If there is any validity to the old adage that practice makes perfect, then the Charlevoix Region’s hospitality industry could be regarded among the best in the country. Remarkably, the area’s long standing resort tradition was born at least two full centuries ago followed by decade after decade of growth and refinement. By anybody’s standards, that’s a lot of practice and what evolved was a lot of perfection.

I discovered the Charlevoix’s abundant assets, physical and otherwise, during a recent trip to this 6,000 sq. km region that hugs the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, a 90 minute drive east of Quebec City. Its picture-perfect landscape–frequently rendered by artists and lauded by poets–was largely shaped by a violent act of nature that occurred 350 million years ago when a 7,000-foot-wide meteorite travelling at a speed of six miles a second plunged to the earth creating a crater spanning 56 km. Over time, Mother Nature moulded the effects of this catastrophic collision into a visually dramatic setting defined by a mix of rolling terrain, deep forests, fjords and the plunging slopes of the Laurentian Mountains. The Charlevoix crater is one of the biggest in the world and is host to a rare and outstanding diversity of flora and fauna, conditions that led to its 1988 designation as a UNESCO world biosphere reserve.

The reserve, however, is just one facet of this pastoral region punctuated by charming villages, art and craft centres, plus ample opportunities for golf, skiing, cycling, snowmobiling, hiking, fishing, kayaking and whale watching. Overall, the Charlevoix Region today is a popular all-seasons vacation destination that got its start primarily around the waterfront communities of Pointe-au-Pic and La Malbaie. (Pointe-au-Pic has now merged with the city of La Malbaie). Beginning with a few small inns and guest houses, the region’s popularity grew steadily and by the start of the 20th century it was attracting the upper crust of North American society lured there by its unspoiled beauty, tranquility, clean air, fishing and other outdoor pursuits.

Among the elite visitors of the period was the 27th president of the United States, William Howard Taft, who adored the area and once remarked that the air around La Malbaie’s Murray Bay was “as intoxicating as champagne, yet without the hangover.”

During this early period of genteel romanticism, Taft and other wealthy contemporaries from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa built grand summer homes there and, in effect, turned the La Malbaie area into a vacation colony populated by people who clearly recognized its endearing qualities.
Many of those original homes have since been turned into charming inns and boutique hotels but the grandest and most engaging edifice of all is Le Manoir Richelieu, a property that is now part of the Fairmont chain known for some of the finest grand hotels in the country. Over the years, Le Manoir’s reputation has extended well beyond Canada’s borders attracting famous guests such as Elvis Presley, Angelina Jolie and John Travolta.

This is not a property that started out small and grew although the original Le Manoir, a huge and impressive wooden hotel that opened in 1899, was destroyed by fire in 1928. Remarkably, in less than a year the building was replaced–this time with a concrete structure that replicates an elegant French chateau. Perched on a hill overlooking the St. Lawrence, Le Manoir is widely known as “the castle on the cliff” and its colourful and absorbing history is chronicled in an excellent book titled Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu written by Quebec City author and architectural historian, France Gagnon Pratte.


Although the 405-room world-class resort is 78 years old, it has kept pace with all the modern amenities and services. From guest rooms to common space, this paragon of a property is designed and furnished in the style that prevailed in France during the period when Cardinal Richelieu largely dictated that country’s affairs.

Le Manoir’s amenities include a saltwater indoor pool, an outdoor swimming pool, full service spa and three restaurants with menus that focus on regional cuisine using fresh, local products.

Two of the hotel’s biggest attractions are its 27 hole golf course and an adjacent casino. Just over a year ago, millions of dollars were spent on upgrading the existing 18-hole Le Manoir Richelieu Golf Club plus the addition of nine more holes designed by noted architect, Darrell Huxham. With spectacular panoramic views of the Charlevoix countryside and the St. Lawrence River, this is one of Quebec’s finest courses that has, not surprisingly, garnered a host of award recognitions from some of North America’s top golf journals.

Just steps from the main entrance, the hotel’s onsite gaming establishment (Casino Charlevoix) was built at the same time as the existing Le Manoir, consequently its similar chateau architecture is as pleasing as the main building. It was originally the venue for hotel guests to enjoy dancing and moving picture shows but today its interior houses a full service casino featuring 800 slot machines as well as 20 gaming tables offering everything from blackjack to roulette.
Quite clearly, Le Manoir Richelieu is a vacation destination unto itself but it would be a shame to visit the Charlevoix Region without exploring some of its other attractions which are as diverse as the landscape itself. One recommendation for a fun, off-site evening is a visit to La Maison du Bootlegger, just minutes from the hotel. As its name implies, this traditional Quebecois home was once a bootlegger’s house during the period of prohibition when the Catholic Church forbade the use of alcohol. Currently it’s a restaurant that offers good hearty food, lots of local beer, live music and patrons are encouraged to dance, dress up in crazy hats and wigs and simply let their hair down. There are also guided tours of this once clandestine house that reveal hidden entrances, secret rooms and narrow corridors once designed to deceive the vice squad.

Charlevoix travel information can be found on the web at www.tourisme-charlevoix.com or call 1-800-667-2276. For more information about Le Manoir Richelieu go online at www.fairmont.com or call 1-800-463-2613 or 418-665-3703.

Related Posts