Charlevoix, Quebec

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on June 12, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: activity, Anne Banas and Christine Sarkis, culinary travel, destination, Massachusetts, Napa, New York, Oregon, Quebec, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, vacation package, Vancouver, Vermont, Washington.

Charlevoix, Quebec

Quebec is famed for its French-inspired gastronomy. But one of the things that separate the province from France is its use of local Canadian products like maple, apples, and smoked seafood. Of its many regions, Charlevoix, located on the St. Lawrence about 60 miles from Quebec City, stands out with a reputation for creative fine dining made with the freshest local ingredients. As the pioneer of Quebec's gourmet tourism concept, Charlevoix remains tied to its rural roots by avoiding commercialization and encouraging agritourism.

Charlevoix has created the Flavor Trail to link chefs, farmers, and consumers who are interested in natural food production. The route clearly identifies its members, producers who open their doors to the public, with unmistakable reddish signs featuring a white chef's hat.

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What to do

Farm visits usually come with an educational component, where visitors learn about farm production or see how food is processed firsthand. Tours, demonstrations, and best of all, samples, are all part of the experience. Many properties have on-site shops that sell specialty food products, and some charge small admission fees.

For cheese making, visitors can watch a free demonstration through viewing windows at Laiterie Charlevoix, which also has a museum, or take a free guided tour of the aging process at La Maison d'affinage Maurice Dufour (in French only).

Livestock farming also has firm stake in Quebec's agriculture. La Ferme Basque de Charlevoix (in French only), for example, is a free-range duck farm that offers guided tours aimed at educating people on the negative effects of caging animals for $4. For something more unusual in the region, Center de l'émeu de Charlevoix raises emu and teaches visitors about the birds' habitat and products like eggs, meat, and oil. Tours cost $5 for adults.

Cider is a locally popular item and is made from various orchard fruits like apples, pears, and cherries, which grow well in the region due to ideal microclimates. Verger Pedneault on Charlevoix's Isle-aux-Coudres, for example, makes products without chemicals or preservatives, with or without alcohol. Its pear version is exceptional and makes for a lightly sweet aperitif. Visitors can wander the orchards or pick their own fruit in season.

At farm shops, culinary souvenirs are available for purchase and are often infused with regional flavors like cedar, maple, and even seafood. Les Finesses de Charlevoix specializes in all-natural homemade jams, vinegars, and other condiments. Le Veau Charlevoix (in French only) carries veal and organic meats, while Le Relais des Saveurs de Charlevoix (in French only) offers fois gras, duck, and smoked salmon.

Where to stay

Quebec's country lodging is extremely affordable and comes in two forms: the B&B and auberge du passant or country inn. Along with comfortable accommodations and breakfast, most establishments prepare dazzling multi-course meals called table d'hôte (which are much cheaper than a-la-carte prices), all served with local ingredients, on the premises.

Auberge Les Sources accommodates guests with rooms and breakfast from $70 CAD (visit xe.com for the latest exchange rates), and serves a separate dinner that features local mushrooms and fresh produce. With economical lodging-and-dining packages from $93 CAD per person, Auberge la Muse is a Victorian inn with a Japanese chef, French-style cuisine, and the sights and tastes of all things Charlevoix. Auberge La Courtepointe has similar offerings to the others with rates from $90 CAD, as well as a private sugar shack where maple syrup is made during the spring.

Gîte l'Eider Matinal (in French only), a classic B&B with rooms from $100 CAD, dishes out homemade breakfasts on a patio overlooking the St. Lawrence. Guestrooms at Auberge des Falaises come with just breakfast ($70 CAD per person) or breakfast and a five-course dinner ($120 CAD). The menu is seasonal and includes innovative regional dishes like grape and honey effluvium, caramelized sweetbread with maple and Porto perfume, and selections from "the smoke-house."

Where to eat

Restaurants, whether part of an inn or independent, are the pride of the region. Country dining elements typically include economical table d'hôte and bring-your-own-wine options, as well as dishes prepared with local and natural products.

Les Saveurs Oubliées, touts itself as Charlevoix's very first table champêtre, or country-style restaurant, and features lamb, fish, and organic vegetables. A table d'hôte costs $43.50 CAD. It also sells distinct specialty products by its own label such as ground cherries and lavender, rose jelly, lamb spaghetti sauce, and onion confit.

Other establishments are more humble in their offerings, but still committed to the region. With most entrees costing around $10 CAD, Al Dente is a tiny restaurant that prepares homemade pastas and Italian plates like veal cannelloni, all with a local bent.

Find more information

The Charlevoix tourism and Fédération des Agricotours du Québec websites offer a wealth of information on regional agritourism.

When to go: As a general rule, producers who make cheese or packaged products are open year-round. Farms, particularly those growing fruits and vegetables, are open June through October. Each producer is different and available items may vary seasonally (e.g., apple picking is only available in September and October).

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