A Culinary Day Trip from Quebec City to Charlevoix
Charlevoix, Canada, a picturesque landscape on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, is destined to become the next "hot" foodie destination. Located east of Quebec City, Charlevoix is in a 350 million year old meteorite crater designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It is one of only three inhabited craters in North America, peopled with more than 1000 artists, great chefs, and some of the finest producers of artisanal foods.
Where else can you board a Food Train for a relaxing ride along the St. Lawrence River shore while personable servers place beautifully prepared dish after dish in front of you? It is difficult to tear your eyes from the view to eat, and equally difficult to look away from your plate back through the huge picture windows of the converted double-decker train car. Add cocktails and you won’t want the ride to end.
But, end it does, right in the middle of a booming new resort known as "The Farm". More accurately, it is Le Massif de Charlevoix’s Hôtel La Ferme, a 500-room hotel catering to all tastes and socio-economic levels.
On rich bottom lands created where the famed salmon fishery, Rivière du Gouffre, flows through the quaint artist’s community of Baie-Saint-Paul, was a well-known picturesque old farm. Also well known there were young buskers who eventually created what would become the internationally esteemed Le Cirque du Soleil.
Co-founder and former co-owner of Le Cirque du Soleil, Daniel Gauthier, is the man behind the Hôtel La Ferme. He purchased the bucolic farm with the vision to build the region he fell in love with as a teenage street performer into a year-round international tourist destination.
It was his inspiration to create a sustainable development with cultural and social sensitivity; one that fit into the landscape as the farm had, and matched the artistic psyche of the community. From a distance, the hotel buildings look more like a farm compound than a big shiny new resort. Up close, the low, environmentally situated buildings create community spaces for gatherings, performances and even a farmers’ market. From within, the pastoral views of crops and livestock on the surrounding fields stretch all the way to the St. Lawrence River. Daniel Gauthier’s wealth, energy and collaborative abilities are behind this impressive achievement.
He also owns a nearby ski resort with its own train station. It is the closest one to Quebec City. During ski season the Food Train stops at the ski resort train station. The gondola ski lift begins right there at the platform! And, in the ’he’s-thought-of-everything’ department, a smaller shuttle train will run from Le Ferme to that train station several times a day. Conceivably, using Daniel Gauthier’s incredibly green transportation system, you could go from your comfortable hotel room to the top of the slopes without ever touching the ground!
Speaking of green transportation, you can walk from Hôtel La Ferme into Baie-Saint-Paul to explore all the artist’s galleries, but pedi-cabs are available at the hotel’s train platform. They are just past the permanent Farmer’s Market. For a nominal fee you can be pedaled in cushioned comfort around the village, sightseeing and relaxing at the same time. But, because of the morning’s excesses on the Food Train, you might want to walk.
The village of Baie-Saint-Paul was made famous by seven artists known as the "Groupe des Sept." Their presence made Charlevoix attractive to the many other artists who followed their move into the region. Bronze busts of the seven grace the pretty streets, packed cheek-to-jowl with artist’s galleries and co-ops. There are some touristy souvenir places, too, as well as a number of eateries, but the town’s raison d’ệtre is evidenced by all the art for sale in the shops.
If you are staying at La Ferme, you have the afternoon to leisurely visit all the boutiques, with the promise of an excellent dinner later at their exceptional restaurant, Les Labours. Between gallery visits, try a flight of beer at Microbrewery le Saint-Pub, listed on the food route through the Charlevoix countryside.
Yes - there is a food route called Flavor Road, with 23 food producers and 16 restaurants as culinary stops. You’ve heard of the 100 mile diet? In Charlevoix you’ll experience the 15 mile diet! At least 60% of the menus are locally sourced from the artisanal producers and growers thriving in this region. Wheat is grown, milled and baked here; cheese of all types is a specialty; all manner of livestock is raised, including emu; foie gras, exotic vegetables, even wines and beer are produced here. Get your palate ready for some fantastic culinary delights.
But, if you are not staying at La Ferme, the Flavor Road is for another day [or two] and you’ll need a rental car. Or, you could get a sampling of all the region has to offer by signing up for one of four official Discovery Tours & Circuits offered every day the train runs. Besides the already mentioned Gourmet opportunities, there are Adventure (hiking), Cultural and History tours available.
Within walking distance from La Ferme, le Saint-Pub is on the food route because it is an artisanal microbrewery with many varieties of beer to sample, including their unique champagne beer. It is the only champagne beer brewed, bottled and aged at one site. They even utilize the same practice of riddling and disgorging to remove the sediment as the finest French Champagnes. So relax, sip your beers and enjoy people watching over snacks from the bar before heading back to the hotel.
There’s a delightful whimsy about everything connected to La Ferme. The rooms come in all shapes and sizes. Harking back to his youthful stays in the area, Daniel Gauthier insisted on some economical accommodations that young hikers and backpackers could afford. The result is the hostel wing over the train station where a younger, presumably more rowdy crowd would not disturb the other guests.
Each hostel room consists of four locked Murphy beds with matching lockers. There’s a flat-screen TV, a sitting area, toilet and shower. It could be strangers or friends sharing a room, with each person paying a fraction of an individual room rate. At the other end of the luxury scale, and further from the train station, are lavishly appointed suites with expensive amenities. La Ferme offers a grand spa built for pampering, and lodging for every budget and taste. What all the rooms have in common is the high quality of the mattresses and a thoughtful attention to design details.
If you are not spending the night, listen for the train whistle. The signal for your late afternoon return to Quebec City on the Food Train should have you salivating like Pavlov’s dog. Chef Patrick Turcot, from the nearby Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, a member of the Fairmont chain of hotels, always prepares a fantastic menu for the Food Train. Rest assured, whatever locally sourced foods he prepares will be perfectly cooked and presented with flair. Your return to Quebec City will be an indulgent and relaxed affair along the scenic St. Lawrence River.
Food Train - The Train of Le Massif de Charlevoix
Flavor Road - Food Route
Le Massif de Charlevoix’s Hôtel La Ferme
50, rue de la Ferme, Baie-Saint-Paul
Pedi-cabs Élizabeth Ossandon
50, rue de la Ferme, Baie-Saint-Paul
Discovery Tours & Circuits
Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu
181, rue Richelieu, La Malbaie
1 418 665-3703
Charlevoix Region Tourism