Visiting Charlevoix in the Spring
As winter eases into spring, Quebec’s Charlevoix region begins to take the chill off as flowers
blossom and warm parkas are stored away for a few months. Quebec’s hidden treasures at the sublime UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and world heritage site, Charlevoix, are around an hour and a half drive from Quebec City. The region was formed over 400 million years ago when struck by an enormous meteorite from Mars and Jupiter’s asteroid belt.
While nature flourishes and is the spotlight in the massive, protected area along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, immaculate lush forests, unblemished waters, and spotless mountains make the region a haven for adventure seekers. It’s also home to farm-to-table gastronomy, art galleries, and agrotourism which rival California’s Napa Valley, making the organic areas’ allure a must-visit for culture vultures.
In the 19th century, Charlevoix was a vacation destination for wealthy Canadians and nearby Americans. Former president William Howard Taft frequently visited the Charlevoix region and said, “As intoxicating as champagne, but without the morning after headache.”
Here are highlights of a visit to Charlevoix.
BaieSaint-Paul: On a drive from Quebec City, the first town you will visit is the charming French-Canadian hamlet of Baie-Saint-Paul, known to host the highest concentration of art galleries of any city in Canada. Stroll down its main walkway of multi-hued culture capital, Saint Jean-Baptiste Street and enjoy boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. The appealing enclave is said to be the inception of Cirque du Soleil, founded on its streets at summer festivals in the early 80s.
Hydromel Charlevoix: Open for two years now, Hydromel Charlevoix makes wines and spirits from honey “from bee to bottle,” gathering honey from their aviaries, distilling and making spirits. The showroom provides tours, tastings, and bottles to purchase.
“We have a lot of possibilities with honey, just like varietals with wine. The taste is very different when using honey. We can make still wines, fortified wines, and sparkling wines. We also infuse honey with our gin, vodka, rum, whisky, and absinthe. Honey wine does not have to be sweet. No sugar is left when we ferment the honey,” co-owner Alexandre Côté says.
Famille Migneron de Charlevoix: It started in 1994 as a small cheese-making facility. Now, the farm Famille Migneron features an array of artisanal products, including cheeses, an organic vineyard, and a distillery featuring wines, including sparkling champagne from cold climate grapes. The family-run farm is one of many foodie visits on a Charlevoix road trip.
“The thing is that Charlevoix is not meant for large-scale agriculture. We are a mountainous region, so practicing agriculture here is a bit odd. Therefore, we are farm to table, as small productions are all we can produce. The cheese scene boomed in the 90s, with chefs returning from France and other parts of the world,” said proprietor Madeleine Dufour.
La Malbaie: It’s where the bourgeoise vacationed, where the forested mountain meets the mighty river. The village of La Malbaie is a 40-minute scenic drive from Baie-Saint-Paul. Nestled along the piercing azure hues of the St. Lawrence River, its maritime charm dazzles all takers—the year-round resort area with its omnipresent centerpiece, the majestic Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu and Charlevoix Casino. La Malbaie flaunts the picturesque sleepy villages of Pointe-au-Pic, Saint-Fidèle, Cap-à-l’Aigle, and one of the most beautiful seaside settlements of Port au-Persil.
Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu & Casino de Charlevoix: Known as “The majestic castle on the hill,” the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu looms large from most vantage points in La Malbaie. The Grand Dame resort dates back to 1899 when the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Company built a 250-room luxury hotel. Today, it’s a land for all seasons, with 405 guest rooms and suites and four restaurants offering guests luxurious comfort. The award-winning Moments Spa & Wellness Center provides vast treatments and indoor and outdoor pools.
On June 8 and 9, 2018, the Fairmont property hosted the G7 summit, welcoming some of the world’s great leaders.
Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club: Golfers mention that Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club, perched high above the hotel, is one of the most breathtaking golf courses in the world—a golf experience like no other. Inaugurated by former U.S. president William Howard Taft, the course dates back to June 18, 1925. Youcan take a golf cart around a mile through switchbacks up a paved road to arrive at the exclusive clubhouse.
Via Ferrata – Projet Vertical: Via Ferrata is an alpine climb course situated on the cliffs adjacent to the Manoir Richelieu property. As you traverse the outdoor-secured climbing routes, wooden bridges, monkey bridges, and zipline against the backdrop of the St. Lawrence River, there is a chance to spot whales in the distance. The guided course is safe and geared for all age groups and is a 2.5-hour duration.
Auberge des 3 Canards: Another historic hotel with balconies featuring unobstructed river views is the Auberge des 3 Canards. Once the summer home of Madam Lucy Connely, a widow of an affluent Maryland industrialist, today the plantation-like hotel features 40 air-conditioned rooms, eight spacious suites, and a small cottage. The newly renovated restaurant allows over 100 guests to sample its innovative, locally sourced gastronomy.
Alpacas Charlevoix: A native of the Andes, alpacas were brought to Quebec for their fiber quality. At Alpacas Charlevoix, you take a guided tour of the farm, including the nursery housing babies, and can join an easy one-hour or more challenging trek walking side by side with one of the loveable furry critters. You can purchase scarves, winter hats, socks, and other handcrafted alpaca products at the boutique shop.
Domaine Forget de Charlevoix (Sculpture Garden): In the village of St-Irénee, Domaine Forget de Charlevoix unites music, dance, and sculpture. The hidden jewel outdoor park and art exhibit features over 20 permanent sculptures created by local Quebec artists on a sprawling 150-acre inspirational setting of manicured gardens amidst a forested area. Take the free and interactive self-guided tour of the harmonic sculptured artwork.
Au P’tit Bonheur Art Gallery: The family-owned and operated art gallery Au P’tit Bonheur celebrated its 30th anniversary. The gallery was passed down from a father’s passion for art to his daughter taking over the reins. “My job is to spotlight other’s talents,” said third-generation owner Marie-Ève Tremblay. Paintings and other works of art encompass immaculate rooms expanded on two floors. The work of 45 artists are on display.
Champignons Charlevoix: For the love of the fascinating fungus, for over 20 years, proprietor Danielle Ricard has cultivated oyster mushrooms at Champignons Charlevoix mushroom farm. The 4,000 square feet of rooms are designed specifically for the cultivation of mushrooms. Due to the near-perfect weather conditions in Mont Grand-Fonds’ forested location in La Malbaie, oyster mushrooms acquire a unique flavor. Guided tours with specialty mushrooms are for sale.