Leaf-peepers: that’s the official term for the hordes of people who drive through New England in the fall, following the wave of glorious autumn colour as it moves northwards through the woodlands. We found an even better way to do it. Sailing for 10 days on Silversea’s Silver Whisper from Boston along the New England coast. We stopped at islands on the way, then took a left into the St Lawrence River to head deep into Canada, visiting pretty towns and historic Quebec, before finishing at Montreal.
This cruise has everything. There’s the Silversea service, naturally, which can be summed up as friendly luxury: a butler leaving a snack and a Welcome Back note in our suite after a day ashore; a chatty waiter offering an arm as he escorted me to our table in the dining room; a talented entertainer sharing shopping success as we both waited for the tender back to the ship. Nothing is too much trouble, and fuss is a foreign concept. All of life should be like this — or holidays, at least.
Our elegant veranda suite had more than enough room for everything, including us, and being able to wallow on board in a bath with Bulgari toiletries felt very self-indulgent. I had every intention of working through the pillow menu, but got seduced by the satin/lavender combination and couldn’t forsake it for another option. Every evening brought a different chocolate treat on the pillow, there were banners and balloons for my husband’s birthday, and each day bottomless bubbles in the fridge, as well as any other tipple we might fancy: all of it complimentary.
Every staff member knew our names and the other guests — all 382 of them — were equally enthusiastic about Silversea, whether they were newbies or the lady who was clocking up her 749th day with the company. The only unpleasantness we encountered was fake nonchalance about a wrong answer in the daily, cut-throat, Trivial Pursuit competition.
Sadly for the waistline, the food was too good, especially in the intimate La Dame dining room. A Relais & Chateaux restaurant, this is one of the few extras on board, but for the entertainment of the choreographed removal of silver domes to reveal six courses of regional deliciousness with matched fine wines, US$60 each seemed eminently reasonable.
Gorgeous as all that was, it was the route that was the star. Watching Boston’s skyline shrink into the sunset as we sailed away on that first evening left us excited about the scenic glories to come. But if we had known then all the treats that were ahead of us, we would never have allowed Silver Whisper to rock us to sleep that night.
Arrival at Bar Harbour brought a lobster boat tour with Captain John, resplendent in orange overalls and a Santa beard. After Maine lobster facts, seals and a pretty lighthouse, the main course at lunch was predictable, but mouth-watering. Afterwards, a stroll along the edge of Arcadia National Park featured an appropriately silver sea, shiny round boulders, squirrels collecting acorns and skeins of geese heading south.
We continued in the opposite direction into Canadian territory. Halifax in Nova Scotia is best-known for something that was, understandably, not featured in our informative nightly newsletter: the Titanic sinking. The Maritime Museum on the waterfront, however, does a good job of telling the tragic story of the port’s rescue effort that became a bleak recovery mission; elsewhere in the town are several cemeteries where the dead lie.
More cheerful was my excursion across the headland to Peggy’s Cove. It was my first real experience of entire hillsides of autumnal colour dazzling in the sunshine and it was fabulous. The little fishing port of Peggy’s Cove was equally lovely: painted houses along a rocky inlet, piles of lobster pots, a welcoming café serving hot gingerbread, and a dramatic lighthouse on a headland swirled about with low cloud.
The sun returned for our next port of call, Sydney on Cape Breton Island. Here, I chose the trip to Baddeck, unexpectedly famous for both the highest number of Gaelic speakers outside Scotland, and for being home for many years to Alexander Graham Bell who, having invented the telephone, went on to entertain himself by developing hydrofoils and hearing aids. Fascinating as it all undoubtedly was, it was the intense colours of the woods en route that again stole the show — especially when set off by yet another cute little lighthouse.
Against stiff competition, the most spectacular sight of the cruise was Cap Percé, a massive 500-tonne block of sandstone just off the coast of the Gaspé peninsula. The names were just one indication that we were deep into French Canada here, as were the baguettes tucked under arms as people went home to lunch, Arret signs on the road, and the familiar KFC red-striped bucket instead labelled PFK, for ‘Poulet Frit Kentucky’.
From here we followed the St Lawrence River to Montreal, stopping to enjoy not only the picturesque charms of old Quebec, but also quaint little towns along the shore. None of them though was so memorable as Saguenay.
Tucked away at the end of a fiord where only the smaller ships, like Silver Whisper, can visit, it’s a typically charming town of attractive French-style houses. Back in an ordinary suburb, though, is an extraordinary thing: a huge purpose-built theatre where, for 30 years, around 200 versatile locals have performed an eye-popping show. It tells the lively history of the town, and no special effect is spared. Across the stage comes a procession that includes Indians, French aristocrats and colonists, a tank, two cars and a jeep, cantering horses, a pig, a flock of geese, a cow and a goat, cannon fire, bombs, abseiling soldiers, a boat, flames, a man on fire, and a flood. The show is aptly called ‘La Fabuleuse’.
It’s pretty apt too for this cruise.