Scenic Drive: Quebec City to Charlevoix
Charming Saint-Irénée, Charlevoix. Photo: Robert Chiasson/Tourism Charlevoix
The drive from Quebec City to Charlevoix is charming, with lovely views of the St. Lawrence River and towering, silver church steeples. It’s quite pretty for the entire route, but it’s at the last minute when things get really interesting. You’re on a ridge and then, suddenly, the road dips and you drop down a fairly steep road, with a beautiful, wide round valley stretching out in front of you and the river glistening on your right. Every time I go, I’m charmed by the view. And by the destination itself.
This area was shaped by a massive asteroid that crashed into the region millions of years ago; creating a truly enormous crater with pretty, wrinkled ridges and a scooped-out valley. Some artists around here — and you can’t swing a paint brush without hitting a few of them — insist the asteroid is the reason the light is so pretty in Charlevoix, which is, in turn, why there are so many galleries lining the streets of the inland town of Baie-Saint-Paul. We’re not sure about that, but it’s a quaint, walkable village that’s lined with unique shops, summer patios and art galleries that display everything from Group of Seven-style scenes of towering pine and birch trees to galvanized metal sculptures and modern silkscreens.
Baie-Saint-Paul is said to have more galleries per square kilometre than any town in Canada. There are a couple dozen spread around the town that has, so far, resisted the temptation to get overly precious.
If you’re interested in spending the night — and you should do so to truly enjoy the area — Le Germain Charlevoix is a remarkable hotel with design elements that reflect the many years when the property was used as a farm, including barn doors, exposed wooden beams and old-time farm photos. There’s a wonderful spa, a fine swimming pool and an on-site restaurant that serves up fantastic, regional cuisine.
A short drive north is Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie, a park that features a deep alpine lake nestled between towering cliffs. The boat drivers who lead tours of the lake like to point out rock formations that look, depending on how much wine you had at lunch, monkeys or famous celebrities. If you want to do the paddling yourself, you can also try a canoe or kayak.
A short drive east of La Malbaie is the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, a stately, castle-like hotel with pristine gardens and broad pathways that provide stunning view of the St. Lawrence River. The G7 summit was held here a few years ago.
The resort’s golf course offers remarkable conditions, a fine layout, and extraordinary views of the St. Lawrence River.
Charlevoix was popular with rich Americans from the northeast back in the day. Among those who made the annual trip north for cooler temperatures was former U.S. President William Howard Taft, who is said to have once remarked that the air in the region was “as intoxicating as champagne, yet without the hangover.”
This is a great part of Quebec for enjoying whale watching, as is Tadoussac just up the road. If you continue a little further east you’ll come to one of Canada’s most beautiful natural settings, Saguenay Fjords.
Just west of Baie-Saint-Paul on the St. Lawrence River is Le Massif, a towering hill that is a top skiing/winter sports area. Club Med plans to open its first Canadian resort here this coming winter.