get on the bus. Then hop the ferry. (Note: your ticket is round trip; there’s nowhere to buy a ticket on Bowen Island anyway). That means you’re spending only about 17 dollars to get here. That, folks, for those of us who don’t own vehicles, is cheap. And worth it.

Bowen Island

horseshoe bay snug cove ferry ride

We even attempted a boat selfie. We’ll work on our selfie focus in the future.

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The tourist’s Bowen Island is known for easy short hikes, kayaking, and paddle boarding. You’ll find all other requirements for the perfect day trip, including a couple nice restaurants with patios, ice cream, an adorable harbo[u]r with a couple quality restaurants. I, friends, recommend Shika Provisions, the healthy, rice bowl restaurant that practically greets you as you step off the ferry.

bowen island bc shika snug cove

From Snug Cove, it’s an easy walk to Killarney Lake, which comes complete with an easy loop trail for hiking (I say hiking, but this is more like strolling, to be honest).

bowen island killarney lake

The hike was full of giant BC slugs. These guys/gals are impressive in size and variety, but I did read that they are invasive and may be having negative effects on native slug and snail species. Still, I had fun finding them.

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Nerd, I am.

Our hike was certainly needed, but now that I’ve visited Bowen Island, I’m certain that kayaking would be a great way to see the island. I intend to return at least once before I no longer call BC my home. Maybe twice. Maybe thrice. All depends on that bougeotte.

bowen island view from garden

Celebrating 7 Years | Our Trip to the Okanagan Valley

This is how the conversation always goes. Someone finds out we’re married. They then lead with, “Oh, that’s nice. How long have you been married?” I now say, “About seven years.” Then I wait for the next question, which always comes with a strange bit of horrified face contortion and pity. “How old are you?/How old were you when you got married?”

There are two main factors contributing to this. The fact that I apparently look 18 (despite Canada’s 19-year-old drinking age, I am IDed nearly ever time I seek out a bottle of Cru Beaujoulais) and the fact that I “got married young.” Yep, I got married at the age of 22. It’s young. When I look at 22-year-olds, even I think, wow, that’s young to get married. Frankly, though, I’m tired of hearing about how incredibly young I was when I got married.

My life hasn’t gone much like I thought it would. I didn’t expect to be married at 22. I didn’t think I ‘d move to Tennessee. I didn’t think I’d ever really learn another language. I never once thought I’d live in a park in Argentina and spend nights camping with venomous snakes and days chasing after Chaqueño woodpeckers. I didn’t think I’d spend my days off pedaling on my bike to watch for seals. But I’m sure glad I have. And more importantly (and oh-so-sappily–deal with it reader, I only get one anniversary post per year), I’m glad I did it all with this fella.

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This year, we chose to celebrate our marital trip around the sun with a visit to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. The valley is known for being a summer tourist destination, its orchard fruits, and its wines. Seeing as we were a bit early for the orchard fruit season and we were on an anniversary trip, we decided to visit a few wineries and take in a few good meals.

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Our winery visits over two days included Mission Hill (the obligatory Okanagan stop), Quail’s Gate, Poplar Grove Winery, and See Ya Later Ranch.

We started out at Mission Hill, a winery which leaves an impression, even if the impressee has visited Napa Valley and Mendoza in the last year. The views are beautiful and buildings ornate. It feels a bit overdone compared to the rest of the region, but thankfully casual dress and wine newbie questions are still welcomed. If you want to feel like you’re in Napa, go here. It really is worth the 12 dollar fee to join a quick tour and taste a few of the wines.

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Like good tourists, we took a lot of photos at our first stop.  After that, we pretty much let the camera rest in the rental car. Of the other wineries we visited, we really enjoyed Poplar Grove, for the view, for the wine, and for its eco-consciousness. See Ya Later Ranch, although highly recommended to us, had great views and probably some nice, pretension-free food (we went before the restaurant opened for the season), didn’t thrill us quite as much.

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Naturally, we made a point to eat well on our minication. Our first stop in Kelowna was at The Salted Brick. The Salted Brick is one of those places that offer charcuterie boards, cheeses, simple sandwiches on baguettes, soups, and salads. It seems like you can’t be a restaurant these days without having a charcut and cheese board offering. Trendy as it is, I am grateful for it. I love having these options.

Our other notable food-stop was our annual expensive-taste anniversary meal. We ate at Waterfront Wines Restaurant in Kelowna and although spending a pretty penny, greatly enjoyed our meal. The place has all that you’d expect from a fancy restaurant. The thing is, I did feel as though it was trying hard to be fancy, but seemed to fall just short in terms of atmosphere. Fortunately, we care more about the food. With the food, I found zero faults. Everything we ordered was well-cooked and spot on. Wild mushroom risotto, seared scallops. All delicious.

Unfortunately, our tiny table for two was next to a group of three academics still reeling from a just-finished dissertation defense. Instead of having a romantic anniversary conversation, we passed the meal holding in our snickers during their size-you-up competition thinly veiled as getting-to-know-each-other-outside-of-work chit chat.

All in all, we had a great time. If you’d thought you’d exhausted your North American wine regions, consider the Okanagan. The Okanagan Valley is such a low-key wine experience and definitely worth the drive from Vancouver. The drive itself is beautiful anyway. Ideally, I’d suggest making a three-day weekend in the Okanagan Valley, rather than cramming it into two days like we did.

Here’s to another year! Wish I could tell you I had some idea where we’d be celebrating year 8, but guess that’s half the fun 🙂

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Recommendations:

2 Days of Beachcombing and Eating in Tofino

I know what you’re going to say. Yes, I have a lot of “favorite” places. I can’t help it. Even still, I mean it when I say I’ve got another place to add to my favorites list. (Just for the record, while I am a list-maker and usually have written lists when I say these things, I do not actually have a “favorite places list” anywhere).

Tofino really is that beautiful. It really is that tranquil. And it even a quick two days there did feel restorative.

From Vancouver, we hopped a bus to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, hopped on for a very cushy ferry ride to Nanaimo, and picked up our rental car. Sure, even after this, you’ve got to drive 3.5 hours to reach Tofino. But the drive ain’t too shabby. There are beautiful lakes and old growth forests with big (I mean, really big) trees at which you can stop and marvel (or picnic) if you feel the drive getting to you.

big tree port alberniold growth forest port alberni

And then, all our traveling paid off. I ask you, how could Tofino not be in my list of favorite places? It’s got miles kilometers of beaches, both sandy and rocky, along the coast.

tofino beach

And then on the other side, there are more beautiful views with mountains, complete with snow caps (just not in this photo, ha).

tofino bay

On either side of the road just outside of town, you’ll find yourself in veritable rain forests with easy, well-maintained trails.

tofino hiking boardwalks

Then there’s the town. It’s not a big town, but it has everything your little tourist heart is going to need and much more than you’d expect from an average town of 1,900.

Tofino town

Our recommendations are basically the same favorites as everyone else who goes to Tofino for the weekend. We ate well–very well, frankly. We sampled kelp stout craft beer, filled up on fish tacos, ate amazing seafood chowders, and fought each other for bites of sticky toffee pudding.

All this can be done without worrying about traffic, without long waits, without worrying about having enough time. It’s glorious.

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When we weren’t eating our sipping, we were walking the beaches.

Many people visit Tofino for the surfing. We opted out. In our minds, we equated surfing with our first (and only) surfing attempt to date. That attempt could generally be classified as a failure. The waves were big, there were rocks and coral all over just, and the paddling was super hard. The mister likes to say that he paddled for about ten minutes only to look back and see that he hadn’t gone anywhere. This, to us, was surfing. Turns out that surfing in Tofino looks much more doable. And now, we kind of regret not trying/planning enough time to try. Ah, well, that’s our reason to return, right?

Still, if you don’t surf, the beaches are delightful. I turned into an easily excitable (think squealing with glee) beachcomber. I love looking for driftwood, spotting interesting shells or anemone, and admiring the sand patterns left behind during low tide.

tofino beach

tofino beach

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tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach trails

tofino beach

tofino beach hiking

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tofino beach

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tofino beach

tofino beach

tofino beach

Until we meet again, Tofino, until we meet again…

*****

Places we loved (everyone loves these places…):

Where we stayed:

Seal-Spotting | Our First Vancouver Visitor and Skipping Town for the Day

lighthouse park, north vanouver british columbia sunset

We had our first visitor here in Vancouver. Considering we only had one visit (but two visitors–yea for my parents!) during our stay in Montreal, we feel that having already taken our tally up to one visit after a mere couple months in Vancouver is pretty good.

Leah was here for four super quick days. The time seemed to go so quickly. Unfortunately, Jordan and I both had some submission deadlines to deal with during her stay and I had to work two of the days she was here. Jordan and Leah spent one day visiting Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (a funny choice for people who have a fear of heights) and the 49th Parallel Cafe. I’m now forgetting, but am pretty sure they also made a trip to UBC’s campus, so the proud brother could show his sister were he runs his algorithms and codes. 🙂

Even despite having to work, I managed to get in my fair share of coffees, second breakfasts, craft beer exchanges, and chats with Leah. That said, I pretty much failed to document all of it. Towing the D-SLR around is not always my idea of convenient fun and my camera phone is quite laughable. Leah, on the other hand, has a fair share of nice photos from her time here.

We got to show her our favorite haunts in Gastown,* slurp down huge bowls of shoyu and garlic ramen on Denman,** eat one of the best brunches ever (let us ignore the fact that it’s really only my fourth official brunch ever),*** and shop the vendors at Granville Island’s Public Market.

Fortunately, I did have one day free during her stay. The three of us rented a car and drove north, stopping in Squamish, Whistler, and Lighthouse Park. We had no specific plans, but simply wanted to see what we could. None of us ski, so that wasn’t really a draw, but none of us are immune to the beauty of the islands along the way and snow-capped peaks. And certainly, none of us were immune to the childlike joy that sweeps over a crowd of people when they start to notice the seals just out in front of them.

vancouver from a distance sunset

Senior Pic:

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british columbia

Following photo courtesy of Leah:

in village

British Columbia

Oh, these two together. It really is like old college times. But better. Because we drink better coffee and eat better food now.

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Meant so much to us that you came, Leah! Can’t wait until we can meet up again.

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*Alibi Room and Six Acres are our favorite haunts at present.

**Went to Kintaro Ramen.

***After a way-too-long discussion about where to get second breakfast on Friday, we decided upon Cafe Medina, a place known for its Mediterranean-inspired brunches. It’s hyped, for sure, and you’ll most certainly have to wait in line with us if you come to visit, but it’s actually that good. And I say this as someone who doesn’t even support the brunch phenomenon.

My 10 Favorite Quebec Moments

I, dear reader, am a lover of lists. And a friend of Québec. And that is where today’s posts comes in. Whether you’re thinking of moving to, visiting, or simply learning a bit more about the Belle Province, I hope this post helps you see a bit about what makes this place worth doing so.

Since leaving, I still get a bit nostalgic for the pastries drizzled in maple syrup, the [in my opinion] endearing accent,  and ubiquitous cup of perfect coffee. I didn’t do everything I’d have liked while there, but even still, it was hard to narrow my list down to “my ten favorites.” There were, of course, countless dinners and meet-ups with friends that made our time in Québec great, but if we could move those people with us, those same nights would be great anywhere. But I wanted this to be a list of things that are specific to Québec and our time in Montreal. Without further ado…my favorite Québec moments.

10. Sunday Stroll/Jog in Parc du Mont-Royal

Sunday strolls in Montreal’s most well-known park are best between May and October, when temperatures aren’t frigid. It seems like everyone’s joining the party, picnic, drum circle, or joust on Sundays. I can’t tell which specific Sunday I enjoyed the most, just that it was a favorite activity while we lived there. And a must if you spend any extended period of time in the city.

mont royal summer therestoflhistoire.com

9. A Girls’ Night

I know, I know, I told you friends’ nights weren’t going to make the list. But this is different. I got invited to a girls’ night with several Québecoises, while my knowledge of French was just budding. I learned so many words in one single night that my brain was ready to explode. Even more than this, I learned so much more about Québecois culture. More precisely, this evening cemented how much I didn’t know and how what I did was only scratching the surface.

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8. Visiting a Cabane à Sucre

Visiting a sugar shack is a must on anyone’s Québec list, even though it can be really bad, extremely commercial, and a real gimmick. We were patient and waited a year before finally acting upon the suggestion of friends. We found ourselves (with a couple friends) at an organic sugar shack. The food really was great, the farm tour worth sticking around for, and the host was full of personality. Still, the best part was the car ride home when we were finally able to let out all of our laughs about the hipsters who morphed our experience into Cabane à Sucre a la Portlandia.

red roofed farm building

7. Winter Retreat

I like seasons. All of them at some point. But by the time March rolls around, I’ve generally had it with snow and slush. I was starting to get seriously antsy in March, and this winter retreat was exactly what I needed. Snowshoeing, woods, an iced-over lake, good food, and a bottle of scotch. 

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6. Whale Watching in Tadoussac

Whale watching tours can be expensive. They can also turn into crazy puke fests where everyone on board is saying goodbye to their lobster lunches (Oh, beautiful Boston). So when we learned that you can spot whales along the beach and the rocks in Tadoussac, we were in. We picnicked on the rocks and passed the binoculars back and forth for a few lovely hours before even thinking to look at our watches.

tadoussac rocks

5. Crêpes de Bretagne with a Frenchie

Quebec is not a little France; Montreal not a Paris wannabe. I get that. Still, there are a lot of French immigrants in the metropolitan area. Thus, crêpes, breads, and pastries abound. It’d be a shame not to take advantage of it. While the husband was out of town for our anniversary one May, my adorable conversation-partner-turned-friend took me out to drink cider from bowls and eat crêpes while sitting on the patio. With French food, a French friend, a French waiter, and an evening filled with my broken French, it almost felt like an evening in—you guessed it—France.

dessert crepe sainte felicite qc

4. Hanging out with Mama Moose and Spotting Caribou in Parc National de la Gaspésie

I saw caribou in a natural habitat. Oh, j’aime ça. I was thrilled. Despite that, the next day, I found myself under a rain shelter, unable to cook over the campfire that could not be started. As I dipped my chunk of stale bread turned soggy into tomato sauce, I couldn’t help but think how great our kitchen or bed (okay, the floor at that point) sounded. I was ready for our road trip to be over. Then Mama Moose and her baby appeared from the forest and pranced over to us. We literally could have reached out to touch them at one point. (Mind you, we didn’t. We aren’t stupid. At least not usually. I digress. This time, we backed away toward the other side of the rain shelter). Watching mother and baby tear their supper from the nearby trees was quite the experience. I guess that one meal of stale, soggy bread was worth hanging around.

parc national de la gaspesie

3. Percé Day Trip Bonaventure Island Boat Ride and Hike

This was just one of those days where I felt like life was spoiling me. I guess we call that blessed. 🙂 The birds, seals, and scenery of Bonaventure Island and Percé’s small town atmosphere made for a low-key, yet exceptional day.

bonaventure island quebec

2.Camping in Charlevoix (Meeting the Neighbors)

Sure, our hiking and sightseeing in the Charlevoix region were great. But the highlight came one quiet, camping evening. We offered a some of our skilletful of blackberry grunt to our neighbors, two brothers, both of whom are Harley Davidson-riding plumbers. They accepted, but only on the condition that we accept their offer of whiskey. I managed to swallow a gulp down and then spent the night translating for them and Jordan between my bouts of hearty laughter. There in the woods, over Crown Royal and Martha Stewart’s recipe, we became friends. A motley crew that’d have never existed if I hadn’t made that effort to really learn French.

camping charlevoix

1. Coffee Date on the Plateau

There were of course many coffee dates (with friends and the husband alike) on the Plateau, and like, #1, maybe it’s not a particular day that made the experience, but having an electronics-free conversation over a caffeinated beverage of my choosing became my favorite thing to do. The Plateau’s architecture made for a lovely backdrop. And almost anywhere you’re walking on the Plateau, you can find a really quality cup of joe nearby.  These experiences pretty much defined my Montreal experience.

montreal plateau therestoflhistoire.com

If you’ve visited or lived in Quebec, what were your favorite experiences? What else should have been on my list?

 

Sunsets, Pogos, and Pastries | Overnight in Kamouraska

This stop was part of our Gaspésie Road Trip. You can read the full travel itinerary here.

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When we started telling our friends that we were going to take a Gaspésie trip, they all told us to stop in Kamouraska. Kamouraska is tiny, with only 589 residents to call it home, but it has a lot going for it. They have a great location in the Lower Saint Lawrence region, two microbreweries, one of the best bakeries I’ve ever eaten at, a great cafe, and beautiful campground. It also comes with a bit of history. The Canadian national anthem, first written in French, was written by a man from the town. Someday we’ll learn those words…

We stayed at the SEBKA campground there. We hadn’t made a reservation, but had not probably getting a small tent site with a sunset view. They also lead many outdoor activities, but since we were winding down our trip and came in late, we decided just to focus on the sunset and the find some snack food and drink.

The view from our tent site.

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kamouraska sunset

kamouraska sunset

kamouraska sunset

kamouraska sunset

We stayed for a while just looking, but decided to use a little bit of the light to guide our path to La Tête d’Allumette (the match head) Microbrewery. From the campground, you can walk; a local farm allows campers to cross its land so that you don’t even have to walk to the street. I recommend taking a headlamp for the return walk if you go later. We loved the microbrewery. The location was great so you could watch the rest of the sunset, the snacks offered were all locally sourced, the beer was good, and our server was super nice and helpful. The place itself was beautiful, too. I very much like the rustic look.

tete d'allumette microbrewery

tete d'allumette microbrewery

tete d'allumette

Sorry for the blurry pic there. I was trying to get a photo of the view for you.

As for the beers we sampled, we tried their own brews: a blonde (I believe) called Tête Carrée (squarehead) and a red called Le Premier Combat (the first fight). I really liked the red, in particular. We also tried a good beer from Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine called Corp Mort. The snacks were delightful. We had cheese curds from the local cheese producer, smoked mackerel from La Poissonnerie Lauzier, and the best pogo ever. What’s a pogo, you ask? That’s the Canadian name for a corn dog. But this wasn’t just any corn dog. The meat inside was a local venison sausage and it came with a beer batter. I’m not really one for corn dogs, but it was pretty tasty.

tete d'allumette microbreww and snacks

The next morning we headed to Neimand’s bakery. Our German friends have vouched for its authenticity, but even if it wasn’t authentic, we wouldn’t have minded. We stocked up on pastries and bought other carbs for the road from the bakery, and then wandered over to the Côté Est cafe  (just the next building over) for lattes. Super cute place and staff seemed to be in delightful moods both times we stopped.

kamouraska bakery

One on left: apple and cinnamon. One on right: pear and dark chocolate.

kamouraska bakery

kamouraska bakery

Filled with rhubarb and almond paste. This was the single best thing I ate on our trip.

kamouraska bakery

kamouraska bakery

kamouraska cafe

kamouraska cafe

kamouraska cafe

kamouraska cafe

We’re not really sure how Kamouraska lucked out by having so many great places tucked into this small town, but I’m definitely a bit jealous of the residents.We both decided that we couldn’t live in Kamouraska because we’d eat at that bakery every morning if we did. But this would make it a perfect stop for about a week or so. Other than the campground, there are several inns and B&Bs nearby.

A wonderful stop.