In a few months, winter will ease into spring, and Quebec‘s storied Charlevoix region will begin to take the chill off as flowers blossom and warm parkas are stored away for colder days. Around an hour and a half drive from Quebec City, Charlevoix was formed over 400 million years ago when struck by an enormous meteorite from Mars and Jupiter’s asteroid belt, and today is home to some of the province’s hidden treasures at the sublime UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and world heritage site.
Charlevoix brings a wealth of natural beauty and wonder to visiting travelers. While nature flourishes and is the spotlight along the massive, protected area that straddles the shores of the St. Lawrence River — with 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 that rival California’s Napa Valley making the allure organic area a must-visit for culture vultures.
In the 19th century, Charlevoix was a vacationing 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 for anyone planning a visit to Charlevoix and its two most charming surrounding enclaves.
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 — a stroll down its main walkway of multi-hued culture capital, SaintJean-Baptiste Street and enjoy boutiques, restaurants, and galleries, including the renowned Baie-Saint-Paul Museum of Contemporary Art. The appealing enclave is said to be the inception of Cirque du Soleil, founded on its streets at summer festivals in the early 80s.
Open for two years now, Hydromel Charlevoix makes wines and spirits from honey. “From bee to bottle,” as they say, this unique place gathers 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,” co-owner Alexandre Côté says. “The taste is very different when using honey.” In addition to wines, fortified wines, and sparkling wines, Hydromel Charlevoix makes honey-infused gin, vodka, rum, whisky, and absinthe, making a wonderful place to grab a unique gift.
La Famille Migneron de Charlevoix started in 1994 as a small cheese-making facility. Today, the farm 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,” says proprietor Madeleine Dufour. “We are a mountainous region, so practicing agriculture here is a bit odd.” Therefore, they are farm-to-table, as small productions are all that can be produced. The result is a truly artisanal experience, highlighted by some of the most delightful French cheeses you will find, as chefs returned from France and other parts of the world in the 90s during the cheese boom.
For those looking for an overhead vantage of this beautiful region, Heli Charlevoix offers helicopter tours over magnificent wilderness locations, offering a unique perspective of the majestic St. Lawrence River, the gigantic Charlevoix crater, impressive Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie, and more.
It’s where the bourgeoise vacationed, where the forested mountain meets the mighty river. The village of La Malbaie is a scenic 40-minute drive from Baie-Saint-Paul. 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. 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 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. Its most extraordinary claim to fame, on June 8 and 9, 2018, the historic Fairmont property hosted the G7 summit, welcoming some of the world’s great leaders.
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 — an experience like no other. Inaugurated by President Taft, the course dates back to June 18, 1925. Players take a golf cart around a mile through switchbacks up a paved road to arrive at this exclusive clubhouse. Meanwhile, the property’s award-winning Moments Spa & Wellness Center provides vast treatments and indoor and outdoor pools.
If it is thrills you seek, Via Ferrata is an alpine climbing 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 takes roughly two and a half hours to complete and is safe for all age groups.
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 estate features 40 air-conditioned rooms, eight spacious suites, and a small cottage. The newly renovated renowned restaurant allows over 100 guests to feature its innovative, locally sourced gastronomy.
The family-owned and operated art gallery Au P’tit Bonheur celebrates its 30th anniversary. The legacy is 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. There are 45 artists on display throughout Canada.
For the love of the fascinating fungi, 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.
A native of the Andes, alpacas were brought to Quebec for their fiber quality. At Alpagas Charlevoix in the municipality of Les Éboulements, you take a guided tour of the farm, including the nursery housing babies, and can join an easy one-hour or more challenging three-hour 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.
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—the free and interactive self-guided tour of the harmonic sculptured artwork.