Canada New England Cruise Encounter

Colonial history, rugged coastline, seaside villages and opulent mansions are just some of the highlights on a Canada and New England cruise.

In 1535, according to legend, French explorer Jacques Cartier saw a mountain (actually more of a hill) in what’s now Montreal and exclaimed: “C’est un mont royal,” giving the city its majestic moniker. While the authenticity of this tale is debatable there’s no denying Montreal’s charm today, from its cosmopolitan dynamism to its flourishing arts scene.

And Montreal’s charisma was just one of many highlights aboard an ultra-luxurious Crystal Cruise, sailing from the city to New York. As my first foray into eastern Canada and New England, it proved enlightening, leading me through the French province of Quebec and into the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers seeking freedom in New England.

Another highpoint occurred in Quebec City, my next port of call. I visited the upper part of the town by funicular – or inclined railway. From the top of the funicular I walked to the Plains of Abraham, a great lookout and the place where the British beat the French in 1759 for control of North America. And from Quebec port, it was only a short walk into the lower part of town, a hotbed of restaurants with mouth-watering dishes – I chose Bistro Sous Le Fort and wasn’t disappointed.

On day three, it was a delight to arrive in Saguenay, one of many settlements along the Saint Lawrence River where you can escape technology. Well almost. While hiking and canoeing in the national park was tempting, I instead took a helicopter ride for a bird’s-eye view of the pristine forests and lakes lining the Saguenay River. The pilot flew me near Our Lady of the Fjord, a 35 ft-high statue of the Virgin Mary, watching over the waterway since 1881.

The small town of Havre St. Pierre, on the Saint Lawrence River, had a similar backwoods charm. But I soon heard about how titanium from its mines was used in NASA rockets in the 1960s, linking the town to the moon before it was linked to the rest of Canada.

Next was Halifax, in Canada’s Nova Scotia. I joined a tour on an amphibious military vehicle that chugged through the city and harbor, before heading to the excellent Maritime Museum, featuring exhibitions about the Titanic and the Halifax explosion – tragic events forever linked with the city.

I’d heard about the former: how in April 1913 the city sent three boats to aid the doomed ship, only to transport the bodies of many who’d perished in the disaster. But the latter was news to me. December 1917, it was one of the worst man-made explosions the world has known, caused when an ammunition ship collided with another vessel, killing thousands and decimating a huge swathe of the city.

After the sobering history of Halifax, I returned to nature in Bar Harbor, our first stop in the U.S. and a fascinating voyage through American history. This was the former summer haunt of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Fords, my guide told me during a hike along the coastline in nearby Acadia National Park.

Following on was Boston, a city with a lively waterfront and rebellious history. I took a tour of the Old State House Museum, where the Declaration of Independence was read aloud in 1776, and followed the Freedom Walk, witnessing the site of the Boston Massacre and the grave of revolutionary Samuel Adams. Naturally, I couldn’t resist raising a glass of Sam Adams beer to such storied history.

Our cruise concluded in Newport, Rhode Island, where, in 1953 John F. Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, and Jews forced out of Brazil in the 1600s found religious tolerance. I toured the 1759-built Touro Synagogue, the oldest in America, and marveled at the city’s sumptuous mansions, built in the 1800s by America’s industrial magnates. A few are open to the public; if you can see only one, make it Breakers: built for the Vanderbilts in Italian Renaissance style and featuring over 70 rooms. Now a national landmark, it’s a fitting symbol of wealth in late 19th century America.