Many acquaintances frowned when we told them we were heading to LaTuque. “Are there things to do there?” they doubted. Well yes, in particular a contemplative and super relaxing descent of the river, greatly facilitated by the launch, last year, of a pilot project led by a Montreal couple who took the key to the fields.
It’s a story of turns. First, that of Pascale Villeneuve and Nicolas Faust, respectively hairdresser and cameraman, who cut short their activities to migrate further north, in the vicinity of La Tuque. There, they took possession of the family home built by Pascale’s parents, surrounded by vast land bordered by the Croche River.
Feeling in osmosis with their new environment of wild beauty, they quickly took pleasure in showing it to visitors, welcoming them to their chalet and their campsites. Above all, the couple noted that a request came back systematically, like ripples on a shore. “The occupants of the cabin wanted to go down the river. They often said ‘wow!’, but we had no activity for them and there was no shuttle to go back up”, they say. “My dad said he would see lots of kayaks on that waterway,” Pascale recalls.
Signals were flashing, but also uncertainties. Following entrepreneurship training and taking advantage of their video-photographic talents, the couple was strongly tempted to push the local tourist offer further by founding an ecotourism resort. “We were a bit far from Montreal and Quebec City, we were a little doubtful,” confesses Nicolas. Finally, ignoring the maze that a business launch can represent, they launched Méandre last year, as a pilot project.
The playground, for its part, made its bed a long time ago: the Croche River, a tributary of the Saint-Maurice which owes its name to its many bends. “We have access to 90 km of river, with different segments, whether calm waters, rapids, sections with portage… there is as much for families as for adventurers”, indicate the instigators of Méandre. Three-quarters of the route are bordered by wild nature, and there are, scattered around the bends, various small fine sandy beaches. Now that our mouths are watering, let’s jump into a boat to test the waters.
Four formulas are available to the freshwater navigator: the Tripante, downhill on a tube (3 km), the Pourvoyeur (8 km), the Village (16 km) and various canoe-camping routes (from 30 to 90 km ). We set our sights on the second option, on a paddle board. Conveyed by van with the necessary paraphernalia, we are dropped on the banks of the Croche, feet in the sand, ready to launch into the current. The latter proves to be very docile, it is even possible to go up the river against the current without forcing too much. Also, the shallow depth and the scarcity of rocks in the bed of the river provide an ideal feeling of security for children, beginners and strollers.
In a few strokes of the oar, we plunge into a setting that does not encourage, but imposes a total dropout, especially for the city dweller who has absorbed his annual overdose of renovations-cars-sound systems. Our journey takes place in late spring, the vegetation may still be regenerating, the lines of trees mixing deciduous and coniferous trees offer a magnificent palette of shades of green, from the darkest shades to the most vivid bursts. We can easily imagine this enveloping forest lung inflating to its peak in summer, then engaging in a dazzling spectacle in autumn.
We were promised turns and beaches, and we weren’t lied to. Along the zigzags which are negotiated at very low speed, you discover sandy banks, cramped as extended, where it is good to take short breaks and sunbathe. What about water, can you take a dip in it? At the end of May, it was still very chilly, but Pascale assured us that it warms up over the summer to reach very pleasant temperatures. Besides, no stress: we’re here to take our time and get a tan on a towel, since the shuttle service includes relaxation stops in its planning.
Continuing the winding path, wooded mountains follow one another at the turn of the laces, as well as natural scenes with dramatic leanings, like kinds of sandy landslides having dragged down trunks and branches of trees in their collapse. There are countless waterways in Quebec, but we have to admit that La Croche has a very special charm, which takes you (literally) to the antipodes of the overloaded urban arteries. On the paddle board, you find yourself lying down and letting yourself drift gently…
Méandre, which had a very encouraging start last year, has already implemented various projects, particularly in terms of accommodation. “We don’t want a Tremblant with lots of activities, keep this side where you’re not surrounded by lots of people”, specifies the couple of entrepreneurs, who put the rubber on the development of rustic camping with a sanitary block and glamping options with outdoor kitchenette. Micro cabins are also being built, as well as a pair of eco-friendly cocodomes of Gaspé design. In addition to river descents, a gravel bike path has been laid out (for now, you have to bring your own pedal steed) and yoga classes will be on the agenda.
Good, because targeting a round trip from a metropolis during the day would be rather intense – it takes 3h 30min to 4h drive from Montreal. That said, the place is undoubtedly an ideal stop for holidaymakers en route to (or from) Lac-Saint-Jean… even if it means making a detour via La Croche!