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article imageOp-Ed: Charming Charlevoix - A Year-Round Destination Special

By Bryen Dunn     Nov 9, 2011 in Travel
Quebec - The Charlevoix region in the province of Quebec (Canada) is a 6,000 square kilometer protected UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, rich in forests, streams, and wildlife. It's a great place to visit anytime of year, including winter.
It’s also flanked on the north shore by the mighty St. Lawrence River, portions of which are designated as a marine conservation area, making it one of the best places in North America for whale watching. Fresh and salt water mix where the Saguenay and St. Lawrence Rivers meet, making it a perfect playground for several different species of migratory whales, including belugas, minkes, humpbacks, fin whale, and the mighty blue whale. The opportune time of year for catching glimpses is May to October, and there are many local operators providing everything from boat cruises and zodiacs, to kayaking and even snorkeling for those so inclined. The area also has seals, sea birds, caribou, wolves, and many others unique to this region.
Pioneers of Tourism
In 1864, Hotel Tadoussac opened its doors, marking the beginning of over a century of providing memorable vacation experiences. Today its whitewashed walls, red roof, and maritime colors still make it a must for visitors to the area, and the perfect base for whale watching excursions. The nearby Tadoussac Golf Club, founded in 1902, is one of the oldest golf courses in Quebec and is renowned for its beautiful scenery with views overlooking the St. Lawrence. The property was also the location for the filming of the quirky Hotel New Hampshire movie.
Tourists have been flocking to Charlevoix for centuries, and in fact it is noted as being the first destination to have welcomed international overnight guests in Canada. The community of La Malbaie was known as the first resort area in Canada, and early in the 20th century a 250-room resort hotel was built in Pointe-au-Pic. Today Charlevoix still attracts numerous visitors year round who seek to experience all that is unique to the area, such as agrotourism and regional fare, arts and culture, outdoor adventure, and scenic driving and cycling routes. The region offers a host of unique attractions deep in the very heart of the Canadian Shield, the oldest landform on earth that was formed by a meteorite 350 million years ago.
Regional Culture and Cuisine
Music and dance are everywhere in Charlevoix, more particularly in the Saint-Irenee region at the historical property known as the "Domaine Forget". Charlevoix also has several museums referencing maritime history, the customs of the local population, and the natural and economic history of the region. A visit to the Pointe-Noire interpretation and observation center at the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park is the perfect way to learn more about sea mammals and ocean currents.
The artistic village of Baie Saint-Paul is home to many painters, poets, writers, and musicians all inspired by the natural beauty. A driving route called Painter's Trail points out galleries and studios throughout the region. While in town be sure to check out Le Saint Pub for local food fare, and a sampler of their local brews. Baie-Saint-Paul was also a favorite of Canada’s famous Group of Seven painters, and the birthplace of the celebrated Cirque du Soleil.
Isle aux Coudres is a tiny island in the St. Lawrence River known for its stone windmills, historic buildings and coastline view that is best experienced by bicycle along the 26 km road that circles the island. It’s only a short 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, and most definitely worth a visit. Be sure to stop at one of the apple picking farms and taste the local apple ciders.
The Saguenay River Valley was carved out by glaciers during the last ice age, and created the Saguenay Fjord, which is the only true such natural formation on North America's east coast. It's now a location for rock climbing enthusiasts that some say rivals that of the Rockies. Le Genévrier is an outdoor family center, boasting a lighted ice ring and skating rink, inner-tube slides, and 15 km of cross-country with an additional 5 km of snowshoe trails.
The Charlevoix Flavor Trail is a culinary circuit that includes several specialty producers offering product samplings, as well as various accommodations and dining options where these local products are available. Specialties includes foie gras, poultry, emu, lamb, and of course the world known selection of Quebec cheeses. Farmers, chefs, and restaurant owners all work together to bring you the most extensive network of local fare. Many farms offer their products to sample and purchase on site, and the chefs combine these local products to create delicacies only available in area restaurants.
Luxurious Lodging
For those wanting the most luxurious experience offered, the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu is nestled majestically between the sea and the mountains, and is a vision of historical splendor. The resort offers nearby downhill and cross-country skiing, a renowned casino, spa facilities, and top-notch accommodations. The summer season is a hot spot for golf enthusiasts seeking to hone their skills on a meticulously designed course by British architect Herbert Strong that was opened back in 1925 by U.S. President William H. Taft.
The original Le Manoir Richelieu hotel was built in 1899 and featured 250 luxurious rooms atop the cliff of Pointe-au-Pic, overlooking the majestic St. Lawrence River in the heart of Charlevoix. Fire leveled the property in 1928, but Canadian architect John Archibald redesigned the current property in the style of a French castle, which reopened the following year. Fairmont officially took over operations in 1999, and created the grandeur that makes it a world-class luxury resort in Quebec today.
Massive Le Massif
The famous Le Massif ski hill boasts the highest vertical drop east of the Canadian Rockies. The area around Le Massif is undergoing a massive multi-million dollar development, with some portions already completed and operational this fall. Daniel Gauthier, one of the Cirque visionaries and Chairman of the Board of Groupe Le Massif, long dreamed of reviving a touristic rail route between Quebec City and La Malbaie.
In April 2009, Groupe Le Massif acquired Chemin de fer de Charlevoix, the section of track between Quebec City and Clermont. A major line rehabilitation project was undertaken representing a 20 million dollar investment, and this past September a fifties-style touring train linking the 140 km stretch between Quebec City and La Malbaie began. There are roundtrip excursions until the end of October, and daily departures with overnight packages will begin in February. For same day return passengers, a hearty breakfast is served on the morning journey, and after an exciting day out on the trails cocktails are paired with local delicacies on the return. Next steps are to incorporate a daily rail shuttle connecting the 20 km link between Baie-Saint-Paul to Petite-Rivière-Saint-François slated to start early next year, making it easier to get between the town and the mountain resort.
Starting in late December a 7.5 km sled run specially designed for rodeling on a natural snow base will begin operations. Rodeling is a form of tobogganing that uses a long narrow sled without runners that curves upward in front. There will be two options offered, the classic 90 minutes that includes the grooming machine shuttle to the rodeling departure point on Mont à Liguori, or a 2½ hour authentic plan featuring a guided snowshoe tour to the trailhead that leads down to the Massif Express boarding area. Le Massif offers a significant trail network for skiers and snowboarders, and a 10 km luge trail that transforms into a downhill bike trail in summer. Guests can travel around the resort area by snowshoe, dogsled and the horse-drawn sleigh. When it comes time to relax, the onsite spa offers a menu of original treatments, from Nordic to Scandinavian, therapeutic to relaxation.
Le Massif de Charlevoix is a tourism and recreation destination comprised of three distinct areas, the Mountain, the Farm, and the Train. The development is poised to offer a full range of experiences in tourism by way of the touring train and a range of accommodation options at the Mountain, along with a 150-room hotel complex at the Farm in Baie-Saint-Paul. Nestled on farmland near the heart of downtown Baie-Saint-Paul, the Farm is designed to espouse the site’s agricultural identity and presents itself as a crossroads of this extraordinary melting pot of culture and gastronomy. A total of 56 million will be invested towards the development of a 150-room hotel complex that fans out into five pavilions, and includes a multifunctional venue, a spa, a train station, a public square and a local farmers market. The project will be completed in stages, with the hotel scheduled to officially open by December 2011, just in time for the holidays and outdoor winter adventure season.
Other additions include connecting indoor pathways to the various attractions, an enhanced ski lodge, and new pricing options making visits more economical. The entire project is expected to be completed by 2014. There are approximately 30,000 people that call this fabulous region home, and Highway 138 out of Quebec City is a natural starting point for visitors planning to take the 90-minute trek east. This most definitely is a four-season destination, and worth a visit anytime of the year. Although there are numerous dining and accommodation options available, it’s still best to book in advance. Visit Charlevoix and have a whale of a good time!
Hotel Tadoussac – a maritime themed two-level property with onsite dining, walking trails, and nearby whale watching excursions. 165 rue Bord de l'Eau, Tadoussac (800) 561-0718
Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu – upscale historic property with breathtaking views of the St. Lawrence River, nearby snowshoe trails, skiing, and casino.181 rue Richelieu, La Malbaie 1 (866) 540-4464
Au Jardin d’Ozanne – four rooms each with private washroom facilities and full breakfast. Offering a pleasant combination of nature, relaxation, and gastronomy only a couple minutes walk from the center of town. 2 Du Richelieu, Baie-Saint-Paul 1 (888) 909-4060
Le Saint Pub – good size pub in the center of town offering good size portions with a selection of hand-crafted beers. 2 rue Racine, Baie-Saint-Paul (418) 240-2332
Le William – fresh seafood brought in daily and mixed with local produce, spices, and cheeses. 165 rue Bord de l'Eau, Tadoussac (418) 235-4421
Le Saint-Laurent - offers a 'Brasserie française' type of menu where you can create your own four-course meal. 181 rue Richelieu, La Malbaie 1 (866) 540-4464
Whale Watching – cruise aboard a full equipped boat, or get a closer look from within a zodiac. 168 rue des Pionniers, Tadoussac (418) 235-2222
Skiing – Le Massif mountain range has three separate peaks offering a vertical drop of more than 2,500 ft from its summit, and 48 trails to choose from that are accessible from the top and base. Season is typically early December to mid April. Petite-Rivière-Saint François 1 877 536 2774
Ice Fishing –offered exclusively to guests of the Jean-Pressé cabin at Lac Étang Malbaie within Parc National des Grands-Jardins. The short snowshoeing trek in is well worth it for the abundance of trout. 25 Boul. Notre-Dame, Clermont (800) 665-6527
Winter Events
The Great Crossing Casino de Charlevoix
January 27 to 29, 2012 - Isle-aux-Coudres
Canoe race on the St. Lawrence River
Telephone: 418 438-2568
Annual Snowmobile Gathering
January 27 & 28, 2012 - La Malbaie
Animation and various activities for snowmobile lovers
Telephone: 418-665-5300
A Tribute to Winter
February 25, 2012 - La Malbaie
Musical fireworks display presented by the Casino de Charlevoix
Dog Racing Classical Isle-aux-Coudres
February 24 to 26, 2012 - L'Isle-aux-Coudres
Competition by dogsled teams from all over North America
Toll-free: 1-866-438-2930
Baie-Saint-Paul Holiday Fair
November 25 to 27 and December 2 to 4, 2012 – Baie-Saint-Paul
Holiday market with local arts and crafts
Telephone: 418-435-3673
More Information
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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