This is the first post in a series of dispatches from my recent trip to Quebec City and surrounds. I am starting with my two day trip to Charlevoix, specifically Baie St Paul. Enjoy!
Baie St Paul in Charlevoix, on first arrival, strikes me as a retreat. Granted I have arrived on a near perfect day, Baie St Paul is bright under a canopy of sharp blue sky and sunshine with a light breeze. Almost too hot for me, the heat tends to cling, but the breeze lifts it all and it is glorious. A couple of hours north of Quebec City and on the St Lawrence River, Baie St Paul feels coastal, and very relaxed.
The population just shy of 8,000 seems densely populated with artists, if the amount of art shops in town selling local art are any indication. It is easy to see why, the light is very special, and Baie St Paul is beautiful too. Cirque du Soleil originated here in the early 80s, starting as street performers, before moving on to become the international sensation that they are now. This creativity is not limited to artists and performers, Baie St Paul is rich with independent food producers, producing all manner of things, foie gras, cider, wine, some of Quebec’s best cheese and a very delicious tomato wine.
Lunch at Restaurant Le Bercail
I departed Quebec City first thing in the morning, and so I was starving when I arrived. My first stop was at the contemporary Hôtel Le Germain Charlevoix for lunch at Restaurant Le Bercail. Shrimp and mandarin ceviche was refreshing and bright, gorgeous in the summer sun (we sat outside and indulged in it). On the side a glass of local white wine, Le Charlevoyou. Quebec is known more for cider than wine but this one is very good, and I pay them a visit later when I embark on the Flavour Trail (La Route des Saveurs Charlevoix), a trail of 40 Charlevoix producers from Petite-Rivière-Saint-François to La Malbaie. As we start it, driving towards Domaine de la Vallé de Bras on winding country roads outside Baie St Paul with a view of the sea and the lush farmland, it is clear to see how there are so many producers here.
Tasting Tomato Wine – YES, tomato wine! – at Domaine de la Vallé de Bras
At Domaine de la Vallé de Bras, Pascal Miche and his wife Lucie make Omerto tomato wine, a recipe passed down from his grandfather Omer who developed the recipe in his native Belgium when faced with a glut of tomatoes. The recipe is now a family secret and one that Pascal brought with him to Charlevoix when he moved there. Tomato wine? Pascal and Lucie make 4 types, and they are surprisingly excellent, although why should I be surprised? I have had excellent fruit wine in the past, I just never thought of a tomato wine. All of the tomatoes are grown biodynamically on site by Pascal just outside his tasting room.
Cheese and Wine Tasting at Maison d’Affinage Maurice Dufour
Almost every chef I met in Quebec City told me about a new restaurant that would be open soon in Charlevoix. It would be open soon, but not soon enough for my visit, I should come back, they all said with enthusiasm.When I visited family owned wine and cheese producer, Maison d’Affinage Maurice Dufour, I soon discovered that it would be here, and met the chef who at the time was painting the skirting boards. A wood oven was in progress and the whole project sounded very exciting, so I definitely think you should go, and I should too.
On this beautiful rolling farm otherwise, the family make 6 cheses including the award winning Le Migneron. They make red, white and rosé wine here too, including the white that I had at lunch, Le Charlevoyou. We stopped in for a delicious tasting. I have to mention the sheepdog who was declared employee of the month as they supervised the sheep as they were milked. I can see why. Adorable!
La Ferme Basque
Further along we encounter La Ferme Basque, where Isabelle Mihura produces foie gras as they do in the Basque region of France, where she is from. Behind the little farm shop are fields of ducks, mulards for foie gras and muscovy for meat. Everything is done by hand here, including gavage, which Isabelle says is much better to manage this way as you can intuit when each duck as had enough. Isabelle sells their produce in their shop, and also stocks products from the Basque region, including bright orange espelette pepper (which I adore). We had a tasting of several of the products, all made with heart and very flavourful. I would also have the terrific foie gras later at dinner at Chez Bouquet éco-bistro back in Baie St Paul.
Azulée Lavender Farm
Azulée is an organic lavender farm planted on an acreage surrounding a heritage farmstead built in the 1840s and with views over Baie St Paul and the water. The owner and farmer, Louise, tends over a thousand lavender plants in this idyllic setting and produces many lavender products. Louise also has a small vegetable and edible flower garden and a beautiful drying shed which must be magical in peak season when all of the lavender is drying naturally. Louise made us a gorgeous homemade rhubarb and lavender soda. Bright pink and sharp with rhubarb, the lavender played a subtle supporting floral note. So refreshing on that lovely hot day. Gorgeous and very inspiring place.
Le Saint-Pub Microbrewery
Le Saint-Pub Microbrewery is the home of the Dominus Vobiscum and Vache Folle beers. As well as making and selling their beers, they also serve locally sourced food, I had a very nice steak frites (you know there are just some days when only steak and chips will do!) with some beers, a perfect way to round out a day on the Flavour Trail. I ate outside on the patio too, which was perfect in the summer weather.
Boutique de la Cidrerie des Vergers Pedneault
Cidrerie et Vergers Pedneault shop in downtown Baie St Paul is a must for cider lovers. Quebec is famous for cider, in particular ice cider made when the apples freeze naturally in the vineyards (it gets very cold in winter). The water crystallises and all that is left is pure apple nectar. These ciders are very special, and must be tried. Cidrerie et Vergers Pedneault is a local producer, their apples are grown and the cider is made on nearby island Isle-aux-Coudres. They led us through an enthusiastic and passionate tasting of their products. They also stock lots of local produce, making it the perfect place to stock up on food and drink souvenirs to bring home, or for a lovely Charlevoix picnic.
Getting Around Charlevoix
An excellent way to see this and get the sea breeze in your hair is to rent an e-bike from Charlevoix Éco-Mobilité or join one of their tours. I had never been on an electric bicycle before and I was sceptical, but it was so much fun, and allowed us to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. I now want an electric bicycle, that is how much I enjoyed it (and yes, I did say the same when I did my first vineyard segway tour, and yes I still want one).
You can hire e-bikes by the hour or day, or you can go on one of their tours. I did a mini version of the gourmet tour which brought us past three waterfalls, the lavender farm, the cider shop and the coffee house. Owner François Gariépy has so much knowledge and passion for his area and I would highly recommend a tour with him.
You want to go, right? I want to go back too. There is so much more to see, and lots more Charlevoix to explore. A trip to Charlevoix makes an excellent day trip or a short break when visiting Quebec City. The Train de Charlevoix runs from Quebec City to Charlevoix from June to October and takes just over 2 hours. There is a bus route also from the main Quebec bus station, which is how I got there as I visited just before the train season started.
I travelled to Canada with Canadian Affair, Air Transat and Destination Canada as part of the Canada City Plus project. If you are inspired to visit, you can fly to Canada from London Gatwick with Canadian Affair for as little as £346 to Toronto and Montreal, £407 to Vancouver and £434 to Calgary, or book a Montreal and Quebec City city break with Canadian Affair – LINK. For more inspiration, check out Canada – Keep Exploring, and in particular, their Quebec City content which lists Quebec City’s festivals and events, Quebec City itineraries for you to use when you visit, and a very useful walking tour of Quebec’s Old City.