Le Massif de Charlevoix, Petite-Rivière-Saint-François, Quebec "Suggestion for Best Winter Trips"
Photograph courtesy Le Massif de Charlevoix
Start with the highest skiable vertical drop (2,526 feet) east of the Canadian Rockies ; add trails that appear to disappear into the St. Lawrence River; then infuse the panache of Le Cirque du Soleil co-founder Daniel Gauthier. The result is Le Massif de Charlevoix , Gauthier's ingenious, a four-season mountain-train-hotel experience. Little about Le Massif fits the norm: The "base" lodge is at the summit; A rail shuttle delivers skiers to the slopes; and sledders, can not wait, take the wildest ride down a 4.5-mile "rodeling" (luge) tracks.
When to Go: January-March for winter sports; June-October to ride the train.
How to Get Around: Le Massif includes three elements: the mountain (ski area), about an hour northeast of Quebec City via Highway 138; the hotel (L'Hôtel La Ferme), 12.5 miles north of the ski area in Baie-Saint-Paul; and the train , which runs between June-August Quebec City and La Malbaie. In winter, the most convenient way to get to the ski area is via the rail shuttle (NEW for 2013-14) from L'Hôtel La Ferme. Park your car in Baie-Saint-Paul, carry your skis onboard the shuttle, and ride directly to the lifts.
Where to Stay: The übermodern Hôtel La Ferme , completed in 2013, is built on a former farm run by nuns from a neighboring convent. Named for the farm it replaced, the Baie-Saint-Paul hotel has 145 rooms furnished entirely with Canadian products, like bath soap made by hometown Quai des Bulles . Rooms ranging from dorms to luxury suites are in five pavilions honoring different aspects of the site's history. Minimalistic Le Clos is evocative of a cloister (down to the white church pews), while La Basse-Cour (barnyard) is a kid-friendly lodge with family suites and bunk beds.
Where to Eat: The regional fare served at Chez Bouquet eco-bistro in Baie-Saint-Paul, Charlevoix is prepared using ingredients sourced like Maison Maurice Dufour cheeses and Centre de l'Émeu de Charlevoix emu steaks. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
What to Buy: At family-owned Gare Charlevoix in Baie-Saint-Paul, sample and buy the Labbé family dairy's specialty cheeses. Two cheeses-1608 L'Origine de Charlevoix, are made entirely from the milk of Quebec's Canadienne cow, the only breed developed in North America. The 1608 is named for the year that Samuel de Champlain is said to have introduced the cows to Quebec.
What to Read Before You Go: Willa Cather was inspired to write Shadows on the Rock (Vintage, 1995) after becoming enamored with French Quebec during an unplanned visit in 1928.
Fun Fact: Le Massif has only been open for organized skiing since 1980, when a chalet was built on the summit. Advance reservations were required to get a snowmobile tow from the main road into the ski area. Since there were not any lifts, getting back to the top after a run required taking off your skis and riding up the mountain in a van.