Quebec calling

By Amanda Woods

I’m quietly terrified but doing my best to hide it as I’m strapped into a double zipline alongside another solo traveller. And in three, two, one we’re off.

My brain goes into overload as it takes in the fact that I’m zipping past the length of Canada’s Montmorency Falls, a dramatic waterfall 30 metres higher than Niagara Falls.

It looks spectacular and as I fly through the air I’m being misted by water that has crashed over the falls beside me and is rising up from far below. Fortunately there’s no time to dwell on just how far as my 300-metre journey is soon over and it’s time to stand once again on shaky legs.

By the time I have made the 12km trip back to Quebec City my legs are ready to hit the pavement again, which is good news in a city that is this as lovely to walk around as this one.

A UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the oldest and most beautiful settlements in North America, Quebec’s Old Town is a walled city with historic gates, narrow cobblestone streets and 17th and 18th-century houses.

Horse drawn carriages go by as I wander past boutiques and sidewalk cafes, checking out street entertainers and paintings in open-air art galleries.

As I drink in some of the city’s history, I find one of my favourite lessons comes from my own hotel.

Once the first hospital on the American continent north of Mexico, Le Monastere des Augustines has been reborn as a boutique hotel with a focus on healing and holistic health.

The hotel is also home to a museum, and art and objects collected by the Augustine Sisters over almost 400 years are on display both in the museum and throughout the hotel itself.

Here guests can choose between staying in one of the fully restored rooms the sisters once lived in, fully restored of course, or in a more modern section of the hotel. Breakfasts must be eaten in silence out of respect for the nuns’ heritage, a touch I rather like, as I prefer to start my own days with some peace and quiet.

When it’s time to leave Quebec City I head back to Montmorency Falls, where I choose a less adrenalin packed way of getting from A to B.

The Train de Charlevoix carries holidaymakers from the falls to Charlevoix, with stops at seven towns and coastal villages on the way to La Malbaie.

We pass fields of wildflowers and watch the St Lawrence River stretch into the distance to a soundtrack including Enya and Beth Orton. By the time we arrive at my stop of Baie-Saint-Paul I’m feeling very relaxed indeed.

The first thing you see upon arriving is a stylish hotel beside the train station. Le Germain Hotel Charlevoix was created by one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil, Daniel Gauthier. The hotel plays host to a weekend farmers’ market through the summer and is home to a top spot for lunch, Restaurant Le Bercail.

Baie-Saint-Paul may be called a city, but with a population of around 7,000 it feels more like a town. A charming, colourful, bohemian town with lots of art galleries, cafes and boutiques to explore.

Despite knowing French is the official language of Quebec I’m surprised by how many people in town don’t speak any English. In Quebec City most of the people I met were bilingual but here I feel like I’m in a small town in France.

When I visit Charlevoix’s Observatory, or rather, the Observatoire de l’Astroblme de Charlevoix, the friendly tour guide excitedly tells me that she’s so happy to have a chance to practice her English.

The Observatory is the perfect way for visitors to learn all about the massive meteorite that formed the 54km wide crater that Charlevoix now nestles in, while having the chance to hold part of a much smaller meteorite in their hands.

The Mont du Lac-des-Cygnes hike in the Parc National des Grands-Jardins provides one of the best views of the crater, with beautiful scenery unfolding all the way up the mountainside.

When I take a break on my hike to have a little picnic on a rock, I startle at something moving beside me, only to discover a cheeky ground squirrel looking for crumbs. It’s the first time I’ve met a squirrel with stripes and I’m in love with my adorable furry friend and life itself as I breathe in the view before me.

During my time in Charlevoix I’ll also see my first porcupine when it walks out in front of my car, thankfully far enough ahead for me to stop and allow it to safely pass, and my first Beluga whales on a Croisieres AML whale-watching cruise off Baie-Sainte-Catherine.

Between the natural beauty and the charming towns it’s easy to see why Charlevoix has been attracting tourists for hundreds of years, and I’m happy to now count myself among them.

 

 

 

 

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