Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec, Canada
If you're driving to or from the Maritime provinces and staying on the Trans-Canada Highway, then you'll pass by Rivière-du-Loup, located on the south side of the St. Lawrence River, a couple of hours drive east of Quebec City, or about a half-hour drive north of the New Brunswick border.
It's a nice city, where you'll find plenty of small restaurants, hotels, motels, inns, B & Bs, a shopping mall, and if you're having car problems, a Canadian Tire or several car dealerships.
You'll also find here the car ferry terminal where you can cross the St. Lawrence River to Saint Siméon, about a 65-minute crossing. It cost us about CDN$ 90.00 for our van and family of four, one-way. From Saint Siméon, you can travel west to Quebec City and explore the picturesque Charlevoix region.
A New Route from Toronto to Cape Breton
Riviere-du-loup is approximately halfway between our home and the cottage and thus becomes our stopping point on our annual sojourn east. Although I am always thrilled to be driving eastbound, under any circumstances, we have never taken this route on previous roadtrips and I am buoyed through the first 5 hours by the excitement of a new experience. Then we reach Montreal. From the time you reach Montreal you encounter road construction and miserable traffic for hours. Autoroute 20 seems to be worse than Autoroute 40 which both take you to the same destination but on the opposite sides of the St. Lawrence River. We luck-out and pick the Autoroute 40 without knowing at that time which will be worse. There are some beautiful little towns along the way like Trois-Rivières. At some point after the more urban areas, the road reconnects with Autoroute 20 and takes you all the way to Riviere-du-loup.
Almost eleven hours after leaving home, we arrive at the Comfort Inn. My nature has caused me to book this weeks in advance. I tried to find out if the Hotel Universel has any available rooms for our date and what the rates would be, but they do not provide a phone number on their website and no one responded after 3 email attempts. It’s too bad, it looks like a decent place. The room is clean and comfortable and exactly what you would expect from a Comfort Inn. There is an iron and board, hair dryer, coffee maker and free High-Speed Internet in all rooms. It is also close to the exit off the highway which will make our re-entry to the highway easy the next morning for the second leg of our long trip. This is basically the criteria we use when looking for a motel for one night. The motel is also next to the Acadian Lines station, which would be very convenient for anyone travelling by bus. I’d made a list of restaurants in Riviere-du-loup before leaving home but we are unsure which are within walking distance of the Comfort Inn. After 11 hours, we don’t want to get back in the car. The are a couple of bars on the same side of the street as the motel but, frankly, they look a little scary. The only place we can see that was on my restaurant list is across the street and down slightly – literally a 3-minute walk. We hesitate at the door but decide to go in anyway. There is nothing else that looks any better close by. Nobody in the restaurant speaks English but we manage with memories of our high school French and lots of apologies and thank you’s for their understanding. My husband ordered a beer and I a glass of wine which, as it turns out, must come from the bar which is behind a set of mirrored glass sliding doors. When the doors open, it is easy to tell, the people in this bar do not want to be seen – everyone turns their backs tot he doors as the waitress opens them only enough to slide her slight build through and then closes them again immediately. It is very dark in there and lined with video poker machines.
Although Restaurant Au Faubourg advertises on the internet that they have an extensive menu with Chinese, Italian, seafood and steaks, the best thing we can find is a burger for hubby and some fried seafood with french fries for me. I can’t say the food was good but it was exactly what you would have expected at this point. Although I will make a point of warning anyone against this place unless they have a VLT addiction. We had a great laugh and didn’t have to get back in the car.
Back at the motel, my husband discovers an “amenity” that will turn the heads of many men – a COLD beer vending machine. There it was, right next to the coke machine and the snack machine. He thinks this place is even better than the Four Seasons! It’s time for bed, and although the bed is relatively comfortable, the pillow is like a thin slab of granite. These things usually don’t bother either of us too much but it is so bad that neither of us sleeps much. So we are up, showered and on the road by 5:15am. There is a Tim Horton’s that I took the time to map from the motel before we left home. As we drive through RDL, we realize what a beautiful town it is and that the Comfort Inn is in what I think is the worst part of town. We decide we will try and find different accommodations on the return trip.
Two weeks later, we are back. We arrive with no reservations at about 5:30pm on the “fly by the seat of my pants” plan that my husband prefers. Avoiding the Comfort Inn, we hesitantly drive into a Days Inn. The cheaper of the two rooms available is $160. Grudgingly, I take the room. Good thing I did as we had dinner on a patio directly across the street and spent the whole evening watching people come in and out looking for a room when there was no vacancy in town, except for at the Comfort Inn. The room is, again, exactly what you would expect from a Days Inn. However, the king bed is extremely comfortable, as are the pillows. The room has an excellent view of the St. Lawrence and it is beautiful at sunset. There is small restaurant across the street with a small patio. We decide to make the best of whatever is in store and eat there. We’re just too tired at this point to look for anything else. After our original experience, my expectations are low in spite of the lovely appearance of O’Gentilleries directly across the street. Our waiter speaks French and English fluently and is knowledgeable about both food and wine. The wine selection is lacking somewhat but they have a nice Australian red I’ve enjoyed in the past so, no worries. The also have a selection of microbrews. Although this restaurant specializes in breakfasts, the dinner is among the best we have had throughout our entire trip! I had the Mexican crepe, and hubby had a steak. The Mexican crepe was absolutely extraordinary! Just crispy enough and just spicy enough. Hubby said the steak was done to perfection. Dessert? Ohmigod! Crepes stuffed with French vanilla ice cream with maple syrup, and walnuts. Hubby has fresh cut fruit with chocolate fondue. Of course, I tried as well. I can’t even explain how good these desserts are!
Back to the hotel, to sleep, and awake in the morning to a really decent shower, relatively speaking. The included breakfast is actually quite good. It includes at least five different types of bread and/or bagels as well as English muffins. Also there are 3 types of muffins but all are extremely high in sugars. Further, there was fresh fruit, fresh fruit salad (not canned), three juices, and coffee and tea. For the cost of the room, much better than many American motels where the continental breakfast consists of your choice of white or chocolate powdered donuts and instant coffee.
Again, the scenery until after Kingston Ontario is wonderful and then the drudgery of the final three hours home in mostly bumper to bumper traffic takes it’s toll.
I’ve since considered that if money were no object, I’d fly to Montreal, rent a car and drive to Cape Breton and back to Montreal. From there, fly back to Toronto just to avoid the Highway 401 traffic on the way home on a Sunday night with the tens of thousands of cottagers.
"ONE YEAR LATER:"
We did the same route again. Same Days Inn, same restaurant on the way east. Still extraordinary. On the way back to Toronto, we order wings, garlic bread and Caesar salad from Mikes. For a take out place that delivers to the hotel within 20 minutes, excellent! The only other thing I can add is that the view from the hotel room seems even more spectacular than I remember and that we have decided this will be the route every year from now on. The scenery in this area is unsurpassed except for when we finally arrive in Cape Breton.