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Head for the American Great Lakes

Grands Lacs américains

A multi-faceted sensory journey

The Great Lakes of North America straddle the border between the United States and Canada. Sailing on this group of freshwater lakes – the largest in the world – is a voyage of discovery in every sense of the word. What if you were to tackle this region in a different way, by striking a sensory chord? Because the senses are perhaps the most direct route to the heart, José Sarica, director of the PONANT Expedition experience, shares his highly attuned take on this wilderness destination.

360° view of the immense northern forest

We first gain an appreciation of the beauty of the world through our eyes. With spectacular landscapes of expanses of water and deep varied forests, a voyage on the Great Lakes offers a captivating sight, José Sarica tells us: “You can’t see the shores, you feel like you’re on a huge sea, everything takes on different proportions, the immensity of the landscapes puts us humans back in our place, where we are no longer masters of all we survey.” As for the chromatic expression of the landscapes, it takes on a very distinctive and magical character in autumn. “The northern forests are absolutely alive with colour!” he continues. “It looks as if someone has decorated the leaves with vivid, flaming splashes of yellow, orange, red and pink. This is in total contrast to the emerald green hues of the pine trees. And when these images are reflected in the water, it is simply extraordinary.”

Exotic flavours of the Far North

When you visit new places, part of the experience comes from what you find on your plate. Fancy a taste of traditional Canadian culinary specialities? “If you’ve got a sweet tooth you’re sure to enjoy the cranberry and blueberry pies,” exclaims José Sarica with joy, “and if you like fish, the Lake Superior trout with maple syrup is one of the region’s most delicious dishes.” Your gourmet journey may also lead you to come across the bannock (a Native American flatbread), peameal bacon (wet-cured bacon rolled in cornmeal), reindeer or caribou meat (usually served stewed), pecan pie and “beaver tail” doughnuts. Finally, drink a toast – in moderation – with ice wine. This sweet wine is unique in that it is the result of a late harvest in the very middle of winter. Its fruity flavour makes it a dessert wine.

Listening to the wildlife of the Great Lakes

Listen carefully, because the animals of the Great Lakes can often be recognised by hearing before they are seen! This region is the setting for a far from silent spectacle. “In the northern forest, you’ll hear birds including green woodpeckers, as well as squirrels, the sound of wind in the trees…” explains José Sarica. The language of the moose (Alces alces), a giant of the northern forest, is known to include a wide range of different calls. As for the caribou, although they are mostly silent, they can nevertheless let out very loud grunts. The same applies to black bears, but they do sometimes emit particularly loud groans, growls, and snorts. And then there are all the songs, chirrups and melodies of the tits, herons, warblers, thrushes and the rest!

A symphony of fragrances

We often underestimate the power of olfactory memory. Scents can be incredibly evocative because they can awaken long-buried memories. The sense of smell is the only one with a direct connection to the brain, and our emotions heighten its memorisation. “The smell of the forest can be particularly intoxicating, such as the scents of the sap of the balsam fir or of leaves that have begun to decompose on the ground,” says José Sarica. And let’s not forget the enveloping fragrance of white oak, the aromatic notes of ferns, and the powerful camphorated scents of white cedar. Or how to take an amazing journey in the “air”, but on the ground.

José Sarica’s memory box

Our various stopping-off points always offer opportunities to meet different communities. The warmth and enthusiasm of their welcome is particularly moving. For example, when we were at the foot of a lighthouse on Battle Island, to the north of Lake Superior, we met an old man, the former lighthouse keeper. He led us to the top of the building. From this standpoint with an incredible 360-degree view of the little islands, and the wonderful scenery decked in autumn colours, he told us about his exciting life. A moving and unforgettable experience…


Photos credits : ©iStock


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