Special thanks to Québec Maritime who hosted our press trip to the Gaspé Peninsula and sponsored this post.
Why just sleep in a room when you can sleep in a story? That’s my thinking whenever it comes to looking for a place to stay, whether that means an historic inn or one-of-a-kind hotel, or something considerably more ‘out there’. So when Henk and I were planning our Gaspé Peninsula road trip, we found a few Gaspé accommodations that promised a truly unforgettable experience. How did those work out, you might wonder? Here’s how we spent our Gaspésie nights getting close to nature in a luxury Geodome, sleeping aboard a land-locked sailing ship, and floating on the ocean in a Mongolian yurt. (Or as we refer to them, the Unique, the Historique and the Rustique!)
Quirky Gaspé Accommodation #1: “Glamping it up” in a Luxury Geodome
Henk and I are no strangers to glamping (“glamorous camping”), whether that means an East-African style tent while on safari in the Serengeti, or a luxurious spherical treehouse on Vancouver Island. But what we learned when we visited the Géodômes Desjardins at Mont Saint-Joseph in the Gaspé Peninsula is that the only thing better than glamping in the great outdoors, is glamping in the great outdoors with a million-dollar view.
The geodomes are a new addition when it comes to Gaspé accommodations, having only recently opened in late 2020, and no expense was spared in their construction. The domes themselves have a large footprint (about 16 feet in diameter) and boast a custom-built interior unit that takes multi-tasking to a whole new level, quite literally. On the main floor, the structure houses a well-equipped and fully stocked kitchenette that includes an induction cooktop, refrigerator, sink, and attached dining table.
There is a queen bedroom nook tucked just behind the kitchen on one side, and on the opposite side there’s a private bathroom with a dry toilet (so no 100-yard dashes at midnight to go the bathroom). The roof of the main floor structure serves as a platform for the loft level, which is accessed by a ladder like a ‘grownup bunk bed of sorts. Here there’s another queen bed and enough headroom for even Henk and I to stand comfortably.
But the best thing about these geodomes is not what’s inside as much as what’s outside. Each dome is built onto the slopes of Mont Saint-Joseph just below its summit, offering absolutely unbeatable views over Chaleur Bay.
Henk and I arrived for our overnight stay in our dome well before sunset, so we had plenty of time to settle in, make dinner and then relax afterwards on our wraparound deck, drinking in the spectacular view (and a couple of adult beverages).
After the sun went down the stars came out instead and provided the kind of dark-sky viewing only a place this isolated can.
Waking up the next morning shortly after sunrise, I headed out onto the deck with my tea to take full advantage of the scenery. There was definitely a familiar cottage vibe to our dome, with its Muskoka chairs on the deck, water in front of me and a screened front door that ‘banged’ with that special sound that all cottage doors should make.
As I was enjoying the sounds of birds in the cool morning air, I heard a commotion just a few yards away: a gorgeous (and huge!) red fox had just leaped onto the path to our dome and pounced on a bird in the bushes! The bird managed to escape, and the fox and I locked eyes for a moment or two, our hearts both racing for different reasons. Then the fox turned and loped away nonchalantly to try its luck finding breakfast elsewhere, leaving me a surprised and delighted witness to his unsuccessful morning hunt. With a hot tea in hand, and a fox in the bush, glamping doesn’t get any better than this!
TIP: The Géodômes Desjardins are fully outfitted with made-up beds (no air mattresses here!) and all the kitchen equipment you’ll need to prepare your own food, including a BBQ. (Don’t forget your favourite drinks to enjoy on the deck.) And for those of you who may not like to wake up with the sun, the geodomes are conveniently outfitted with blackout curtains.
Quirky Gaspé Accommodation #2: “Camping it up” on La Grande Hermine
“Arr, Matey!” It’s hard not to speak like a pirate when you first step aboard La Grande Hermine, one of the most unique Gaspé accommodations you’ll find at the Chalets de l’Anse-Ste-Hélène on the shores of Chaleur Bay. But when we learned a little more about this ship/chalet, the history behind the original that inspired it, and the man who actually constructed it, our experience onboard became less camp and kitsch, and more unique and historique.
The Real Grande Hermine History
The original Grande Hermine is a big part of the Gaspé Peninsula’s – and Canada’s – history, as this was the ship captained by Jacques Cartier on his first voyage to explore Canada in 1534. After landing first in Newfoundland, and then turning south towards the Magdalen Islands, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, Cartier sailed into Chaleur Bay on the south shore of the Gaspé Peninsula. It was here that Cartier anchored the Grande Hermine and exchanged goods with some of the resident Mi’gmaq people, making them the first indigenous people to make contact with European explorers.
The Replica Grande Hermine History
The Grande Hermine that Henk and I boarded was the brainchild of Laurent Landry, a local builder from the Chaleur Bay area who had always dreamed of constructing a replica of Cartier’s famous ship.
Part tribute to the region’s history, part passion project, Landry’s Grande Hermine is a half-scale version of the real deal, but with just as much attention to detail and craftsmanship as in the historic original. In fact, the plans that Landry used were actually sourced from the Grande Hermine’s original drawings archived in Lyons, France, and took months to acquire.
Landry started the work in 2012 with the idea of creating something different that would draw tourists and give visitors a unique play to stay, as well as highlighting an important piece of Canadian history. More than six months and hundreds of man-hours later, the half-scale Grande Hermine was inaugurated on July 6, the same date that Cartier landed in Chaleur Bay.
TIP: There is a photo book in the Grande Hermine that documents Landry’s construction, which is where we sourced many of these photos.
What’s it like to stay aboard a ship/chalet?
Sleeping aboard the Grande Hermine is not just comfortable with its cozy linens and queen-sized beds, it’s fun! Guests who book the ship have the entire place to themselves, including two ‘bedrooms’: a private cabin in the bow, and another bed located in the stern’s loft. Below that loft there’s a well-equipped galley and living area. In the centre of the ship is an open-air deck which guests can use like a patio, off of which is a full bathroom (that is also accessible like an ensuite from the bedroom in the bow).
Hand-crafted details in the ship are everywhere, from the curved interior cupboards that conform to the shape of the hull to the decorative windows in the stern which are copies of the ones inside Jacques Cartier’s captain’s quarters.
And the contextual decor like the maps on the tables and the lanterns are a particularly nice nautical touch. Even the hammered metal sink, and the fact that the outside table is made of wood, not plastic, point to the fact that this was a labour of love for its builder.
Kids would probably lose their minds – in a good way – at the idea of staying on a ship like this, and even as grownups, Henk and felt like we were having an adventure (although it would have been nothing compared to the adventure of Cartier’s Atlantic crossing). But even though Henk and I were landlocked and not on the ocean itself, we loved our stay here and could best sum up our experience aboard La Grande Hermine as…well, grand!
NOTE: Sadly, Laurent Landry died not long after completing the Grande Hermine. Today the Chalets de l’Anse-Ste-Hélène property is owned and operated by the local Mi’gmaq First Nation of Gesgapegiag whose Reserve and pow-wow grounds lie just on the other side of the river. Here you’ll find beautifully-decorated wigwams that visitors are welcome to visit and photograph (but please respect the signs and do not go inside them).
Quirky Gaspé Accommodation #3: “Sucking it up” in a Mongolian Yurt
The concept sounds so cool: spending a night floating on the waters of Chaleur Bay in a genuine Mongolian yurt! I had never heard of anything like this before until I discovered the Aventures aux 4 Vents company. The idea of a serene private island all our own seemed incredibly romantic, and since Henk and I had planned to spend a night inside a ship on the shore, we thought why not spend a night inside a yurt on the ocean?
That was the floating yurt dream. Here is the reality, (and a few tips)
1. A bit of paddling skill is required.
You can only get to the yurts by canoe (provided at the dock) and you’ll need to wear a life-vest too, but don’t worry if your canoeing or swimming skills are not Olympic-calibre: you won’t be in much danger of drowning since the yurts are anchored in only about 2-4 feet of water, even at high tide. So if you do fall out of the canoe, just stand up!
2. Pack light.
Everything going to the yurt has to come with you in that canoe. There are no valets, no bell boys and no shuttles.
3. Leave your electronics on shore.
Even though the water isn’t deep, it isn’t tablet or laptop-friendly.
4. Ditch the hair straightener and makeup bag.
Since these yurts are floating on water, there’s no electricity, only candlelight in the yurts. And we all know everyone looks beautiful by candlelight. Right, Henk? Right?
5. Forget the tripod.
It’s a ‘floating’ yurt, remember, so not much chance to get a non-blurry photo of the stars or anything else requiring a long exposure. (Not much chance of sleeping in, either; if someone is moving around and rocking your floating world.)
6. If it’s raining, oh well!
Put plastic bags on your canoe seat to avoid a wet bum all night, keep calm and paddle on. It actually rained hard overnight when Henk and I stayed here but we were warm, cozy and dry inside.
7. Amazon does not deliver here.
Our advice is to bring a deck of cards or some other way to – ahem – pass the time during your evening.
8. Pizza places don’t deliver here either.
Do what we did and eat on shore. There’s a funky restaurant and bar operated by the company where you are guaranteed to meet an interesting group of fellow yurters or at the very least yurt-sympathizers.
9. Yes you can BBQ and cook at your yurt. But why?
If for some inexplicable reason you want to cook at your yurt, you’re going to have to cart food and all the fixin’s with you. And be prepared for a very rudimentary kitchen setup. Think one step above camping, but a very short step. Again, eat out.
There are full bathroom facilities on shore for guests, but on the yurt platform it’s basically an outhouse with a dry toilet.
A very rustic outhouse.
In this case, I usually employ my don’t-look-and-don’t-touch-much attitude. I would advise you do the same. (Spiders can swim. Enough said.)
A Yea or a Nay on the Yurt?
At the end of it all, did our night on the water float our boat? Not as much as Henk and I had hoped. It was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience to wake up in a yurt on the water, and we actually slept very comfortably on our ‘rustic raft’. Plus we felt both close to town while at the same time isolated in our own little world, watching the morning fog lift off the mountain and cormorants sunning themselves on the railings of our neighbours.
But if we had to recommend this experience for any wanna-be floating yurters out there, I would suggest you first check which type best ‘accommodates’ your travel style and then decide:
Campers will love it.
Glampers will tolerate it as an experience. (Check.)
And Princessses? Well, they won’t even get out of the car.
Three Quirky Gaspé Accommodations to Remember
Most people don’t remember much about a hotel room, let alone talk about it. Especially if it looks a lot like every other hotel room everywhere else in the world. But a dome on a mountain? A ship on land and a yurt on the ocean? Those are experiences, not rooms. And as we discovered on our visit, the Gaspé Peninsula has no shortage of these one-of-a-kind places to stay – some boutique and some not-so-chic, but each with a story worth telling that definitely made these three
“Rooms to Remember”.