The Four Winds | La Malbaie | Quebec, Canada

Posted by on November 28, 2004
We were very excited when we left Quebec City on a sunny morning to drive down the St. Lawrence, in search of the gardens of Frank and Ann Cabot on the North Bank of the river at La Malbaie.(My mother used to call it Murray Bay when she and my father went there in the roaring twenties. But I don’t mind being politically correct, now that Quebec’s official language is French.) I’d been hearing about these gardens for years, and finally we were on our way.About one half hour up the highway, we drove into a fog bank, which basically followed us all the way. Undaunted, we drove slowly along what we hoped was the correct route, and after a couple of hours, we arrived in La Malbaie.We had reservations for the gardens at 1 PM, and I wasn’t going to miss it, rain or shine. I gather there is a lot of rain in these parts, but we were prepared.After entering through a portico in the yellow barn we parked in a field, donned boots and hooded jackets, and walked up a bucolic farm road lined with fences, to the guardians of the garden entrance: two gorgeous dray horses with large fluffy feet who came over to point the way.

The next two hours were something apart, as we wandered almost alone through the marvelous gardens that surround the Cabot home on the shores of the St. Lawrence. The setting was electrified for me by the appearance, by chance, of Frank Cabot himself, who greeted us with a huge smile, as he strode, poncho flying, with a garden pot in one hand and a implement in the other, toward his latest task.He also sported padded knee guards, and muddy wellies. No question about who does the work around here, I thought, and no question of not working because of a little rain! Be sure and see it all, he said, the stream garden looks good today.

We wandered through the various gardens delineated on the map, including the kitchen garden, the white garden, the reflecting pool, the stream garden, with its Chinese moon bridge, the Japanese pavilions, etc.

It soon became apparent why this garden has been acclaimed as the most aesthetically satisfying and horticulturally exciting landscape experience in North America. It is very large, well organized into various areas, taking advantage of the natural site, with sweeping views of the mountains, the fields, and the river.

For any of you who have been to the remarkable Stone Crop Gardens in Cold Spring, you are familiar with this dedicated couple, Frank and Anne Cabot, who have made both gardens possible.It appears to me that they have spent a lifetime, beautifying the lands they are stewarding during their lifetimes, and experimenting with all sorts of plantings in various climates, so as to educate others about beautification possibilities everywhere.

This whole area is worth visiting, and Les Quatres Vents, the name by which the gardens are known, is a special destination.You must have a reservation to enter, but it’s not too difficult. Call Stone Crop in Cold Spring to arrange a visit, 845-265-2000.

We stayed at a very nice country inn called La Pinsonniere in the Cap a L’Aigle section of La Malbaie, right near the gardens. There we had a superb late lunch of parsnip soup, grilled scallops and creme brulee. We later declined dinner since we felt we’d already indulged is such deliciousness. There are many wonderful looking inns in the area, many of which take advantage of the lovely views of the St. Lawrence. Next time I think I would try to stay at the nearby Auberge des Peupliers, which is cheaper and noted for its food.There is no shortage of charming auberges in the area, and lots of very good food, to say nothing of simple country roads, and gorgeous views. Not to be sneezed at in La Malbaie is the renowned Manoir Richelieu, now a Fairmont resort, with its own golf course and casino, as well as a spectacular terrace on the river.

We drove way down the river to Tadoussac, where the road ends, and you have to take a ferry to get to the other side. Here there is a regular cottage industry of whale watching, and ferries go up the Tadoussac River, which qualifies as a fjord by all standards. The visitor can spot three different kinds of whales in this area, which seems like a lot to this novice.

Driving back to Quebec City the next day, we were treated to spectacular views, as the morning fog lifted, and we arrived at Baie-Saint-Paul. The road is way high above the town, and the full view was exposed to us of broad green fields, dark green pines and the Laurentide Mountains behind the tiny town far below. At last we could see what we missed on the earlier drive in the fog.

I found a comfort in these views which I can’t help thinking must come from some unconscious part of my brain that remembers the views and wide country of my childhood, before billboards and McDonald’s, and shopping centers.

We arrived back in Quebec City to spend one more night in our favorite Quebec Hotel, the Auberge Saint-Antoine in the old city. It was June 24, Patriots’ Day in Quebec, and we actually went to a rock concert, one of the many celebrations, since it was taking place in the Musee de Civilization, which happened to be right next door to our hotel. I enjoyed it much more than I ever expected, and it certainly put an exclamation point on this trip.

We made it back, door to door from Quebec City to Millbrook, in eight hours. We will certainly go back to Quebec, and we will explore much more of the St. Lawrence area, since there is a lot to see. In addition, it really is so much easier than going through passport control, and sitting in a tight airplane seat for several hours.

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