While living in Montreal, we took a weekend road trip to the Charelevoix region of Québec, a 1 to 2 hour drive north of Québec City. And where did we end up? In the middle of a farm field!! Hotel and Spa Le Germain is part of Le Massif de Charlevoix, a"recreotourism" project including a ski/outdoor activities mountain, a privately run train from Québec City, and numerous local partners. Built on the former site of the largest wood structure farm complex in Canada, the hotel remains true to its roots with art, design touches, building names and gardens (which supply the three on-site restaurants) connecting visitors to the history and location. Speaking of location, the hotel is set in the middle of large productive farm fields, and a stone’s throw from both the town of Baie-St-Paul and the bay itself. One could not find a more idyllic spot.
Hotel La Ferme is contemporary, but not stark. You can’t help but notice the subtle design aspects that link the spaces and invite you to explore. The complex itself is architecturally stunning – spread out over a large space with five distinct buildings housing meeting spaces, restaurants, a bar/library, rooms and suites, a gym and spa. The spa includes a very large outdoor Jacuzzi pool and hot tubs set among the surrounding farm fields (yes, we watched a farmer working the fields in the distance while relaxing by the pool). Although we visited in summer, one can imagine soaking in the hot water after a day of skiing.
Baie St Paul has long been noted as a haven for creative types – in fact, Cirque du Soleil has
its roots here (and one of the founders owns Hotel La Ferme). There is public art everywhere and the main street has at least 10 notable galleries. The town boasts several good restaurants – but we very much enjoyed our meal (and craft beers) at Le Saint Pub, 2 Rue Racine, Baie St Paul, tel (418) 240-2332, which also serves beers from the Microbrasserie (microbrewery) Charlevoix – we bought a set of microbrewery beer glasses from our waitress as souvenirs. The restaurant at the hotel Les Labours is an open format and the food is locally sourced and seasonal – menu is impressive as is the wine list.
Further afield in Charlevoix, it’s the landscape that captures your attention. The mountains, remnants of an ancient chain not unlike the more rounded Appalachians, run along the south shore of the St Lawrence until they end in the Gaspé Region of Quebec. Note: see later blog post “Glorious Gaspé (gas-pay).” The topography of the region comes from a meteorite impact that occurred 350 million years ago creating the Charlevoix crater. The impact created the forty-mile-wide crater that is the heart of Québec’s Charlevoix region, ranging from just west of Baie-Saint-Paul to just east of La Malbaie. So, the views are stunning, especially along the St Lawrence, and The River Drive from Baie St Paul to La Malbaie is highly recommended – but the more inland route 138 provides ample ooohs and ahhs.
North of La Malbaie (about 45 minutes from Baie St Paul), you quickly enter the Saguenay Fjord Whale Watching territory – at least in the summer months. The advertisements for everything related to whales is a bit too much in our opinion but it clearly brings in the cash for local outfits. Tracking whales on a relatively small boat with other tourists isn’t really our scene, so we continued all the way to Bay St. Catherine – where you can actually get a free 10 minute boat experience on the ferry across the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord to Tadoussac. No whales in site during our crossing, but the views of the fjord are wonderful and Tadoussac itself makes for a very nice quick stop. If you do want to experience the southernmost fjord in the world, we highly recommend that you take one of the many cruises on offer during season. We managed to drive around the fjord – and we can say it is not worth the effort because you rarely get views of the fjord itself.
In sum, the Charlevoix region has something for nearly every travel taste and is accessible year-round. We highly recommend spending at least two to three days taking full advantage of the experience.
Rainbow rating (of 5): 🌈🌈🌈🌈🌈 - LGBT travelers will feel comfortable, safe, and well-fed in Québec.