montreal - Le Train Le Massif de Charlevoix
Written by Sacha Jackson
Following the shores of Canada’s historic St-Lawrence River, Le Train Le Massif de Charlevoix transports you to the picturesque town of Baie-Saint-Paul while inviting you to indulge in the gourmet local fare that’s made the region famous.
Canada is known for its natural beauty and there’s no better way to experience it than on an exclusive, 140 km-long train ride along the shores of the St-Lawrence River. Le Train Le Massif de Charlevoix, with its high, arched ceilings, picture windows, and interactive displays, follows the banks of the river between Québec City and La Malbaie, giving you an exceptional view of the Charlevoix region.
Originally built over a century ago, this stretch of rail lay dormant for over 50 years before Daniel Gauthier, co-founder and former president of the Cirque du Soleil, bought the railway in 2009, investing close to US$20 million in its restoration. The railway is one of the latest additions to Gauthier’s tourism and recreation development project in the Baie-Saint-Paul area, which includes the newly inaugurated Hotel Le Ferme and ski station, Montange Le Massif (mountain).
Trains for Baie-Saint-Paul (US$180/per person) and La Malbaie (CA$280/per person) depart from the base of Chutes Montmorency, just outside of Québec City, 11 months of the year (May to October, and December to April). Once on board guests are treated to a gourmet breakfast and tapas, or an elaborate four-course meal on the return journey. Prepared by executive chef Patrick Turcot, the meals are a journey in gastronomy; no matter the season, the menu is made to reflect a variety of local produce and ingredients.
To give you the best views of the region, the train moves at a leisurely pace, offering spectacular views of the river, the historic red-roofed houses on the cliffs, and, in the autumn, the maroons, burnt oranges, and mustards of the surrounding forest’s changing leaves. Pulling into Baie-Saint-Paul at midday, explore the town at your leisure in the afternoon. Known for its gorgeous setting and artistic heart, Baie-Saint-Paul is the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil and its spirit can still be felt. Stroll along rue Jean-Baptiste Paul exploring the town's many galleries and independent shops. Take a piece of Charlevoix home with you in the form of an artwork by one of the many local artists.
Catch the work of emerging Québec artists at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul, featuring the work of some of the country’s best artists. Every August artists from all over the world flock to the town for the Symposium International D’Art Contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul (symposium-baiesaintpaul.com), where they create works that the public is invited to participate in and view.
A number of tours are available throughout the town. Charlevoix Éco-Mobilité (charlevoixecomobilite.com) will take you on a private bike taxi tour of the town and its waterways (US$25/hr) as you sit comfortably in the carriage. For those wanting a bit more speed, there’s also a motorcycle option starting at $75/hr.
Héli Charlevoix (heli-charlevoix.com) is perfect for those wanting a birds-eye view of the region. Their helicopter tours start at CA$115 per person and have a range of different tours and packages available.
If you want to get a real feel for the area, however, you have to get out on the water. Whale watching Zodiac tours of the river depart from Baie-Sainte-Catherine, just north of Baie-Saint-Paul, and are quintessential to a trip to Charlevoix.
In winter, the train makes a stop at the base of Le Massif (massif.com), one of the best ski hills in the country, complete with skill-testing runs and absolutely breathtaking views of the river. After a satisfying day on the slopes, Le Train Le Massif is the perfect place to warm up and relax. Further up the river you’ll find La Malbaie, the vacation destination for wealthy tourists since the late 1800s. Once drawn exclusively for the salmon fishing, people now come to unwind in the area’s raw beauty and the legendary casino.
Once you’re in Charlevoix, it’s hard to want to leave. Hotel Le Ferme gives visitors to Baie-Saint-Paul exactly what they’re looking for. Located next to the train station, this brand-new hotel is part of Gauthier’s grand vision for the area. Called a hotel ‘terroir’, Le Ferme is integrated with the environment. A flock of 50 sheep graze near the grounds, vegetable gardens meet you as you alight the train, and the hotel is heated by geothermal heating.
Though it’s environmentally friendly, it hasn’t given up any of the luxury comforts that guests have come to expect in a hotel. Four buildings offer four different hotel experiences, the most exclusive of which is Le Moulin, which offers seven luxury suites, each with its own private balcony and views of the river.
A number of islands dot the St-Lawrence, including L'Isle-aux-Coudres, a small island just off the coast of Baie-Saint-Paul. Easily reached by ferry, the island was the original landing spot of French explorer Jacques Cartier and a number of historical buildings and sites are found here, including Canada’s only fully functioning flour mill (Le Moulin). Built in 1825, visitors can watch the mill in action and sample the goods it produces at the mill’s very own bakery. At 11 km long and 3 km wide, it’s easy to get around the island by either bike or car. With trails that are as long as 23 km and as short as 3 km, there are routes for both experienced and leisurely cyclists.
Québec is known for its unique culinary history and nowhere is this history stronger than in Charlevoix. Everything from chocolate to cheese is produced in the region and can be easily sampled along the Route des Saveurs (Route of Flavours) located between Baie-Saint-Paul and Le Malbaie. Tours of the region are tailored to the season and your tastes – the perfect way to discover the region’s famous flavours.