Watch out, or you may fall under Québec City's spell—it's the only fortified city in North America! As you explore the winding side streets, on foot or in a horse-drawn carriage, the romance of the city will enrapture you.
Stroll through its oldest neighbourhoods, like Petit Champlain, Place-Royale and the Old Port. Even though this capital city is steeped in history, the year-round activities are truly up to date: world-class winter carnival and summer festival, theatre, exhibitions... and the accommodations and dining are top notch!
(Source: Tourisme Québec)
With the arrival of a Québec City-based luxury train line, the draw of Charlevoix -a mecca for gastronomes, art lovers and ski bums – just got a little stronger.
The drive from Québec City to Le Massif de Charlevoix, one of Canada’s premier ski destinations and home to the highest vertical drop in Eastern Canada, is a pleasant one. The highway has been recently re-paved, it’s usually refreshingly free of traffic (just watch out for the moose that prowl the nearby provincial parks) and the picturesque trip itself takes just over an hour. But thanks to a radical $230-million re-development of the area, initiated and largely bankrolled by Daniel Gauthier, a co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, you no longer have to drive at all. In the autumn of 2011, a luxurious new tourist train line opened, connecting the capital to the heart of Charlevoix, a 6,000-square-kilometre region renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty, remarkable field-to-table cuisine, bustling art scene and outdoor adventures. The train runs along some of the most majestic coastline that the St. Lawrence offers, 140 kilometres of glorious riverside scenery that ends at the historic Fairmont le Manoir Richelieu hotel in the harbour town of La Malbaie. En route, passengers can enjoy a five-course gourmet meal, whose menu was devised by the Manoir’s acclaimed chefs, and onboard entertainment and education – iPads are loaded with multimedia presentations on the region’s history, culture and geography – or they can just sit back and take in the extraordinary views through the train’s panoramic windows.
About halfway along this route, nestled in the valley next to Le Massif, sits the charming town of Baie-Saint-Paul. Cirque du Soleil was born here in 1984, and Gauthier still owns a home in Capaux-Corbeaux, a formidable hill that overlooks the town. Ski resorts, like golf courses, are not known for their ecological foresight, but environmental sustainability is paramount for Gauthier, and he has diligently consulted with locals during the development process. (In the words of one resident: “This is not going to be Disneyland.”) Its first phase at Le Massif included a state-of-the-art gondola, a beginners’ hill and four new trails; and next spring, a new boutique hotel, spa and train station complex will open at the mouth of Baie-Saint-Paul. This archipelago of buildings, called La Ferme, occupies the former site of Canada’s oldest farmhouse, which tragically burned down in the late ’90s. A new shuttle train will also transport skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers from Baie-Saint-Paul to the mountain several times a day.
But Baie-Saint-Paul, one of Québec’s oldest communities, is much more than a ski town, and its numerous attractions are not restricted to a single season. The town offers a singular commingling of gastronomic pleasure, culture and sport. Its enchanting, narrow streets, lined with mansardroofed heritage buildings, are so densely packed with restaurants, food shops and art galleries, you’d be forgiven for never unpacking your ski poles.
Start your day early with a hearty breakfast and strong coffee at the elegant Chez Bouquet Éco-Bistro, located in a converted general store on one of the town’s main drags, rue Saint-Jean- Baptiste. Grab a seat near the large glass-enclosed fireplace and enjoy a wide range of local delicacies, including the famed Le Migneron cheese, a semihard cow’s milk variety similar to Oka. It’s one of six prize-winning cheeses produced by a fromagerie on the eastern outskirts of Baie-Saint-Paul, La Maison d’Affinage Maurice Dufour.
For a closer look at how the cheese is made, you can visit the dairy at La Maison d’Affinage Maurice Dufour and indulge in any of the cheeses in the small café or take away a picnic box lunch, complete with bread, dried fruit, a bottle of wine and, naturellement, cheese. Tours of the production facilities, the barns and the pasture – where you’ll meet the 500-odd ewes in shepherd Tommy Lavoie’s flock – are conducted during the warmer months.
Maison Maurice Dufour is just one of the many stops along the circuitous Route des Saveurs (Flavour Trail) that fans out from Baie-Saint-Paul all the way to La Malbaie. Formed a decade ago, the route connects about 40 different food producers, retailers and restaurants; keep your eyes peeled for the signs emblazoned with a chef’s toque, which designate participating establishments. These include bakeries like Boulangerie la Rémy, which adjoins a beautifully restored 19th-century gristmill. Every morning the bakery turns out fresh baguettes, croissants and the boule-shaped Météorite la Rémy, in honour of the meteorite whose collision with the Earth created the mountainous Charlevoix countryside 357 million years ago. Back toward the St. Lawrence, in the charming, hilly village of Les Éboulements – home to some 200 painters and sculptors – pick up some dessert at the tiny La Chocolaterie du Village. Here, the husband-and-wife team of Line St-Pierre and Yves Huppé hand-make more than 80 varieties of Belgian chocolate, using cocoa beans from 21 different countries. (As if he doesn’t have enough to do, Huppé also runs the neighbouring blacksmith shop, as well as sister chocolateries in Baie-Saint-Paul, Québec City and Montréal.)
After a few hours sampling of the wares along this trail, you won’t need to eat for quite a while. Return to Baie-Saint-Paul and work up your appetite again with some gallery-hopping. The town’s distinctive, ethereal light has long beguiled poets and painters – the members of the Group of Seven were frequent visitors – and there is no greater concentration of art galleries per square kilometre anywhere in Canada. Baie-Saint-Paul’s something-for-everyone spirit also permeates the galleries, which overflow with a jumble of styles – abstract, figurative, folk – and works by Québécois, Canadian and European artists both renowned and emerging. While the 20-year-old Galerie d’art Iris is one of the largest and most popular, other must-sees include Galerie Art & Style – its front walk guarded by a solemn bust of Group of Seven founder A. Y. Jackson – and La Maison de René Richard. The legendary Swissborn painter spent the last 40 years of his life in this century-old house (its furnishings and objets are kept in their original state), now a museum and gallery devoted to Richard’s work and that of his contemporaries.
Thoughtful architecture is a hallmark of Baie-Saint-Paul, and even the sleek glass, brick and steel Musée d’art contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul – home to exhibitions featuring such diverse artists as Yousuf Karsh, Shary Boyle and Guy Paquet – blends in seamlessly with the surrounding heritage buildings.
Experience the physical beauty that dazzled the town’s artistically inclined denizens by walking beyond the galleries and toward the water behind the massive Franciscan convent. Here, you’ll find the Nun’s Alley, a kilometre-long promenade lined with maple trees. A wonderful place for a stroll most days of the year, it’ll take you to other trails and wooded areas perfect for birding, as well as a splendid beach, and it leads to spots where you can go sea kayaking, canoeing and sailing. Of particular eccentric charm is an abandoned shipping liner, hauled into the bay a couple of years ago by an ambitious Baie-Saint-Paul resident intent on transforming the rusting vessel into a seaside café. So far, it remains only a nest for curious waterbirds.
Both downtown and throughout Cap-aux-Corbeaux, Baie-Saint-Paul offers an array of accommodations, from cozy B&Bs to luxurious inns (and, eventually, Gauthier promises, special “tree houses” closer to the ski hill). A favourite is L’Estampilles Auberge, Spa et Restaurant, owned by a gregarious young French-Scottish couple who emigrated to Canada a couple years ago. It’s easily recognizable by its vivid peach exterior, but the 11 spacious rooms inside – each named for a well known furniture maker – are relatively subdued. The eclectic, carefully curated furnishings are aesthetically pitched somewhere between French country and Laurentian farmhouse (though the deep Jacuzzi bathtubs suggest Montréal penthouse condo). The spa facilities and services – sauna, large outdoor hot tub and in-room massage – are modest but effective, especially after a long day of slaloming or backpacking.
With so much to do during the day, it’s not surprising that Baie-Saint-Paul quiets down in the evening. Well, not that quiet: Mouton Noir, which overlooks the babbling Rivière du Gouffre, is the heart of the town’s culinary scene and popular with locals and tourists alike. In the 1970s, Mouton Noir was a café and popular hippie hangout. Today, it’s a high-end but unpretentious restaurant owned by Thierry Ferré, a chef and self-described bon vivant from Brittany. “I came because of the friendliness of the Québécois,” he says, dressed, like all of his staff, entirely in black. Ferré’s food draws consistently on regional products; the portions are enormous and the dishes daring. His signature pork casserole, served in a ceramic hot pot, is a unique blend of organic pork shoulder, root vegetables, maple syrup and coriander. The recipe can be found in the book Cooking with Québec Maple Syrup and persuasively concludes with this entreatment: “Enjoy the dish with good company!”
Good company is exactly what you’ll find back in the centre of town at Le Saint-Pub de la Microbrasserie Charlevoix. This homey microbrewery and restaurant opened in 1998 and has since been producing, on the premises and at a new, multimillion-dollar facility just outside town, a vast selection of ambrosial beers, most of which are only available in Québec. Order a tasting flight to sample five different brews, including the Dominus Vobiscum Blanche, a delightful chamomile-spiced wit beer that won gold at the 2010 Canadian Brewing Awards. Caroline Bandulet, who co-owns the microbrewery with her husband, Frederick, is originally from Montréal, but she, like most Charlevoisiens, is proud of her adopted home. Speaking of her various travels – to other bars, competitions and liquor agencies – she says, with sunny conviction, “I don’t promote the restaurant, I promote the region.” After just a couple of days in Baie-Saint-Paul, you’ll be happily spouting similar sentiment.
Once a symbol of urban blight, the waterfront quarter of St. Roch has been reclaimed as a cultural hot spot in the heart of Québec City.
The story of St. Roch, an emerging neigbourhood about a kilometre west of Québec City’s Old Port, is a kind of parable for the modern city. Settled around 1620 by Récollets – Franciscan
missionaries from France – St. Roch had its first flourishing in the late 19th century, thanks to a robust shipbuilding industry. By the turn of the 20th century, the compact waterfront
community had become the city’s commercial centre. Then, in the 1960s, shopping malls arrived, drawing people out of St. Roch and into the suburbs.
Local businesses, along with the municipal government, suggested a creative antidote to this urban flight: in 1970, they barred cars from the neighbourhood’s main drag, St. Joseph Street, and began construction on a half-kilometre-long roof overhead. The outdoor mall concept, it turned out, worked best on paper: the sheltered promenade soon became a gathering place for drug dealers and prostitutes. Businesses faltered and the neighbourhood fell into disrepair. In 1989, Mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier took office. In short order, he established the award winning St. Roch Garden, restoring the neighbourhood’s soul, and setting in motion a process that included the revitalization of countless historic buildings and, ultimately, the removal of the dreaded roof. Meanwhile, the neighbourhood’s stunning century-old architecture began attracting an influx of cultural organizations, schools and businesses.
The commercial heart of the district still beats most loudly on St. Joseph Street, where business regulations dictate that any new store must offer shoppers something they can find nowhere else in town. The result is an emerging strip of interesting boutiques, many of which are run by local residents who are passionate about their businesses and their neighbourhood.
Perched on a hill, it’s quaint and quiet and every cobblestone street is full of romance. The skyline of gothic spires, whimsical turrets and domed bastions seems to belong to another century.
Québec City looks just like it should be in a snow globe. Perched
on a hill, it’s quaint and quiet and every cobblestone street is
full of romance. The skyline of gothic spires, whimsical turrets
and domed bastions seems to belong to another century.
And indeed it does. In the early 17th century, Québec City was founded as a fortified trading post where furs procured from the First Nations were sent back to France. Trading flourished and persisted, and for the first half of the 19th century, Québec was the most important port in North America. Unfortunately, the advent of steel, dredging and steamships were its downfall.
By 1860, traffic dwindled and the port fell into squalor. Until 20 years ago, the Vieux-Port – now home to the city’s top galleries, boutiques, hotels and restaurants – used to be known simply as ‘the docks’. It was a run-down slum where bars and bawdy houses would erupt into drunken brawls. “Until the late 1980s, this place was spooky,” explains Jean-Francois Renaud, owner of a chic fashion boutique on rue Champlain. “You wouldn’t walk on the streets after 6pm. Now this place isn’t something to be avoided – it’s alive. This is a real neighborhood now,” he says. It’s also an architectural goldmine. Glancing up, you notice slanted copper roofs dripping verdigris down magnificent greystone facades. Walking along the quay, you catch glimpses of abandoned imperial banks with imposing columns. Entering one of the many art galleries dotting the landscape, you aren’t surprised to learn that the arched vault in the basement was constructed in 1647 as a storage space for beaver pelts. The entire district is like a magical time machine to the 17th century – with innovative restaurants, cafés serving perfect espressos and independent boutiques stocking high-end designers.
Not a hitherto-unknown stop-off on the
Gulag Archipelago, this is, rather, a Scandinavian-style facility set among wooded trails, offering outdoor hot pools and cold-water immersion, along with hot tubs, Finnish and infrared saunas, steam baths, thermal falls and relaxation areas for detox and de-stress.
A complementary massage program –
California, Swedish, Amma, Sports, Momentum – ensures that brows become un-furrowed, tensions are soothed away and toxins get a one-way ticket to the permafrost.
339 boulevard du Lac, (418) 841-1325
It has all the features we’ve come to expect from hip boutique hotels: it’s set in a renovated building in an on-the-cusp district (St. Roch); it does the whole cheek-by-jowl historic features-modern-design thing with aplomb; and the service is super attentive. 295 rue Saint-Vallier Est, (418) 523-5000
Microbrews, wines, and the artists’ work adorning the walls are all unimpeachably local, and the outstanding French-Canadian fare is give away-priced, with or without the podded legumes.
203 rue Saint-Joseph Est, (418) 640-0597
The second busiest passenger airport in the province, Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport (YQB) is 11 km/7 miles southwest of the city.
Location of Porter check-in desk: departures.
Taxi CAN $32.50 to downtown. Car service approximately CAN $65.
Bus route 78 costs CAN $2.45 to downtown.
Hertz is conveniently located on the main floor of the administrative building.
The information and ﬁgures above are for reference only, and may not be current. Please visit each airport's website for up-to-date details.