Top things to do in Charlevoix, Quebec
"As intoxicating as champagne, but without the morning-after headache." these are the words of former U.S. President William Howard Taft describing the Charlevoix region in the Quebec province. Back in the 19th century, this was the vacationing spot of the wealthy elite of Canada and Eastern U.S., and Taft was one of the rich and famous who owned a summer residence in the area.
The area is now a playground for all, whether you are a nature lover, a foodie or you are looking for a romantic getaway, this beautiful region will put you under its spell.
Get ready to be seduced by the St. Lawrence River that is so wide that it feels like the sea and the rolling hills and mountains giving dramatic and breathtaking landscapes. The road trip from Quebec to La Malbaie is in fact, one of Canada's most scenic drives.
A little about the region
The Charlevoix is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. This appellation, like the popular and praised UNESCO world heritage site, are given by the UNESCO to preserve certain sites. Biosphere reserves seek to reconcile human activity with the conservation of biodiversity through the sustainable use of natural resources. Meaning that human activity is heavily controlled to let nature flourish at its best. This classification allows 6,000 square kilometers of rich forests, streams, and wildlife to be protected.
The Charlevoix landscape was defined millions of years ago by a massive meteorite that crashed down in the area forming hills and creating a deep crater of nearly 60 kilometers diameter. If you are in the geology field by profession and /or by passion, this will for sure fascinate you!
The region is also a hotspot for agritourism and regional farm-to-table cuisine, putting forward artisanal cheeses and organic lamb, among other products. The idyllic setting has played an important role in the arts and culture of the region putting these small towns in the center of numerous poems and world-renowned paintings.
Top things to do in Charlevoix, Quebec
One of the main reasons that we wanted to explore this region was that we were looking for a quick nature getaway. And of course, delicious food needed to be involved!
There are several national parks (under the provincial jurisdiction) that are worth a visit! These parks are managed by the Sepaq and each park entrance costs around $9 cad. You can even pay at the machine, as if you were paying for your parking.
The first hike that we did was in the Parc Grands-Jardins and we took the Mont-du-Lac-des-Cygnes trail. It's about a 4 hours hike round trip for 8.6 km long. The hike is considered “difficult” due to its ascension level. However, you do not need special equipment like hiking boots or sticks. Your hard work will be rewarded with the viewpoint high in the mountains where you can see Laurentian massif. I must say that the top transported us back to Velika Planina in Slovenia with its subalpine vegetation. The hike will take you through Lac Georges which was formed by a glacial some millions of years ago.
L'Acropole-des-draveurs is another hike that cannot be missed. However, we did manage to miss it because of the weather. During our 4 day stay, it rained for 3 days and we did not want to risk it with the thunderstorm watch. The famous Acropole-des-draveurs hiking trail is said to be one of the most beautiful hikes in Quebec and in Canada. I guess we will need to go back again! It gives you a 360° views of the Malbaie River snaking through the valley. The trail leads to one of the highest peaks in Eastern Canada. Attention, it is said that this hike is quite difficult due to its high elevation gain (800 metres) over a short distance (10.4 kilometres round trip). So be prepared!
Another popular spot is Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park is said that it is one of the reasons that the Charlevoix region was designated a World Biosphere Reserve. Characterized by valleys cutting through mountains, the park has steep slopes intertwined with the Malbaie River.
Visit the small towns
The Charlevoix touristic region has a few pictoresque towns that are worh visiting after all the hiking.
Baie Saint Paul is the first town that you will see if you are arriving from Quebec City. The quaint colourful French-Canadian town was founded over 350 years ago has a population of around 7,000. Due to its great outdoors, it has attracted many artists since its creation. So stroll down the streets, boutiques and art galleries.
Île-aux-Coudres is a picturesque small island on the St. Lawrence River of 11 km by 5 km. The rural charm of windmills and Beached schooners will transport you back to yesteryear. This is the perfect place to bike around.
Les Éboulements (landslide in English, name given after an earthquake in 1663) is the central point between Baie-Saint-Paul to La Malbaie. It is considered to be among the most beautiful villages in Québec. The town also has a historic mill in town, the Seigneurial Mill of Les Éboulements.
La Malbaie is the last town and it's around 1 hour after Baie-Saint-Paul. This is the home of the famous and historic Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu. Even if you are not staying in the castle-like mansion it is worth a visit. You can go for lunch, dinner, have a drink, go to the golf or do a treatment at their spa. The casino and several hiking spots are also on the premises. Love stargazing? The manoir also has an Astronomy Observatory. Unfortunately, the skies were clouded and we could not see anything so we decided not to go. You can also wander around the small town of 8,000. Don’t forget to stroll down the river and walk on the bridge Pointe-au-Pic on Chemin du Havre.
Hit the roads or the train
To unleash your inner foodie, follow the Route des saveurs (flavour trail). This trail is a collaboration between farmers and cooks wanting to showcase the region’s unique flavours. Follow the map and shop directly at the farms so be sure to bring a cooler with you! There are numerous scenic roads like the Mountain road or the Saint Lawrence River road, with both taking you to beautiful road trips in the heart of the region.
Lastly, the Train du Charlevoix is a scenic train that departs from Quebec City or Baie-Saint-Paul along the river with one of a kind view. There is also a gastronomic option made in conjunction with the celebrated chef of Le Manoir Richelieu. You can either have dinner or lunch.
In winter you can hit the slopes at the Massif, go ice canoeing, country skiing or go snowshoeing. Enjoy the winter activities at its best!
In Autumn, nature is dressed in its colour foliage, a true spectacle for the eyes!
Where to stay?
The region has several B&B scattered around and a few boutique hotels. You can also rent a cottage. However, I would highly suggest staying at the Fairmont Manoir Richelieu !
This castle-like hotel imposingly overlooks the river and offers all the services to make you feel like you are in a resort. While I understand that staying at this luxurious hotel is not in everyone’s budget, it can be a great option to celebrate a special occasion. For us, we were celebrating our 3-year wedding anniversary and my job promotion!
So why stay at this 5-star hotel? The hotel has heated pools and spa, casino, tennis courts, 27-hole golf course, observatory, and much more! It even has a Canine ambassador! His name is Roux, a guide Labrador dog that will steal your heart the moment you arrive at the entrance of the hotel.
Our room had a wonderful view of the river and vintage photographs showing the hotel back at the beginning of the 20th century. We were greeted with delicious chocolates made in the region. We also had a buffet breakfast included in our package. This year, the hotel was celebrating its 120 anniversary and has seen numerous world-class-events like the G7 in 2018.
Like I said before, you don’t need to be a guest of the hotel to enjoy it, you can have lunch at the golf restaurant that sits on top of a hill with a vista of the surrounding and the river. Go for dinner to one of their 7 restaurants. Le Charlevoix is a quadruple diamond awarded (the Canadian version of the 3 Michelin star) restaurant. Or simply enjoy a cocktail in their outdoor patio and be mesmerized by the river that feels like the sea.
Where to eat and drink in Charlevoix?
We filled our bellies at Le Charlevoix restaurant. We took the 4-course tasting menu. All dishes are seasonal and are locally sourced from the area. The food was beautifully presented and delicious! The restaurant has bay windows that have a view into the river which perfectly pairs with the food and wine. The restaurant also has an impressive wine list.
For a quick lunch or breakfast head to the delicious Pains D'exclamation at La Malbaie. They make fresh daily bread; you will not regret it.
We had supper at Local Bistro 245. This is a casual bistro, but the plates had a lot of flavours. We had a great fish taco plate to share.
In the last few years, Quebec has become a Gin heaven. There is a distillery, Menaud that produces vodka and gin and it is also a microbrewery. I liked their gin more than their beer. The prices are really cheap, so enjoy your drinks (carefully as you need to drive after)!
Finally, go to MicroBrasserie Charlevoix or to le Saint-Pub for the local craft beer. This is the same company, but the pub also offers food and it is opened longer.
What to pack?
Insect repellent and sweaters are a must! We did not bring any insect repellent and we got attacked nonstop by mosquitos and black flies. I’m writing the article around 2 weeks later and I still have the marks of the bites!
Don't forget that you are high up in the mountains and it gets chilly, even in the hot summer! So, don't forget your sweater. At l'Acropole des dravers you will need one because it is very windy!
If you are going to the restaurant Le Charlevoix, bring a nice attire, don’t go in shorts with your favourite sports jerseys.
If you are going hiking, then bring your activewear.
Charlevoix is easily accessible by car from Eastern Canada and New England. It is a 1-hour drive from Québec City along the majestic St. Lawrence River, you need to take route 138.
From Montreal, this is around a 4-hour drive.
Beware that you will do a lot of driving as everything is scattered and not condensed into a small area.
What to do from there?
Continue your Quebec road trip to the Saguenay region. Around 1 hour north of La Malbaie, there is Saguenay. The region is world-famous for whale watching areas and fjords.
So, when is your next travel to Le Charlevoix?
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Disclaimer: We received a discount from the Fairmont Manoir Richelieu in exchange of visibility. All opinions are my own
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