In 2018, Canada will host a G8 summit in the Charlevoix region. Take your own trip there to sample the pinnacle of Québecois cuisine
The success of any road trip depends as much – if not more – on the stops along the way as on the final destination. Fortunately, the Charlevoix region, an easy weekend road trip from Quebec City, is made for pit stops.
Hugging the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, the region northeast of the city is a notable destination for its ski hills – Mont-Sainte-Anne being the most famous – and its whale watching further up the river’s coast.
But it’s also winning accolades as a gourmet getaway, with a flavour trail that spans almost 70 kilometres from Petite-Rivière-Saint-François to La Malbaie. Throw in a town that has the highest number of art galleries per capita of any place in Canada and some thermal spa experiences and Charlevoix is an escape for those who want to live the high life (at surprisingly affordable prices).
It’s just shy of a two-hour drive from Quebec City to the small town of La Malbaie, with two ways to get there – along the river via Route 362 or up through the mountains. Either way you pass through the small-but-bustling town of Baie-Saint-Paul, and many of Charlevoix’s points of interest (read: craft breweries, craft cheesemongers, chocolatiers and more) lie between the two small centres.
Twenty food and drink producers and more than a dozen restaurants populate the flavour trail, each with their own specialty and each supporting the other. Here are some of the best that Billy sampled along the trail.
Saint-Urbain: Ducks and Emus
Up a hill in Saint-Urbain, you’ll find the Emu Centre of Charlevoix, another flavour trail member, where skincare products from emu oil are made (and yes, they have emus that you can visit with).
Beyond that, Isabelle Mihura and her husband Jean-Jacques Etcheberrigaray run La Ferme Basque de Charlevoix, the region’s only duck farm for foie gras. Using traditional methods from the Basque region of France, where the couple is from, they breed ducks and use them to produce foie gras rillettes, pâté and mousse, as well as cassoulet, tourtière and other delicacies. (The cretons de canard, seasoned with rare espelette pepper, has a pleasing, lingering spicy tang.) Mihura conducts tastings in a small shop connected to the family’s home, and guests are invited to have a guided tour of the farm, see how the ducks live, and learn about the production process.
Visit any restaurant in the region and the duck featured in its dishes will have originated at Mihura and Etcheberrigaray’s farm. Similarly, Le Ferme Basque incorporates ingredients from other local producers in its goods. Its mousse de foie gras, for example, is scented with La Grande Glace, a mistelle (a sort of fortified wine) from Cidrerie et Vergers Pedneault. That brings us to Île aux Coudres.
Île aux Coudres and Baie-Saint-Paul: Fruit, baked goods and beer
The orchards of Cidrerie et Vergers Pedneault on this island in the middle of the St. Lawrence are open in the fall for fruit picking. Meanwhile the company has storefronts in Baie-Saint-Paul and La Malbaie (in the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu) for tastings of the fruits’ final products, which include traditional ciders, ice ciders and aperitifs, as well as jams, butters and syrups. The selection at Pedneault’s Baie-Saint-Paul shop can be overwhelming, with so many alluring pastel-coloured libations filling shelves. Fortunately, they’re more than happy to accommodate lingering tastings.
The store is found on the town’s main street, Rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste, which is dotted with gift and craft shops, chocolateries and bakeries. It’s also home to the microbrewery Le Saint Pub. Naturally, beer is the specialty here (though it does have two Pedneault ciders on the menu), and the variety includes Belgian-inspired wheat beer, milk stout and pale ale. Pair your beverage of choice with the signature smoked meat sandwich – the meat, of course, is marinated in beer.
One of many, many local cheeses
Another local supplier featured on Le Saint’s menu is the cheese purveyor Le Migneron de Charlevoix. The family-run business, which produces cow- and sheep-milk cheeses, hosts tastings and estate tours, and is expanding this summer under the guidance of Alexandre Dufour, son of cheesemaker Maurice, with a small eatery, an outdoor space for tastings and dining and a vodka and gin operation which employs the surplus whey from cheese production.
There are a few ways in which to balance copious amounts of food and drink consumption. Baie-Saint-Paul’s many art galleries with help with some mental activity. The small but thoughtfully designed Musée d’Art Contemporiain de Baie Saint Paul focuses on abstract art and every summer is a host of the International Symposium of Contemporary Art, inviting artists from Canada and around the world to take up residency in the town and create original works. Tourists and locals are invited to interact with the artists at every stage of the creative process and the end results are shown at the museum. Throughout this year, the museum is hosting a retrospective exhibition on the history and evolution of the symposium.
Other smaller spaces nearby, including Iris Art Gallery and L’Harmattan Gallery, exhibit local, contemporary artists. And elsewhere on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Road there are ateliers belonging to glass artists, sculptors and photographers.
Where to work off all that food
For more physical diversions, there are a few options, such as hiking trails in La Malbaie, not far from the Fairmont hotel, or partaking in water therapy – both the storied Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu and modern Le Germain hotel in Baie-Saint-Paul have thermal waters and indoor and outdoor pools.
Should have still be hungry for delicacies from the previous stops on your trip, restaurants in both hotels feature ingredients from the region’s producers, too.