20 September 2018 by Rachel Mostyn
A true nature lover's paradise, Quebec is all snow-capped mountains, national parks, quaint towns and the two, very different, cities of Montreal and Quebec City. In my week of travels to destinations both well-known and lesser-explored, I discovered a diverse region of palpable French history, rustic lodges and a stunning natural world.
We flew out to Montreal on BA in Club World and, on arrival, transferred to Le Chateau in Joliette. From the outside, it looks like a standard hotel but inside was a pleasant surprise – I was greeted with a lovely, contemporary-style hotel with a cosy bar and restaurant – the latter serving an excellent range of high-quality food. Although this was hotel was lovely, I’d probably advise skipping Joliette to reach the next destination – which is stunning – faster. The next morning, I enjoyed an excursion at Kinadapt and tried cani-karting – essentially, it’s dog sledding without the snow and is lots of fun, to be enjoyed year-round. There’re also a number of other activities you can enjoy with the huskies but naturally, the most spectacular will be during winter when traditional husky sledding is the order of the day.
That afternoon we continued to Sacacomie Lodge, which was more basic and rustic than I had expected but I really loved it – particularly the spectacular location that offered fabulous views over the lake and forest. The rooms are all balcony-adorned but many weren’t that private, rather being open by the neighbour’s balcony. If possible, I’d recommend an upgrade to the stunning lake-view rooms. The bathrooms, while quite basic, just added to the lovely cabin feel of the lodge. I liked the addition of the TV and games room – while outside is just too gorgeous to stay inside, it’s a nice addition to relax in evenings. The spa was another superb addition, with outdoor pools that lead to steps that reach charming beach on the lake – here, canoes and kayaks are constantly available for complimentary use to head out on the lake at leisure.
Spa at Sacacomie Lodge
Whilst there we did the beaver and bear viewing tour where you watch from a viewing hut – they’re enticed with treats meaning viewing is pretty much guaranteed. I’d definitely advise to book in advance as it’s a popular activity! After an early start the next day, we enjoyed a quick kayak on the lake before heading on to Le Baluchon Ecoresort. I loved this property – it’s less than an hour from Sacacomie, but totally different. It’s perched among charming countryside with stunning wood-wall rooms and three fabulous restaurants. This was very much a place to relax and connect with nature and I loved how spread out the hotel was – like a little village with different lodges. They don’t allow cars around the property meaning all transport is via foot or horse and carriage – a charming addition and a reminder that it is very much an eco-resort. Whilst there, we were taken on a foraging trip by a very knowledgeable young guide – it was amazing to learn how many plants and flowers you can eat or use for medicinal purposes.
Bear watching, Sacacomie Lodge
We then drove to Dany’s Sugar Shack for lunch. While touristy, a sugar shack is a must-do experience in Quebec – serving ever-so-healthy meals of pies, ham, pancakes etc – all covered in maple syrup. I loved the music and dancing – it’s definitely a place for families and groups for a fun, relaxing evening. From here we continued to Charlevoix, my favourite region of Quebec – made all the more spectacular with an ultra-scenic helicopter ride with Heli-Charlevoix, a great way to get a feel for the beautiful landscapes.
Finally, we headed on to La Malbaie for one night at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu. This stunning property is right by the river, and rooms are sprawling with lovely, modern bathrooms – many with whirlpool tubs. I would definitely recommend two or three nights here as it’s a fantastic base to explore this region – there’s a walking trail right from the hotel which takes you through a cosy forest track and along the river. It’s the perfect prelude to relaxing in the hotel’s spa, outdoor and indoor pool before indulging at one of the restaurants – I particularly liked the one on the terrace with gorgeous river views.
In the evening after a lovely dinner at the Table and Terroir restaurant, we had a short excursion to Astorbleme de Charlevoix to learn about Charlevoix’s meteoritic origin. The Observatoire de l'Astroblème de Charlevoix is the only interpretation centre dedicated to the famous meteoritic origin of the region and the sky here is so clear it makes the perfect spot for stargazing. The next morning, after an indulgent breakfast, we embarked on a whale watching trip from Baie-Sainte-Catherine in zodiacs – it’s also possible to do this trip from Tadoussac which is further north where you’ll simply take a car ferry across the fjord before boarding the zodiacs. We were out for over two hours and were so lucky to see many whales – a wonderful scene as they breached among the stunning national park of Saguenay Fjord.
Next, we drove to Parc national des Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie, named after a series of valleys cut deep into a range of high mountains and among the highest rock faces in the world east of the Rockies! I loved it here and could easily have spent a few days in the park as it’s a fabulous place for trekking and there are myriad accommodation options, from cosy log cabins to more basic campsites. Our second night in La Malbaie was at Le Petit-Manoir du Casino. Whilst more of a functional hotel, it was clean and contemporary with balconies that afforded lovely views of the St Lawrence River – if only slightly marred by the car park in front! We finished the day with a delicious dinner at Auberge des Falaises – a beautiful property and one I’d recommend if you’re looking for a smaller hotel than the Fairmont. It’s set in a truly quiet and secluded area, and the restaurant’s excellent food and wine made it a fantastic place to enjoy a romantic, sophisticated dinner.
View from Auberge des Falaise
The next morning we took the Train de Charlevoix to Sint-Joseph-de-la-Rive. The train criss-crosses the St-Lawrence’s shore, revealing otherwise inaccessible roads, and stops in seven towns and coastal villages from Québec City to La Malbaie. It’s an ultra-scenic journey and ideal for those who’d rather not hire a car but want to get out of the city for a few days. We made a short visit to the Musée Maritime de Charlevoix to learn about Charlevoix’s rich maritime history and the St. Lawrence schooners before continuing to the gorgeous little arty town of Baie-Saint-Paul, with the central Rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste full of quaint boutiques, shops and countless art galleries.
The main hotel in town is the Hotel Le Germain, a charming contemporary hotel with a slightly urban feel, mixing ultra-modernity with lovely countryside views. There’s a lovely outside pool with views of the countryside and a field of alpacas, with tastefully-decorated rooms and a bath tub inside the bedroom! I found it a little strange but you'd have to stay here to get a proper feel for the place – but if you’re on the search for something more traditional, there are also several lovely quaint B&Bs.
We then continued to Quebec City and stayed at the Delta, just a short walk from the old town – not the most characterful of hotels but it was comfortable, convenient and in an excellent location. In the evening we visited Wendake which is just outside of Quebec City and learnt about the First Nations Huron-Wendat community and their fascinating history, culture and legendary hospitality. There’s an onsite museum and a Maison Longue (longhouse) of the Huron-Wendake people where you can enjoy a guided tour and even spend the night guarded by the firekeeper! If you’re interested in experiencing First Nations culture I’d definitely advise a stay here where activities include sitting by a log fire outside and listening to myths and legends by a First Nations guide.
The next morning we enjoyed a Quebec City tour which included a trip to Old Quebec and its surrounding parks, as well as a visit up the Observatory Tower which afforded excellent great views. Old Quebec was really charming but much smaller than I expected and very touristy during the day but not as busy during the night – I can imagine it being more appealing and atmospheric as a winter destination.
Lunch was at the Hilton which, whilst not overly atmospheric, is comfortable, convenient and offers great views over the whole city. Then we visited the Montmorency Falls Park, a great excursion just a short drive from the city and fantastic for zip lining – I’d recommend taking the cable car (or steep walk!) to the top of the falls and the historic Manoir Montmorency; it’s a place to escape the city for a few hours.
View from Delta Hotel Quebec
From here, a short drive across the bridge takes you to Ile d’Orleans, where we visited Cassis Monna & Fils and sampled their delicious blackcurrant products, included some very tasty wine! It’s also in a beautiful spot, so is definitely worth a visit if you’re staying in Quebec City. For our final night we enjoyed dinner at Auberge St-Antoine, a beautiful Relais and Chateaux property in the old town. The lovely historic building plays host to charming rooms, many of which have small balconies or terraces, and there was also a gym, spa and a TV room (which is actually a small cinema!). The main restaurant, Chez Muffy, is a great place for dinner even if not staying at the hotel – cosy, relaxing, and plenty of atmosphere, offering such delights as Quebec lobster, bison striploin and sautéed sea scallop.
Wineries at Ile d’Orleans
We finished the trip with a food tour around the trendy Saint-Roch region – these tours are offered all around the city and are a fantastic way to discover a different side of the city as well as sampling the local specialities, especially the famous poutine! We had a final few hours to wonder around Old Quebec and take the funicular from the Upper to the quaint Lower Old Town which leads to the river, great for a ferry ride across the river for fantastic views.
Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City