Charlevoix - A Feast Of Nature

Sunrise over the St. Lawrence Seaway

Beyond Quebec City: Eating, skiing, snowmobiles, hiking, golf and drives

Many of us are familiar with the province of Quebec; yet how many have ventured quite far east to a corner of paradise that is beyond Quebec City?  Locals know the routes well. One can choose the 'south shore' leading to the Bic National Park, the Chic Choc Mountains and on toward the Gaspé Peninsula.  Then there is the north shore that leads to the Saguenay through the magical Charlevoix region.  No matter the route, the great St. Lawrence Seaway serves as a breathtaking backdrop.  

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We recently took the north shore for a trip to visit Charlevoix and decided to make the small town of La Malbaie our base, all in all about 1.5 hours from Quebec City.  In French this area was first called 'La Malle Baye' - 'bad bay' - because the first time the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, arrived in 1608, the mooring proved very difficult, not to mention the fact that the low tides caused the bay to dry up and run his ships aground.  About one hundred and sixty years later, two Scottish officers of the British Army arrived and set up what the English call Murray Bay; each requested a concession on either side of the shores of the Malbaie River and began inviting their wealthy American and English friends to holiday in this extraordinary setting.  

From Baie St. Paul, forty minutes west, to St. Simeon, about an hour further east, tourists will find themselves in a sort of gigantic bowl of sunshine surrounded by glorious rolling, volcanic hills and mountains with the ever-changing views and light of the grand seaway.

My advice would be to pick one of three hotels as a mainstay for daily exploration, making sure, of course, to secure dinner reservations.  The stately Manoir Richelieu is part of the chain of Canadian grand hotels now under the Fairmont umbrella. Click here for their website.  For casino lovers, march about twenty steps from the front door and you may place your bets!  Just down the street into the pretty older town is Chez Truchon, a newly renovated and charming 8-room inn with an inviting dining room to spoil you breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Click here  In fact we alternated our meals between this inn and a delicious little Italian bistro right across the street called Restaurant Allegro.  Whether we chose medallions of wild deer with nut butter and port sauce, steak tartare with the chicest of French fries, Caesar salad with two thick, barbecued slabs of garlic bread perched on top of the creamy dressing, or lobster ravioli with crispy sweet breads, we could not have asked for more.

By day, Pains d'Exclamation!  is THE bakery in town with a mouth-watering assortment of breads, soup, sandwiches, salads and local sweets.  Driving around, a tour through Baie St. Paul will reward you with several art galleries whose artists portray this region in phenomenal strokes of form and colour - that familiar Quebec Catholic steeple in almost every frame.  A new very modern hotel called L'Hôtel Le Germain is a must for a meal, unless you also decide to stay here.  It was built by one of the founding partners of the Cirque Du Soleil.  Try the local pork pâté discreetly stuffed with black olives or their signature creamy onion soup au gratin! Later, travel to Cap-À-L'Aigle, renowned as one of the prettiest towns in the province.

I have never felt the urge for snowmobile outings, but I will admit with the miles of trails available and virgin tracks across countless valleys, I would be tempted to don a helmet and suit and roar out there myself.  Skiers might opt for a stay at the Germain to be close to the skiing at Le Massif with trails and high-speed quads and the highest peaks east of the Canadian Rockies.  The whole family would enjoy dog sledding right now.  A helicopter ride year-round across the infamous mountains, the seaway and lovely small island called L'Isle Aux Coudres might cap a birthday or anniversary celebration. Click here.  From spring through fall, golfers will be hypnotized by the views of the gulf as they tee off, pitch, birdie and bogey on the rolling greens of the Manoir Richelieu.  This course was originally inaugurated in 1925 by former American President William H. Taft.

Many locals do head north beyond the wilds of Maine and New Hampshire in deer/moose hunting season.  There are now numerous culinary and aesthetic reasons for the rest of us to follow.  And a quick reminder: The American dollar's strength now cuts all Canadian eating/lodging expenses by almost 30%.

Check out where to have lunch on your way north click here

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