Any opportunity to explore the country roads and routes in and around Charlevoix is worth it, either for a short look-about, a getaway of a few days or a longer stay. The area is ideally located at the crossroads of a number of destinations, and its landscapes, where the beauty of the river converges with the splendour of the mountains, are unique in Québec.
In fact, the first piece of advice we love to give anyone exploring Québec is to be sure to go through Charlevoix! If you’ve never taken Route 381 linking Baie-Saint-Paul to Saguenay, or Route 170 connecting Saint-Siméon to Petit-Saguenay, you’ve got to add them to your list of roads to discover. Even just crossing the river will give you a sense of escape. You see? You haven’t even hit the road yet, but you’re already well on your way!
Coming from Québec City, as you climb the hill to Saint-Tite-des-Caps, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. A few kilometres further on, at Le Massif de Charlevoix, your adventure begins. Your mission? As often as possible, take the roads down to the coast, to Petite-Rivière-Saint-François for example, a pretty village that could be described as a gateway to the area. Be sure to drive slowly so you can take it all in. A little further along Route 138, the steep descent into Baie-Saint-Paul will amaze you.
This town is the region’s true cultural hub and is a destination in itself. With its many art galleries, restaurants and shops, its contemporary art museum — which takes on global proportions during the International Contemporary Art Symposium of Baie-Saint-Paul — and its popular music festival Le Festif!, all nestled in this beautiful natural setting, you’ll want to stick around for a while!
The region’s most impressive roads can be found between Baie-Saint-Paul and La Malbaie. The famed Route 362, or St. Lawrence Route as it’s called, is known for its stunning vistas as it weaves its way along the coast and inland next to farm fields and mountains. No matter how often you travel it, the surrounding landscapes will always take your breath away. To admire one of the route’s best-kept secrets, we recommend getting up at dawn while the river is still shrouded in mist, to watch the sun rise. At that hour take this route from La Malbaie and in the Saint-Irénée area, you’ll catch the most stunning views. The sunlight caresses the land and mountains — it’s simply heavenly.
While you’re in the area, be sure to take the road to Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, with its steep cliffs dropping off into the river and Isle-aux-Coudres in the distance looking as though it’s curled up in bed of fog. And while you’re at it, why not hop on the ferry to the island. It’s worth spending a good part of the day there, and early risers can enjoy the opportunity to taste the freshly baked croissants at the Boulangerie Bouchard bakery, a local institution. If you go, be sure to try one of their famous “pâtés croches” meat pies, the house specialty. You’ll find everything there that you need for an island picnic. Also take the time to visit the Les Moulins de l’Isle-aux-Coudres milling economuseum where you can buy some of the best buckwheat flour in Québec. As you dine on pancakes after returning home, you can savour your fond memories of the trip!
While Route 362 tends to steal the show, don’t overlook the no less scenic, and much less travelled, Mountain Road. To find it, go to Saint-Urbain and take Rang Saint-Jean-Baptiste toward Notre-Dame-des-Monts. As the horizon opens up before you onto the mountains in the hinterland, and the afternoon sun bathes the fields in its warm hues, you’ll be moved by the utter beauty.
Now you’re probably ready for a bite to eat… After whetting your appetite with your finds on Isle-aux-Coudres, you’ll be pleased to learn that Charlevoix boasts one of the best organized gourmet routes in the province. Before setting out on your adventure, check out the Route des Saveurs de Charlevoix, which showcases local products and the expertise of local farmers and artisans. It’s serious stuff, and given the many local delicacies and products you’ll discover while travelling around this area, you’ll want to make room in your trunk for a cooler and a few baskets — essential equipment for Charlevoix travellers! You should even consider planning your itinerary around concocting your evening meal.
The delicious duck products, duck breast, cretons and cassoulets from La Ferme Basque de Charlevoix, for example, are a great reason to head to Saint-Urbain. On your way down to Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, stop at the market garden farm Les Jardins du Centre to fill your basket with vegetables. While driving along route 362, consider stopping at the bucolic Miellerie du cratère de Charlevoix honey house. In Baie-Saint-Paul, be sure to pick up a baguette from the Les Bonyeuses bakery. In Clermont, don’t miss the Menaud distillery and its gin, made from local ingredients only. From there, you can drive a little further into the highlands to visit the Champignons Charlevoix mushroom farm. You’ve got to try their oyster mushrooms marinated in cider vinegar from the Cidrerie des Vergers Pedneault on Isle-aux-Coudres, flavoured with Azulée organic lavender from Baie-Saint-Paul. And if you take the road toward Saint-Siméon, you’ll discover the Saint-Fidèle cheese factory and its cheese curds, a regional specialty.
One could write a book about all the fabulous things to discover along Charlevoix’s roads, and what’s remarkable is that each find leads you on to another. Here, more than elsewhere, every product you come across spurs you on further down the road for more… It’s characteristic of this part of the country, where exploring at every opportunity is the name of the game. Do your best not to hurry, because we recommend taking all the roads that lead down to the coast to admire the landscapes in each little hamlet, like Port-au-Persil and Cap-aux-Oies, that you’d never guess were there, if you stayed on the main road.
After tootling around this region between the river and the mountains, you’re sure to head home with a fascinating travel log, plenty of edibles and loads of wonderful holiday memories. This is actually one of the region’s specialties—the desire to come back one day to explore further… Because you’ll always have the impression there’s more to discover!
OTHER STOPS ON YOUR ROAD TRIP THROUGH CHARLEVOIX
Recommended by Tourisme Charlevoix
Le Massif de Charlevoix – 1350, rue Principale, Petite-Rivière-Saint-François
This year, le Massif de Charlevoix officially launches its very first summer season. A wide range of activities will be available on site, sure to please outdoor enthusiasts: mountain biking, hiking, gondola rides and canyoning adventures. Located at the base and top of the mountain, restaurant services have been enhanced to ensure a great vacation experience.
Fumoir St-Antoine – 983, boulevard Monseigneur-de-Laval, Baie-Saint-Paul
On your travels, be sure to stop in at the only smokehouse in the region. At Fumoir St-Antoine, salmon and trout are smoked in the traditional Amerindian way, on wooden boards. Connoisseurs are delighted to discover its distinctive texture and taste. A delicious range of fresh and frozen products is available: smoked salmon and trout (sliced, steaks or fillets), as well as mousses, rillettes and other local products.
Papeterie Saint-Gilles, paper making Économusée® – 304, rue Félix-Antoine-Savard, Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive
Founded in 1965 by Monseigneur Félix-Antoine Savard, this artisanal paper mill became the first economuseum in the world in 1988. In eight stages of production demonstrated to the public, the artisans at Papeterie Saint-Gilles make a fine cotton paper inlaid with leaves and flowers from the region. The Papeterie Saint-Gilles gift shop features a wide range of silk-screen works, prints, reproductions and other works of art.
Centre Vélo-Coudres – 2926, chemin des Coudriers, Isle-aux-Coudres
The Vélo-Coudres rental centre has the largest selection of bicycles in North America. Offering urban bikes, tandems, quadricycles and hybrid and electric bikes, there’s something for the whole family. Pedalling your way around Isle-aux-Coudres along the 23-km path is the best way to discover everything about this marvellous island nestled in middle of the St. Lawrence with 360° of spectacular scenery.
Observatoire de l’Astroblème de Charlevoix – 595, Côte Bellevue, La Malbaie
More than 400 million years ago, the Charlevoix region was shaped by the impact of a massive meteorite. In addition to giving the area a very particular relief, a huge crater and impressive mountains, the meteorite infused the region with a one-of-a-kind energy.