At first, Québec City might seem like enough for even the most ambitious winter itinerary. What could be more picturesque than snowshoeing through the Plains of Abraham (theplainsofabraham.ca) or tobogganing at the Village Nordik (villagenordik.com) at the Old Port? But all it took was one glimpse at what awaited in the magical Charlevoix Biosphere Reserve region to lure us out of the old city for an extended weekend of alpine adventures with panoramic Laurentian Mountain views of the St. Lawrence River. And there’s a pretty cool story to go with it. Seems all this splendor was caused by a meteorite crashing just west of Baie-Saint-Paul to just east of La Malbaie more than 350 million years ago, creating dramatic peaks, fjords, and valleys that are truly a sight to behold.
Our tour of the Charlevoix region went from Saturday to Monday, giving us two nights and most of three days. From Québec City, we drove just over an hour to the quaint provincial town of Baie-Saint-Paul, where we checked into a “country hotel” that turned out to be far more urban and trendy than what we just left in Québec City. Le Germain Hotel & Spa Charlevoix (legermainhotels.com) is an award-winning retreat with a Nordic-style thermal pool and outdoor spa facilities that feel exotic and decadent in the cold winter air—all complemented with a sauna, steam bath, and aromatic snow dispenser. Indoors, the styles are trendy and contemporary, juxtaposing the farm setting with award-winning designs and a different layout for each room.
What’s wonderful about Le Germain is that even though it’s close enough to walk to town, there’s no reason to leave. A casual lounge-like restaurant is available, along with a coffee shop and an upscale restaurant that specializes in regional cuisine. All the meals are fresh and delicious and a great pairing with the fresh country air. If you’re in Charlevoix for winter sports, this is the place to call your base. With a variety of room options, it’s perfectly appointed to host everyone from couples to families to large groups of friends.
After a breakfast buffet at the hotel restaurant, it will be time to head out on the road to La Malbaie, this time taking the St. Lawrence River Route 352—considered one of the most scenic roads in North America. Skirting the St. Lawrence River, this rue offers breathtaking views at every turn and the opportunity to stop off and explore nearby municipalities.
Once arriving in Pointe-Au-Pic, you will be welcomed by the owner of Café Chez-Nous (cafecheznous.com), a French brasserie style bistro offering healthy ingredients, delicious crepes, and a full bar menu. From there, it’s off to Musée de Charlevoix (museedecharlevoix.qc.ca), a small museum that’s worth every minute. A knowledgeable guide will walk you through the history of the region, telling stories about the people who have lived there for generations and the industries (from lumber to folk art) that sustained them through the centuries when Charlevoix was more remote and transportation was more precarious.
All those items checked off the itinerary, it’s time to head to the final stop on this sojourn—a luxury landmark hotel that may look very familiar to those who took the Funiculaire up to Le Château Frontenac in Québec City. Arriving at the Le Manoir Richelieu (which like Frontenac, is a Fairmont Hotel property) blends the rich history of Québec with the relaxing postcard setting of La Malbaie. Nestled high up over the river views out over mountains, the resort (fairmont.com/richelieu-charlevoix/)
has that same “castle-like” feel as others in that famous series of Canadian Pacific Railway properties.
With 405 rooms, four delectable restaurants, outdoor thermal pools, and an enticing outdoor Jacuzzi, this is a favorite among those visiting the nearby ski resorts of La Massif or Mont Grand-Fonds. Winter activities abound, as do opportunities to stay within the resort and enjoy a sumptuous aromatherapy massage at the new Spa du Manoir Richelieu—a welcome haven of relaxation and tranquility. Finish off your last night with evening supper at the Table & Terroir restaurant, where extraordinary creations by Executive Chef Pierre-Laurence Valton-Simard are served in a cozy, yet elegant setting.
The memory of that last vista of lights sparkling over the river is something you will carry far beyond your arrival back in the Chicago area. In Québec, there is a saying, je me souviens. It means that “we never forget” our French heritage, and after experiencing this incredible region for yourself, neither will you.