Tourists have been coming to Charlevoix, one hour northeast of Quebec City on the St-Lawrence River, for centuries: the rolling hills, art-inspiring views, terrific hiking, and proximity to some of the best whale watching around make it a great destination for nature lovers. But for those who prefer to travel to eat, Charlevoix is also a natural choice — it produces some of the country’s most delicious cheeses, meats, grains, spirits, honey, ciders, beer, and more. This itinerary brings you to Charlevoix’s two main cities, Baie-Saint-Paul and La Malbaie, with just a quick 40-minute drive through breathtaking sceneries separating the two.
Start with some sweets (or a grilled cheese)
If coffee and pastries are how you like to start your day, head to Baie-Saint-Paul’s Les Bonyeuses, where loaves of bread are made from 100 percent Québécois grains and pastries include pattes d’ours (bear paws) filled with pastry cream and chocolate croissants. For something more substantial, consider perching yourself on the cozy terrasse at Café Aromes et Saveurs and digging into a generous waffle doused in maple syrup or a grilled cheese with ham.
Hang out in town
Locals say that Baie-Saint-Paul’s main street, Saint-Jean Baptiste, has more art galleries per square kilometre than any other city in Canada. The Musée d’art contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul is the only one in the region dedicated to contemporary art, while the Galerie d’art Iris has been showcasing the work of local painters, jewellers, sculptors, and multimedia artists for over thirty years. After taking in all the art, stop at micro-roaster Café Charlevoix for an espresso before exploring the street’s many boutiques, including Charlevoix Pure Laine, which sells socks, hats, and quilts by local sheep breeders and artisans.
Enjoy a midday meal
Wander down Saint-Jean Baptiste to restaurant Le Mouton Noir, overlooking the rivière du Gouffre. Virtually every item on the menu comes from a nearby farm or pasture, making it a great introduction to some of the top artisanal producers in the region. There’s a charcuterie plate made featuring meats from Les Viandes Bio de Charlevoix, cheddar from St-Fidèle, and lamb from the Famille Migneron. If you like what you’re eating, you can plan to visit these producers at a later date.
Spend the afternoon in La Malbaie
After lunch, head to La Malbaie, where the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu and the Casino de Charlevoix are perched on a cliff above the St-Lawrence River. Roam around the grounds of this iconic hotel, initially built in 1899 but rebuilt in château style in 1929 after a massive fire. Then, take the long outdoor stairway from the hotel or hop in the car for a quick drive to Chez Chantal — the perfect spot for an afternoon snack. Order a lobster guédille at the counter, find yourself a table outside or by the station and prepare to be wowed by the buttery, crispy hot dog bun and the huge chunks of lobster in this remarkable roll. (Note: Chez Chantal is a seasonal operation, roughly open from the end of June to early October.)
Marvel at some mushrooms
Ever wonder how mushrooms grow? The team at Champignons Charlevoix in La Malbaie can tell you all about it. Belly up to the big barrel containing a magic mixture of aspen chips and hay, check out the spores and see how oyster mushrooms pop out of the big white pails that fill their production hall. There are fresh mushrooms for sale, along with all manner of sauces, dried mushrooms, pestos, cool mushroom-themed dish towels, and loads of local jams.
Head back to Baie-Saint-Paul for 5 à 7
At award-winning Le Saint Pub Microbrasserie, brewers are busy all year producing a range of IPAs, pilsners, and red pale ales. Seasonal beers like the Sour French Kiss in summer and the Spirit of the Dragon in winter pair just right with the terroir pub food if you’re up for a pre-dinner snack: There are breaded pickles, beer-smoked meat, wild boar burgers, and poutine with Charlevoix cheese curds.
Dig into dinner and drinks at one of these sibling spots
Plan in advance for a special dinner at Faux Bergers, where the evening starts at 6:30 with guests enjoying the view of the surrounding farmland — after that, food is served at the same time, just like at a big family dinner. For a more late-night feel, sister restaurant La Louve-Buvette gentille is an 18-seat wine bar that oozes warmth and kindness, just like the name says. With a longstanding love of ingredients foraged from the surrounding fields, La Louve’s terroir-based small plates spotlight the region’s producers — from locally raised pork to a flan made with tea from the boreal forest. The menu changes daily, as does the carefully selected list of natural wines. Reservations are a must here, too.
Staying an extra day?
With some extra time to spare, Charlevoix offers loads of culinary adventures. Consider visiting the excellent brewery-distillery Menaud, where spirits and beers made from local grains and wild botanicals are packaged in sleek bottles and cans. Or, head to Hydromel Charlevoix to taste honey wine made from beehives set in fields with lavender, sweet clover, and verbena around the region. The village of Clermont, just outside of La Malbaie, is home to Safran Nordique, where you’ll find balsamic vinegars, honeys, jams and even soaps infused with saffron grown on-site. For cheese lovers, a pilgrimage to 75-year-old Laiterie Charlevoix is a must. Come prepared with a cooler and some ice packs so you can stock up on soft and washed rind cheeses, cheddars, cendrés, and curds for the road.