“Unique” and “boutique”. These are two words that Henk and I like to use to describe what we look for when we travel. Sometimes this can mean a singular attraction that sets a destination apart from the others; sometimes it can be unusual or unique places to stay. We found both on a road trip to the Québec Maritime region, where we had the chance to stay in an inflated ‘Bubble’ in the trees, and an historic lighthouse that dates from the mid-19th century.
Unique Places to Stay #1: A ‘Bubble’ in the Treetops at Canopée Lit
When Henk and I first heard about the idea of staying in a sphere with a clear plastic dome suspended in a forest canopy, I was sold. Intrigued by the prospect, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after spending 2 nights in the inflatable ‘Boules’ (‘bubbles’) at Canopée Lit near Tadoussac, I can honestly say that we had one of the most memorable experiences ever when it comes to discovering unique places to stay.
Where are the Bubbles?
Located in a rural area just outside of the small town of Sacré Coeur, Canopée Lit’s bubbles are nestled in a private forest along trails that require about a 10-minute walk from the parking area. This makes the bubbles secluded enough that guests have a real sense of privacy plus there is a very low impact on the natural environment since the structures are few and far between.
This sustainability is a priority for the Canopée Lit founders who fell in love with the forest when they first visited here from France. (Their commitment to sustainability is evident even in the eco-friendly soap they provide). It’s obviously working, because Henk and I saw an entire family of partridges snacking on raspberries who didn’t seem disturbed by us at all as we walked along the path toward our bubble.
TIP: Take just what you need and leave any heavier luggage in your car, as there is a bit of a walk to get to the bubbles. And don’t plan on spending much time in them during the warm summer days as the bubbles can get pretty warm.
What Exactly is a ‘Bubble”
Canopée Lit has sourced their inflatable structures from a company in Europe called Sphair and playfully called them ‘boules’ (‘bubbles’ in French) and given each one their own name. “La Boréale” was the name of our bubble, which can best be described as an inflated circular tent with a clear plastic dome ‘roof’ which extends almost to the floor. Check out the video below to get a sense of the space:
The bubble is installed on a platform about 10 feet above the ground, with an ‘airlock’ that allows you to enter and exit the bubble without losing air pressure inside. At the base of the platform’s stairs there is a surprisingly well-equipped bathroom including a shower with hot water, a small cold-water wash basin, odourless composting/wood chip toilet (that is emptied daily), and even fuzzy towels.
Our Canopée Lit (‘Canopy Bed’) Lived Up to Its Name
Our La Boréale bubble was a pretty good size, with a comfortable queen-sized bed, small table and at night there were even lights attached to the headboard and a small electric heater (yes, our bubble had electricity.)
But it’s when Henk and I turned off those lights that the real transformation took place: the transparent dome appeared to disappear entirely, leaving us with the sensation that there was absolutely nothing between us and the starlit sky above except the treetops all around us.
With the stars above and the trees swaying in the wind, this feeling of floating in a forest canopy was pure magic. So inspiring, in fact, that I didn’t want to close my eyes at all so I could keep gazing at the changing sky all night long. We fell asleep under that starry canopy, but Henk did manage to capture the view of the Milky Way in this time lapse taken from our bed, which only begins to approximate the feeling of being there.
Most Unique Bed-and-Breakfast Ever!
Obviously, in an inflated structure, there is no cooking allowed, but guests in the bubbles have free use of the main kitchen in the reception building, and a generous continental breakfast is included with the stay. Or you can order a complete brunch-style menu for a charge, which will be prepared for you and served in the main building. There is also a full bathroom with a shower and a flush toilet in an adjacent building as well.
TIP: For lunch or dinner, check out La Casta Fjord, a great restaurant nearby on the L’Anse-de-Roche wharf that offers delicious food and a good selection of wines and craft brews. Plus it has incredible sunset views looking out onto the Saguenay Fjord where you might even see a minke whale like Henk and I did! Reserve in advance, though, as this is a very popular place.
Besides just our Bubble, one of the things we loved about Canopée Lit was the low-tech boho vibe of the place: the owners screen outdoor movies on their patio, the shared lounge has a cottage-y feel and is filled with cards and board games for guests and there’s a library of books left by previous visitors. There’s even a guitar if guests want to play music inside or outside beside the fire pit. (Can you tell we loved it here!)
Unique Places to Stay #2: the Historic Lighthouse on Brandy Pot Island
Did I have you at the word ‘lighthouse’ or ‘brandy’? In either case, a stay in the lighthouse on Île du Pot de l’Eau de Vie (French for Brandy Pot Island) is definitely one that gets you close to nature: a forested island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, that happens to be a bird sanctuary for eider ducks, razorbills and other birds who nest here.
A Brief History of Île du Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie
Île du Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie has been known to sailors for centuries as a safe haven in the middle of the St. Lawrence. When the river got angry or when the fog rolled in and made navigation treacherous, boats used this mini archipelago of 3 islands as a refuge where they could avoid the weather and take shelter. Because of its location right in the middle of the river, there has been a lighthouse perched on the rocks here since the mid-1800s, which was occupied by successive generations of lighthouse keepers for more than a century until an automatic beacon was installed in 1964.
After the beacon was installed the lighthouse was abandoned, falling into disrepair until 1989. It was then that Société Duvetnor stepped in and decided to restore the lighthouse keepers’ cottage and outbuildings and repurpose them for tourism as a boutique 3-room inn.
Duvetnor’s tourism activities is actually a sideline for them: the company was founded by a group of biologists in 1979 to help preserve these islands and their ecological richness. They did that by purchasing the islands to ensure that its bird colonies and other marine life would be protected, and came up with a creative way to fund the effort: they would collect down from the eider ducks who nested there, and sell the down (‘duve’ in French, hence their name) to fund their conservation efforts. Today income generated from the lighthouse inn helps with that as well, and also serves as their symbolic flagship for the cause.
A Sanctuary for Wildlife and Guests, Alike
Guests at Île du Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie not only have the chance to stay in a lighthouse, but also get to see the island and its wildlife by boat. Our visit started at the marina at Riviére-du-Loup where a boat shuttle was to take Henk and I to the island along with 2 other couples who would be sharing the lighthouse with us. But on the day that we arrived, the fog had rolled in, blanketing the St. Lawrence in a thick white mist. It seemed fitting, given the purpose of the lighthouse in the first place. But it meant we only got glimpses of the shoreline when we arrived and would have to put off our boat tour of the island until the next day.
However, after arriving on the island, the fog didn’t stop us from going on a hike with one of the two staff who live on the island: modern-day ‘keepers’ whose job is not to take care of the light, but to take care of the guests, instead. Not only do they educate visitors about the history of the island and its flora and fauna, but they also prepare a delicious 3-course dinner (ours was a choice of salmon or cornish hen) and a full breakfast the next morning.
On our visit, Henk and I were sharing the lighthouse with 2 couples from Germany who were travelling together, and we enjoyed the opportunity to get to know them over dinner – and a few bottles of wine, of course (which you are allowed to bring to the island). Nothing breaks through a language barrier than a glass or two of wine!
The lighthouse itself has 3 small but comfortable bedrooms, 2 with private sitting areas, and is furnished with antiques and memorabilia. Guests are not just permitted but encouraged to climb up the lighthouse’s tower for great views of the island and the St. Lawrence. Fortunately for us, the weather had improved by the next morning, giving Henk and I the chance to capture some photos from the top, plus some misty, peaceful views of the island as the fog lifted.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie looking for constant stimulation, Île du Pot à l’Eau-de-Vie is not for you. But if you want to decompress and completely relax at a place that takes you far from today’s hustle and bustle you’ll love this island sanctuary almost as much as the birds do.
Stay in a Story, Not Just a Hotel
Henk and I always say that when we find unique places to stay, we always leave with a story and a memory we wouldn’t get at a cookie-cutter hotel room, and that’s exactly what happened after staying at these unusual places in Québec’s Maritime Region.
After all, how many people can say they’ve stayed in a Bubble and a Lighthouse?
If you are looking for other accommodations in Québec (of a more traditional sort as well) check out our recommended places here.
Special thanks to Québec Maritime Tourism who hosted Henk and I at these unique places to stay in Québec.
Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established GrownupTravels.com in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.