Quebec: Charlevoix or the magic of winter

Stretching along the St. Lawrence between Quebec City and the Saguenay Fjord, Charlevoix is ​​one of the most beautiful regions of the Belle Province. Designated a World Biosphere Reserve by Unesco, the Charlevoix offers visitors splendid large protected natural spaces, covered with an immaculate white coat in winter. But it is also a premier gastronomic and cultural destination in Canada. A real crush for this corner of Quebec, which saw the birth of Cirque du Soleil and where you can ski with a view of the Saint-Laurent. Magical !

The Charlevoix, the seductive asset of Quebec

Located northeast of Quebec City, the Charlevoix extends from the village of Petite-Rivière-Saint-Francois at the mouth of the Saguenay. It is the smallest of the twenty-two tourist regions in Quebec. And yet, what grandeur! In all seasons, she lives to the rhythm of the great outdoors.

On the one hand, the St. Lawrence River, so wide that it is confused at first glance with a lake or even a sea. On the other, a multitude of natural spaces: two very beautiful national parks, a large wildlife reserve and, of course, the Charlevoix massif. The region has also been designated world biosphere reserve by Unesco in 1988. A landscape shaped, 400 million years ago, by the impact of a meteorite 4,5 km in diameter.

In winter, Charlevoix is ​​covered in white: about 5 m of snow falls per year and negative temperatures are part of everyday life, from December to March. But it is not the cold that stops Quebeckers, far from it! “There is no bad weather, there are only people with the wrong clothes” they say!

On the contrary, in winter, the region becomes for them - and for us - a real playground : snowshoeing, downhill and cross-country skiing, dog sledding, skating, snowmobiling ... they find a thousand ways to keep busy. And not only in nature: the Charlevoix region also stands out as a gastronomic and cultural destination.

Some cities come to punctuate this immaculate nature. At the edge of the river, we notably stop at Baie-Saint-Paul and Malbaie. The first is a true artists' paradise, which saw the birth of the famous Cirque du Soleil. The second, the cradle of vacationing in Canada… The two are linked by one of the most beautiful scenic roads in Quebec: the Route du Fleuve (58 km). Besides, it's time for us to take the car. Come on, everyone in the tank!

Baie-Saint-Paul, artistic capital of Charlevoix

To reach the Charlevoix region from Quebec, take the 138. 1 km long - it begins at the border with New York State - it is one of the oldest roads in Canada. 416 km later, we reach Petite-Rivière-Saint-Francois, gateway to the Charlevoix region. 20 more and here we are Baie-Saint-Paul.

Endearing, this pretty town with colorful houses has some 7 inhabitants. Among them, many “Tremblay” and “Simard”, names of the first colonists who arrived here around 000. Even today, they represent a third of the local population. In the rue Saint-Joseph, one of the oldest in the city, you can admire houses with mansard roofs several hundred years old, or the house of Charles Tremblay, of American colonial inspiration (1678).

In the distance, we can see three pretty silver bells. Those of the old convent! Because it's impossible to talk about Baie-Saint-Paul without mentioning the Little Franciscans of Mary, an important community of sisters. Originally from Worcester (Massachusetts), they arrived in 1891 and worked a lot for the city: they helped - and still help - many people in difficulty: orphans, people with disabilities, the elderly, the sick ...

 They moved in 2016 and ceded the old convent to the municipality. Now called " Head quarter », It was redesigned by the architect Pierre Thibault and converted into a place of creation and innovation. There is a café, a coworking space, a garden, artists' studios and a museum trail. It is absolutely necessary to take a look at the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, a wonder.

 In the same street (Ambroise Fafard), we come across a big Museum of Modern Art (MACBSP). Rather improbable: rare are the small communities to take a contemporary turn in this way. However, no wonder: Baie-Saint-Paul is, so to speak, one of the hearts of current Quebec culture ...

Quebec of artists

At the beginning of the 20th century, the magnificent landscapes of Charlevoix attracted artists from the big cities: the Montreal painter Clarence Gagnon, the two Ontario artists Daly and George Pepper ... First came to practice pleinairism, many ended up settling, like René Richard. Over time, Baie-Saint-Paul has therefore become a small paradise for artists.

And not just painters! In the 80s, it was in Baie-Saint-Paul that the Cirque du Soleil. It was initially a small troupe of artists, "Les échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul", founded by Gilles Ste-Croix, Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier, who liked to meet at the bistro-restaurant Le Mouton Noir. .

At the same time, an Art Center (the current museum of contemporary art) was created under the leadership of Françoise Labbé. She was also the one who, in 1982, organized the very first edition of the Symposium international d'art contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul. A must, still today: every year, during the month of August, this great event brings together ten Quebec and international artists. Some works created during the Symposium are on view year round at the Museum of Contemporary Art, considered a nationally significant museum.

The boom in Art Galeries. They say that Baie-Saint-Paul is the city with the most per capita in Canada! They are about thirty, concentrated in the main street, Saint-Jean-Baptiste. In the Iris gallery, we find the works of many renowned contemporary artists in Quebec. Some live in the region, like Guy Paquet or Jean-François Racine, nicknamed the “painter-skier”!

Le Massif de Charlevoix: skiing with a view of the St. Lawrence

Quebec counts 70 ski resorts, distributed between the Appalachian and Laurentians massifs. Two of them are in the Charlevoix region: Mont Grand-Fonds at La Malbaie and the Massif de Charlevoix in Petite-Rivière-Saint-François (which, for the record, belongs to Daniel Gauthier, co-founder of Cirque du Soleil).

En route for the latter: it culminates at 806 m, the highest vertical drop east of the Canadian Rockies. It offers winter sports enthusiasts 52 slopes, 40 hectares of off-piste skiing, 27 km of trails for cross-country skiing and a 7,5 km toboggan run!

Boots, toque, snowboard: hop, head for the gondola or the chair! Oops, sorry, here is the translation: "put on your ski boots and your hat, take your skis, we are going to take the gondola or the chairlift". Then it's time to hit the slopes. And what slopes! Bordered by fir trees, all seem to dive into the waters of the majestic St. Lawrence River. "Skiing with a view" ...

On the edge of a track, a painter has installed his canvas on a makeshift easel: his skis. But, it is the famous Jean-François Racine! He has just come to inaugurate a new track, created for the arrival of Club Med, scheduled for December 2020. Even after years, the artist still marvels at the river and the “slush”, the name given to crushed ice. that covers the surface.

Speaking of which ... it would be a shame not to indulge in the joys of Nordic spa in the heart of nature, a symbol of the Quebec art of living. We alternate hot (Finnish spa, outdoor pool at 40 degrees ...) and cold (outdoor pool at 12 degrees, snow fountain ...) and we come out relaxed. The Nordic spa at the hotel Le Germain, in Baie-Saint-Paul, promises a timeless experience, surrounded by nature… magical when everything is covered in white and the pools are smoking! In the area, we also recommend the " sisters path », A nice walk to the river.

Head for La Malbaie, via the Route du Fleuve Saint-Laurent

To join Malbaie from Baie-Saint-Paul, take a scenic route: the Route du Fleuve (the 362). As its name suggests, it delivers wonderful panoramas on the St. Lawrence. Through the window, we can see adorable wooden houses, colorful, snow-covered and nicely illuminated at the time of the end of the year celebrations.

Then we see the village of Landslides. We are here in the heart of the 54 km diameter crater, caused by a 4,5 km meteorite that fell 400 million years ago. It is bounded by two rivers: the Gouffre river and the Malbaie river (rich in salmon!).

L'Isle-aux-Coudres, all snowy too, is obvious. Some 1 people live there. In summer, it is a popular destination for families, who come to visit the Pedneault artisanal cider house and cycle around the island (000 km). It is accessed by borrowing a ferry from the village of Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, which is one of the “most beautiful villages” in Quebec.

This is one of the rare places where road and rail meet. Indeed: below, you can see the railway line, flush with the river. The train, which connects Quebec to La Malbaie in 4 hours, offers exclusive views of the river (from June to October).

We then cross Saint-Irénée. It is home to a pretty beach ... but also the Domaine Forget, a prestigious musical academy (classical, jazz, pop…). Another proof that the Charlevoix region is very focused on culture.

Terminus of the route du Fleuve: La Malbaie. Then, route 138 takes over, in the direction of Cap-à-l'Aigle, Port-au-Persil, Baie-Sainte-Catherine (last coastal village in the region) and the Saguenay fjord. From May to October, the estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence are ideal for whale and beluga observation.

If you can afford it, it is definitely worth flying over the area by helicopter. We can then measure all the majesty of the river, the mountains and the snow-capped forests… and we will multiply our chances of seeing moose.

La Malbaie, the cradle of vacationing in Canada

 At the beginning of the 20th century, Malbaie is popular with wealthy Americans looking for a peaceful, unpolluted place to spend their summer vacation. They arrive here in big steamboats, the famous “white boats”. For example, they docked at the foot of the Manoir Richelieu, a prestigious hotel. Built entirely in wood in 1899, it caught fire in 1928 and was rebuilt the following year.

Lovers of the region, many American vacationers of the time had had villas built, more particularly on the Cliff path, where very beautiful testimonies remain. The architect Charles Waren, a native, built about sixty. Today, more and more Quebecers and Europeans are buying these houses and isolating them so that they can live there year-round.

In La Malbaie, the Charlevoix museum helps us to understand the history of the region (colonization of the river, exploitation of forests, hunting, fishing…) through popular art and in particular the paintings of the Bolduc sisters and the carved wooden animals of the Bouchard brothers. The exhibitions also look back on the sumptuous days of vacationing.

If, today, the white boats no longer land in front The Richelieu Manor, the resort hotel is, more than ever, in operation. In 2018, it hosted the G7 summit and in 2019, it turns 120! Staying there takes us back to this rich past. It is also a good starting point, in winter, to go snowshoeing or snowmobiling (a Quebec invention, by the way). Speaking of snow… it's time to go sledding.

Outfitters and dog sledding in Quebec

Over 600 outfitters dot Quebec. This is a territory managed by a company, in which people come to practice nature activities, such as fishing, hunting and wildlife observation (bears, moose, etc.). In winter, you won't get bored either, between snowshoes, snowmobiling, ice-skating on a frozen lake, ice fishing (ice fishing in a heated cabin) and dog sledding. At night, we sleep in pretty wooden chalets, which are reminiscent of “my cabin in Canada”. It is exactly that at the Moreau Lake Outfitter, beyond the mountain road, the other beautiful panoramic road in the region.

Dog sledding - a traditional mode of transportation for the natives of the Far North - is a great way to explore the backcountry. For a day or more, you drive your own team through snow-covered forests, like a musher (name given to the dog handler). Appointment made at outfitter Le Pic-Bois, in Saint-Aimé-des-Lacs, at the gates of Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park.

This is the starting point for excursions by musher André Heller (Descent Malbaie). It is hard to believe that this sacred character, with the accent and expressions well here, is from France. And yet it arrived in the 80s and never left again. With his dogs - crosses of several breeds - the relationships are fusional. “His babies,” as he calls them.

As soon as they get out of the vehicle, the rascals stamp their feet: barking, games, territory marking ... André recommends watching your legs, because a raised rear paw quickly arrives! The dogs are harnessed to the sled and their excitement reaches its peak. Not a second to waste, we have to go. Suddenly everything becomes calm.

One behind the other, the sleds led by six dogs move silently through the snow-covered forests. André breaks it from time to time to encourage his team. "Good bitch, Chipie" he launches for example to the little black and white bitch located at the back. An experience just like the rest of the trip, in the Charlevoix region: magical.


Find all the tips, addresses and practical information in the Routard Quebec in bookstores

For pre-departure Direct flights from Paris to Montré By car By train: from the Gare du Palais (Quebec). Four hour journey between river and mountain to La Malbaie.

Where to sleep ? 

Malbaie Youth Hostel É30 $. Double rooms $ 70-100.

La Grande Maison Jean-Baptiste, Baie-Saint-Paul. This former aristocratic mansion houses the oldest $ 150 hotel.

Pourvoirie du Lac Moreau & ndashUrbain. GPS coordinates of the Outfitter: 47 ° 55 '51' 'N 70 ° 40' 27 '' 0. Here it is, the famous cabin in Canada! A small 14 km road (in winter, cleared of snow by Hugues, the courageous guardian!), Leads us to the inn, isolated in the middle of the forest and very close to a lake. The ideal place to recharge your batteries and, in winter, go for snowshoeing or snowmobiling. In the evening, we warm up by the fireplace. We also eat very well! Warm welcome from Noël Tremblay, the owner, and Hugues, the caretaker.

HôSaint-Paul. Bâcour & hellipMarie Hamel. In the heart of nature, the hotel's Nordic spa invites us to experience the transition from hot to cold: Finnish sauna, then outdoor pool at 12 degrees ... Invigorating! Also two hot pools (38 and 40 degrees) and treatments. A wonderful timeless experience. Unusual: the station, where the train that connects Quebec to La Malbaie arrives, is located in the hotel itself! Doubles starting at $ 200. There are also two restaurants: Le Bercail for a snack, Les Labors for a rather gastro feast. But in both cases with good local products.

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu Laurent s & rsquoLa Malbaie. Doubles starting at $ 190.

Where to eat ?

- Restaurant Diapason Anne, Baie-Saint-Paul Saint-Paul with his wife ÈAntoine, Deo Gratias fresh cheese from Maurice Dufour… Attached to his origins, he also offers some specialties from his home, such as sauerkraut and Flammeküeche (but always married regional products!). A delight, from starter to dessert.

- Le Saint-Pub, restaurant of the Microbrasserie Charlevoix St.Paul. In the heart of Baie-Saint-Paul, the microbrewery pub offers simple cuisine, of course made with local products. Their specialty: homemade smoked beef with maple shavings. You can also order a poutine, the typical Quebec dish. Of course, we accompany the whole thing with one of their craft beer: Flacatoune, Vache Folle… there is a choice.

- Boulangerie Pains d & rsquoÉtienne La Malbaie. This artisanal bakery has been delighting La Malbaie for over 15 years. Ideal formula for lunch: homemade soup and "grilled cheese", a hot sandwich with local cheese of your choice (Fleurmier, Migneron, etc.). To be enjoyed seated at one of the large tables. There is also a boutique area well stocked with local products: honey, cretons, cold meats, cheeses, coffee, flour ...

- L'Auberge Bistro Chez Truchon: 1065, rue Richelieu, La Malbaie. . In 2011, Charlevoix chef Dominique Truchon fell in love with a magnificent century-old inn in La Malbaie. Since then, he has done wonders with local products: Agneau de Charlevoix IGP, homemade organic black pudding, foie gras from the Basque farm, crème brûlée with goat's milk from "La Chèvrerie de Charlevoix" ... A delicious gastronomic address in a unique setting, with fireplace.

- The Table et terroir restaurant of l & rsquochevalier des ÉLaurent.

Gastronomic events in Charlevoix:

- The DeSaint-Paul.

- Festival “Saint-Paul, paradise for artists and birthplace of Cirque du Soleil.

Where to dog sled?

ÀBois in Aimédes-Lacs, with Andrédéavril. Price: initiation (2h30 on the track and 4h30 in total): $ 110 + taxes / person

Audio Video Quebec: Charlevoix or the magic of winter
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