Charlevoix, Quebec: Nature at Its Best

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The coast of St. Lawrence - photos by Kent E. St. John

The coast of St. Lawrence – photos by Kent E. St. John

By Kent E. St. John

I have read many times about places in Quebec that remind the writer of traveling through France. I have just returned from an area that stands on its own; its uniqueness defies simple comparisons.

The Charlevoix Region’s position embraces the mountains that run directly to the shores of the St. Lawrence. On any given day you can climb through wilderness only to end the day catching site of a pod of Beluga whales passing by.

Boat yard

Boats out for the winter in Charlevoix, Quebec.

If it is history that draws you to visit a place, French explorers such as Cartier and Champlain have provided plenty.

President William Howard Taft wrote that, “staying at his house in Charlevoix was like drinking champagne without the morning headache.” At stately historical resorts like the Manor Richelieu you can slumber under a hallowed roof.

Conveniently, in anticipation of the word of its splendors getting out, routes have been laid out for following such pursuits as food, nature, history and even snapping photos. All are easily done and can be combined to suit your desires.

Pull Over and Fill Up

“Food, glorious food,” sang Oliver Twist. “More glorious food,” was a constant chant of mine as I headed down the Flavor Trail. The trail was created by the producers and chefs who call the area home. Cheese, veal, boar, duck and chocolate are strongly represented, as is local produce in season.

The Isle-aux-Coudes, an island in the St. Lawrence, is a perfect example. Apple cider in every form is produced, both hard and regular, at the Cidrerie et Verger Pedneault, and it is possible to cycle through the orchards.

Cheese is another specialty of the Charlevoix Region, again because of its unique positioning. The Fromagerie St. Fiddle is an excellent place to taste country-style cheeses made in a 100-year-old tradition.

The favorites are the cheddar and Swiss-style produced daily; a perfect place to stock up with nourishment for following the other trails through Charlevoix.Veal, (“veau” in French) is a very popular dish in Charlevoix and it is said that the mist over the St. Lawrence is passed on into the fields were they graze and adds to the flavor. Savory veal, smoked fish, duck and even emu (a relative of the ostrich) can be purchased at le Veau de Charlevoix in Clermont.

To really enjoy the Flavor Trail go to tourisme-charlevoix.com.

Local ship

A ship out of the water in Charlevoix.

Here you will find restaurants and purveyors for every occasion.

Cultural Charlevoix

For over two hundred years Charlevoix’s mountains and tidewaters have evolved into a way of life. The culture trail is perfect for getting in step with the traditions of a region steeped in traditions. Friendly is not a word here, it is a lifestyle and is found in every small village. These places are great for digging into Charlevoix’s culture.

The Charlevoix Maritime in St Joseph–de-la-Rive is an impressive place to get bearings on the importance of the St Lawrence and its hand in the area’s development. Coastal shipping via schooners was a key factor.

The museum is located on an old shipyard and a key feature is the schooner Saint-Andre. Another great place to key into maritime history is the Musee Les Voitures on the Ilse-aux-Courdes. There you can explore a schooner from the holds to the wheelhouse.

The unique lighting of the area has attracted painters since the 1800’s and one of the best known was Rene Richard whose one time home houses the Maison Rene Richard Museum. From 1939 to 1987 Rene and other artists gathered here to work. The paintings displayed are remarkable testaments to the region’s beauty.

For a complete look at the Culture Trail visit Tourisme-Charlevoix.com.

Naturally Beautiful

Artist's suite in the Manoir Richlieu

Artist’s suite in the Manoir Richlieu

It can be said that Charlevoix’s beauty comes from above due to a 15-billion ton meteorite 350 million years ago. It is a World Biosphere Reserve designated by UNESCO in 1989, one of the few with human settlements. Outdoor exploration rarely gets as much play as it does here.Naturally Beautiful

To get a grip on the meteorite’s impact it is best to climb to the Sommat du Mont du Lac des Cygnes—a national park.

From the summit no fewer than five small villages can be spotted. Even further into the wilderness is the Parc national des hautes-Gorges-de-la-Riviere-Malbaie, the climb to the amazing Acropole des Draveurs situated above hanging glacial valleys and the Riviere Malbaie.

A quick and easy tromp through the Municipal Parc of Baie-des-Rochers will give you a glimpse of marine mammals and trail to the beach. The choices are endless with both easy and difficult options.

Beluga Daydreaming

From the Artist Suite, nature provided an unbelievable picture, a pod of snow-white Beluga whales swimming past at sunset. It was as perfect a moment as I have ever had in a resort and you soon expect the best at the Manoir Richelieu, a Fairmont property. It also is one of the Fairmont’s most unique yet reasonable stays.

No matter what your choice of room, the facilities such as indoor and outdoor heated pools are yours for the taking. Strolling the grounds alone is cause for a deep relaxing breath.The original hotel was built in 1899 and due to its placement on the cliff at Pointe-au-Pic it remains an exceptional place to bed down. It is massive and during reconstruction bulldozers were used inside, yet the key ingredients of style and period are vividly intact.

Lest your time in the laid back Charlevoix make you wish for a little glitz, on the grounds of the manor is the Casino de Charlevoix. The architecturally stunning Casino is a place to play without the pressures big city casinos seem to have built in.

Perhaps it is the view of the St. Lawrence but even dropping a few dollars doesn’t appear to drop many players’ chins. Visiting this region only appears to raise the corners of your lips into a smile.

The story of the Beluga whales is one of the sad examples of losing nature. The Fairmont is helping in preservation and the whole story can be found at dfo-mpo.gc.ca. The Hotel’s website is at Casino-de-Charlevoix.com.

This area has natural treasures that are within driving range of the Northeast; visit the neighbors, you will not be sorry!

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Kent St John

Kent St John

Kent St. John was GoNOMAD's Senior Travel Editor since the website was founded in 2000. During that time he circled the globe many times, visiting more than 80 countries. Sadly, he passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2012.Kent enjoyed travel "with discrimination and an appreciation of subtleties," always finding a way to capture the nuances and essences of a destination, whether he was whale-watching in Nova Scotia, riding the rails in Australia, bungee jumping in China or worshipping the sun on a beach in Brazil.