Charlevoix and La Malbaie
On the drive up from Montréal to Charlevoix, I transported myself into a Canadian Heritage Minute. Although there were still traces of snow in the trees (seriously, the weather this summer), I could vividly imagine the vacationers in the 1700’s who flocked to the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River to take in the fresh air and spectacular scenery.
Of the many municipalities in the Charlevoix Region, La Malbaie’s history is particularly interesting. For the British and Americans, Murray Bay (as it then was, named after British General James Murray) was one of the first resort areas in Canada, and the summer colony of former U.S. President William Taft. Ironically, the name “Malbaie” (Malle Baye is Old French for “bad bay”) was coined in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain when he tried to anchor in the area’s shallow sandy shores during low tide. Little did he know. A few centuries later, the Québecois have made the resort destination their own…and have given its original name back.
For a little more context, Charlevoix is about a 4-hour drive north-east from Montréal, and a 2-hour drive from Québec City. With its beautiful hiking trails and ski resorts, it’s a tried-and-true getaway destination (check out the offerings of Le Massif) for those living in these two cities as The Blue Mountains is for those living in the Greater Toronto Area. But unlike the Blue Mountains, this Region’s unique terroir and agriculture (as demonstrated in the work of businesses like Famille Migneron or Menaud) has also earned many of its products the coveted label of IGP (indication géographique protégé).
Overview of the Auberge des Falaises
On my first visit to the Region, I came as a guest of the Cloutier family, the founders and proprietors of Auberge des Falaises, on the heels of this “country hotel’s” 35th anniversary and a recent renovation.
It was nightfall when we arrived. I had a quick cocktail with a few members of the Québecois travel media before politely retreating to the comfort of my private suite. I dozed off to the sound of crisp, sweet silence.
The next morning, I faced the beauty of our destination. Wrapping myself in a white robe with Nespresso beverage in hand, I pulled open the blinds to reveal the grand view of the St. Lawrence from my balcony. All bodies of water, be they lakes, oceans or rivers, are wonderful places for retreat. However, a river is particularly energizing because it is calm, yet actively flowing. I could’ve sat there for hours.
Le Perché Gourmand
Each morning at the Auberge des Falaises starts at Le Perché Gourmand, their in-house restaurant. You have a choice from a variety of “American Breakfast” options such as Eggs Benedict, bagels broiled with cheese and bacon, and maple cream crepes (highly recommend these if you can handle a little extra sweetness). In addition to your main dish, each guest has full access to the continental breakfast bar, which includes various fruits, cereals, pastries, smoothies and juices. It’s a great way to start the day.
However, the real gastronomic experience is served at dinner. I will admit that, as a city hopper and sucker for diversity, I was a little anxious to learn that we would be enjoying all of our meals in the same location. Then I remembered that this was literally the whole point of the experience they had organized for us. The food also happens to be incredible (blue drink below excluded).
Head Chef Alain Morel and Sous Chef Than Lee orchestrated an amazing 35th anniversary celebration meal for our last evening at the Auberge. Chef Alain spoke about the strong Charlevoix network of farmers, gardeners, fishers, bakers, brewers, chefs and restaurant owners. These partnerships translate to the frequent celebration of local ingredients in their dishes, and the proliferation of regional specialities.
The poetic menu included many dish descriptions that I had never seen before (and not just because it was all in French). Imagine foie gras torchon on toast, trout gravlax with a Swiss chard coulis, and a Baluchon d’emeu de St-Urbain (an upscale emu phyllo spring roll) with a glace de viande montée au beurre (a brown meat-based butter reduction) and a choice of a Thai broth or a Strawberry gazpacho with a cedar infused sorbet. Pretty fun, right?
Unfortunately, I was only able to enjoy the meal up to this point as I had a major first world problem to attend to: the dinner was running late, and a massage had already been booked under my name for that evening.
In a grand and unexpected gesture, the Auberge arranged for the remainder of my meal (including a trio of desserts!) to be delivered to my suite after my treatment. I was pleased to have earlier ordered the Auberge des Falaises’ signature dish, the Goujonnettes d’Omble de Fontaine de M. Benoit, comprised of delicate pieces of Arctic char, julienned vegetables, black rice, and a sauce made from Isle-aux-Coudres apples. Through the combination of the service, the hunger and joy after a massage, the roaring fireplace, and just being extremely comfortable in my robes — this was one of the most relaxing meals I have ever enjoyed.
The Nordic Spa
If you know me well, you will know that “Nordic” and “Spa” are two words that each elicit a joyous reaction. The two combined? Just try to stop me.
I go to spas quite frequently, but have been disappointed too many times with spas like Scandinave in the recent past. Don’t get me wrong. The Scandinave is fantastic, but trying to get a reservation there is like fighting to win the Hunger Games. At the Auberge des Falaises, you get an entire Nordic Spa (almost) all to yourself. Access to the facilities is free of charge for all guests, all day between 8:00 AM and 11:00 PM. Seriously, I can’t even explain just how incredible it is to find a place like this.
The Nordic Spa includes a Finnish sauna, two Scandinavian-style hot pools, a cool pool (hot in the winter) with waterfall, a cold dunking pool, a heated rest area, an outdoor fireplace, and large heated swimming pool. There are also two massage “huts” up here (the one not pictured is even better) that allow you to get your treatment in in a fairly private area, yet be completely surrounded by trees. Whether you’re visiting with your significant other or with family, it’s just the perfect way to truly leave all your stresses behind.
Getting around: You will need a car for this journey. If you are visiting Québec (the province) for the first time, I would suggest starting your trip in Montréal, followed by a 2-day trip in Québec City, a 2-day trip to Charlevoix (and yes, you would be wise to spend both nights at the Auberge des Falaises) and a final day or two in Montréal before you move onto your next destination or return home.
Pricing: The Auberge des Falaises organizes their stays into different experience packages. From the straightforward “Bed and Breakfast” option of $74.50 per person a night, to packages such as the “Panoramic Railway Escapade” for $289 per person over two days (which includes meals and a return train ride), you will find something you like among the options.
You should stay here if: You are looking for a relaxing retreat with a beautiful view of the St. Lawrence River. You love the idea of enjoying a private Nordic Spa (without the fight of getting on a wait list!) and not having to stray too far to enjoy your breakfast and dinner.
You should not stay here if: You need to be in the heart of a tourist area and close to every attraction, or if you are looking for a “glossy” experience. For the latter (but still in the area), you may want to take advantage of the large-and-in-charge offerings of the Fairmont Le Manor Richelieu (the site of the 2018 G7 Summit) which is located across from the Casino Charlevoix, or find a hotel near Le Massif if you will be skiing.
Address: 250, chemin des Falaises, La Malbaie, QC G5A 2V2 Canada
Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Cloutier family on a press trip organized by the PR firm, Brouillard Communications. I was not monetarily compensated for this post and all views are my own. Also, the entire experience was presented in French, including all the materials. Where a translation was required, I sourced from the website, or provided one of my own if appropriate.