Canada’s Charlevoix Region Full of Charming SurprisesAug 31, 2018 11:43AM ● By Vanessa Orr
The Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu provides top-of-the-line treatment to guests; no wonder the G7 Summit leaders stayed there.
It’s not often that you find yourself wandering through narrow, cramped corridors, slipping through doors disguised as bookcases, and happening upon secret rooms and hidden bars in a former Prohibition-era speakeasy. But a visit to the Charlevoix region in Quebec, Canada, is full of wondrous surprises, and La Maison du Bootlegger is just a start.
I wasn’t familiar with Charlevoix, other than what I’d seen on TV through coverage of the G7 Summit, which was held in this resort area along the St. Lawrence River this past June. What a delight it was to realize what many Americans discovered more than a century ago; that the region is a haven for those seeking picturesque landscapes, cool summer temperatures and delicious meals made with foods produced in this agricultural region.
To get a good look at this vast green acreage, you can take a ride with Héli-Charlevoix to see the region that was formed by a meteorite that crashed into the area 400 million years ago. Nestled inside the 34-mile wide crater are small villages, massive mountains, acres upon acres of forests and farms, and of course, the majestic St. Lawrence, which is the lifeblood of this region.
The Train de Charlevoix is another good way to tour the area, and you can get off at any of seven stops along the way between Quebec and La Malbaie. I was particularly smitten with Baie-Saint-Paul, a postcard-perfect town that offers many of my favorite things in an easily walkable downtown area—art, architecture, history and even ice cream! Make sure to stop into the corner candy store, Fraîcheurs et Saveurs, to enjoy a fresh-dipped cone while people-watching from their front porch.
There are so many unique dining experiences in Charlevoix that it’s hard to know where to start—from maple butter crepes in Auberge des 3 Canards, where you can grill your own toast over an open fireplace; to lunch at Faux Bergers, where chefs Sylvain Dervieux and Émile Tremblay delight their customers with innovative meals using farm-fresh ingredients; to fine dining at Table & Terroir at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, where a surprise dessert set-up at the chef’s table made me thankful that I’d worn loose-fitting clothes to the event.
One truly unique and unplanned stop on our trip was a visit to Omerto Vineyards, where butcher-turned-vintner Pascal Miche introduced us to tomato wine. Named after his great-grandfather, Omer, the wine is only made out of organic tomatoes and yeast, and boy, is it delicious!
While you could spend days just eating and drinking your way through this region, there are a myriad of ways to entertain yourself as well. Golfers will appreciate the Club de Golf de Murray Bay where President William H. Taft used to play. While the course itself is impressive, the stunning views of the St. Lawrence from the greens are enough to stop any golfer in his or her tracks.
If you’d rather get out on the water, I highly recommend a whale-watching cruise with Croisières AML; you can choose a larger vessel or put on a waterproof jumpsuit and ride in a Zodiac for an up-close look at the massive mammals. The day we were on the water was a whale extravaganza; even the naturalist on board was excited by the amount of animals we saw before traveling back through the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord.
If you like history, you can learn all about Charlevoix and its growth as a vacation spot for Canadians and Americans alike at the Musée de Charlevoix in La Malbaie, where its current exhibit, Nos étés dans Charlevoix, documents the life of the resort area’s summer residents. And on your list of absolute must-dos is a stop at the aforementioned speakeasy, where a guide will take you down the steep stairs to wander through the maze-like passages, all the while sharing the history of the restored building as you discover room after hidden room.
Best to take the tour before imbibing in the bar, though—low ceiling beams and the ‘broken leg beam’ that you have to climb over can make the trip a little treacherous. You have to love it when you ask the guide how many people have fallen down the stairs and he jokingly remarks that it could be in the hundreds or thousands.
The speakeasy, which operated during Canada’s Temperance Period (similar to U.S. Prohibition) was later turned into a hunting and fishing club. Abandoned for years, it was bought by Johanne Brassard, who returned it to its former glory, though the original tables are still on-site. They feature the names of long-ago patrons who had to write their names on the tables so that if the speakeasy was raided, they would be found guilty, too—pretty much ensuring everyone’s silence about the private club.
There are a number of wonderful accommodations in the area, ranging from inns like Auberge des 3 Canards, with its wonderful restaurant, to luxury settings like the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, where the G7 leaders stayed during their visit. There’s nothing quite like waking up in this castle-like setting and looking out at a breathtaking view of the St. Lawrence River to start your day.
To learn more about the Charlevoix region, visit www.charlevoixtourism.com or call 1-800-667-2276.