The more I travel to Québec, Canada, the longer I want to stay . . . From following the culinary trail in Montréal, to celebrating Winter Carnival in Québec City, to sampling the restorative spas in Lanaudière and Mauricie . . .
For my latest exploration, I’m off to the charming Charlevoix region an hour northeast of Québec City for a few days of summer play. Infused with the natural beauty of a mountainous landscape, plus the immensity of the St. Lawrence River (Fleuve Saint-Laurent), the area attracts outdoor enthusiasts, art & culture lovers and passionate foodies.
Recreational adventures abound here – hiking, biking, kayaking, whale-watching, and star-gazing, with plenty of culinary discoveries and comfortable lodgings along the way – making Charlevoix, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the perfect getaway for traveling solo, with friends or family.
Take a Hike and Discover the Via Ferrata.
After an overnight stay and tasty breakfast at Québec City’s Hôtel Royal William in the trendy New St-Roch district, we’re off on our road trip to discover the wonders of Charlevoix. Upon arrival, we drop our bags at Hôtel Le Germain Charlevoix, our home-away-from-home for the night. Contemporary in style, the hotel combines artistic, urban sophistication with country ambiance, in a nod to its cultural and historical roots.
Following a lunch that features flavors of the region, we head out for a light afternoon hike at Parc national des Grands-Jardins. My first clue that our planned activity entails a bit more than light hiking comes when we meet our guide who offers helmets and harnesses for our venture. Uh-oh.
Waivers signed, we start our hike, pausing occasionally to take in the spellbinding views and snap a few photos, and for some of us to catch our breath. Made it!
But wait – our guide leads us to the “Practice Rock,” the first step to the via ferrata circuit on the Mont du Lac des Cygnes. Uh-oh, again.
Way too slowly, it dawns on me: Via ferrata. Translation: “Iron Way.” Ohhh. Now I get it. Mountain climbing, of sorts, with cables and clips and pegs, oh my! Where’s my high school French when I need it?
Willing to keep an open mind for the promise of spectacular views on a safe itinerary, I give it a go, but within a few upward steps, I learn my limit while translating the phrase, “Geez Louise” to my Quebecois host. Instead, I opt to take the trail back down to the lodge and wait for the others to follow. But for other wanderboomers in our group, the via ferrata proves irresistible. Challenging, sure, but ultimately rewarding. The rest of us applaud their accomplishment as we head to Le Saint-Pub Microbrewery in the heart of Baie-Saint-Paul to celebrate. Cheers!
Go Kayaking on Rivière du Gouffre.
With the new dawn comes a new adventure – river kayaking! After a short, hands-on demo on how to hold and use our paddles, our small group of single and double kayaks heads out on our 6 km (roughly 3.7 miles) expedition. Easy whitewaters and shallow waters make for a fun outing for novice and experienced kayakers alike as we descend down the Rivière du Gouffre to Baie-Saint-Paul.
A few beachings, seaweed entanglements and waves of laughter later, we thank our guide for the chance to explore beautiful Charlevoix from the water’s edge.
Bike Around Isle-aux-Coudres.
After a quick stop to pick up boxed lunches, we board the ferry to Isle-aux-Coudres for our next outdoor adventure, a bike tour of the island, with a few planned stops along the way. My Charlevoix host sets the pace on our tandem bike as we pedal along on the flat, country roads while enjoying the soft summer air and scenic views.
Before long we arrive at our first destination: Les Moulins de L’Isle-aux-Coudres, the unique site of an authentic working watermill, restored windmill and miller’s residence. We watch as guides demonstrate how wheat and buckwheat are ground into flour at the mill, explaining the process in both French and English.
All that biking worked up a thirst! Fortunately, we happen to be close to a cidery, Cidrerie Vergers Pedneault, the next stop on our island tour. Our cider tastings include several of the cidery’s award-winning artisan apple, pear, plum and Saskatoon berry products. Yum!
Discover Innovative Regional Cuisine.
Charlevoix is a food lover’s paradise easily discovered by following the region’s Flavor Trail from Petite-Rivière-Saint-François to La Malbaie. Over 40 regional growers, producers and chefs welcome visitors along the trail with delicious gourmet treats like artisan breads and pastries, pates, charcuterie, chocolate, honey, duck, pork, cheese, ciders and beer.
After our afternoon adventure on the Isle-aux-Coudres, we check in at the historic Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu overlooking the St. Lawrence River in La Malbaie. On site, we continue our regional and classical cuisine discoveries at Le Charlevoix Restaurant with Executive Chef, Patrick Turcot, who introduces us to delectable trout carpaccio from les Eboulements, pan-seared scallops and foie gras with calvados and apple crisp, seared crab salad and red pepper cream and maple salmon gravlax, puffed quinoa salad and roasted almonds. Time to go hiking, biking and kayaking again!
Enjoy a Night of Star-gazing.
What better evening entertainment than a star-gazing session at the Astronomy Observatory (Observatoire Astronomique)? In partnership with the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, the observatory invites guests to search the skies with specialized telescopes under the guidance of scientifically-trained staff. Visitors can also take a self-guided tour of a scale model of the solar system by following a 3 km (just under 2 miles) trail along the St. Lawrence River.
Curious about the landscape and geology of the region? Through exhibits and lectures at the observatory, you can learn how the impact of a 15 billion tons’ meteorite that hit 350 million years ago created the mountainous character of Charlevoix.
Take a Whale-watching Zodiac Cruise.
On our last day in Charlevoix, we’re all suited-up in weather-resistant gear and ready to start our whale-watching adventure for the chance to see blue, fin, minke, humpback and beluga whales at play. In calm waters, before long we spot several seals near our boat while holding out hope for whale sightings. Success! Not only do we see several fin and minke, but our naturalist on board points to the horizon where a couple of belugas are swimming near shore. Moments later, a mama and baby beluga pass our zodiac where earlier we had watched one whale shoot towards our zodiac like a torpedo, only to veer away at the last moment. Wow.
Hop Aboard the Train Léger de Charlevoix.
As we near the end of our Charlevoix journey, we have time for one more excursion before returning to Québec City: a rail cruise via The Charlevoix Light Rail Transit. Fun. Easy. Relaxing. We wind our way along the shoreline, mesmerized by views of the stunning river and mountain landscape, daydreaming about our unforgettable Charlevoix adventure.
Many thanks to Tourisme Québec for hosting our days of summer play in Charlevoix!
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What about you, wanderboomers? What’s your favorite place to visit in Quebec?