“We need a little downtime,” I said to my husband one night this past summer. A series of unfortunate events, to borrow from Lemony Snicket, had fallen into our world and we were both burnt out.
“Agreed,” he said. “You go first.”
“What? No, I mean together downtime.”
“Great idea. Let’s do it! But first why not treat ourselves to a few days of alone time – you know, to reset our own world views.”
I didn’t need much convincing – the idea sounded like heaven – so we began organizing our separate sojourns. His involved packing golf clubs; mine involved walking sticks.
Where does one go for a mini-vacay? I had a few ideas. Earlier in the year, I had been planning a girlfriends’ getaway to Quebec and, while that never transpired, it seemed like the perfect place for my solo journey.
I only wanted a few things: mostly to lose myself in quality spa time, good food and spectacular views of nature. I found exactly what I was looking for in the charming countryside of Charlevoix, an easy 11/2-hour drive north of Quebec City.
The region owes its beauty to an ugly beginning. Some 350 million years ago, a meteorite crashed into the area, leaving behind a massive crater with a mountainous rim. Today, the crater, which spans 56 kilometres, is bookended by two seaside resorts: Baie-Saint-Paul at the south end and La Malbaie at the north.
Home base for me was Le Germain Hotel Charlevoix, situated in Baie-Saint-Paul. The 145-room hotel, which opened in 2012 as Hotel La Ferme (The Farm), is a community unto itself. In a nod to its heritage – the land was once farmed by an order of nuns known as the Little Franciscans of Mary – the property is dotted with several thematically named buildings, including La Basse-Cour (The Chicken Coop or The Barnyard) and Le Moulin (The Mill).
During the summer of 2015, hotel operations were taken over by Groupe Germain, which stayed true to the original vision – even expanding it. Today, you’ll find an assortment of animals on site, including cows, chickens, ducks, sheep and pigs – you know when you’re awakened by a rooster rather than an alarm clock that you’re in a different space and time.
My room was in Le Clos. As its name suggests, it was something of a sanctuary. Situated on the periphery of the property, this building came complete with a stunning inner courtyard for meditation. Oh, and out my patio door? A mama pig and her piglets provided me endless hours of entertainment.
The property also includes a communal square that hosts a summer farmers’ market and local fitness groups before morphing into an ice rink come winter.
Additionally, there are morning activities for guests (yoga, zumba, meditation) and bikes to rent if you feel up to the challenge of the local geography (hills, hills and, oh, more hills).
If you’re like me, you might want to while away your day at Spa du Verger. With its full service treatment menu (manis to massages) and hydrotherapy options (hot and cold pools), you’ll want for nothing – except maybe the sauna and steam bath, which are also on site.
At dusk, a bonfire fills the night air. Guests on their way to dinner stop to inhale the scent and toast a marshmallow. Or, you can simply observe the rituals while dining at either of two restaurants – floor-to-ceiling windows and an extensive patio make that possible. Choose from the higher-end Les Labours or the casual Le Bercail – both menus favour the local food and drink scene, so you can explore some uniquely regional dishes at either venue, including Charlevoix veal, foie gras and a multitude of cheeses.
If you’re getting the sense that you’d never have to leave the hotel for this vacation, you’re right. However, that would be your loss. The region is alive with activities, both cultural and physical. Per capita, Baie-Saint-Paul has the most art galleries and art boutiques of any town in Canada – almost every third shop caters to the movement. The love affair with art goes back decades: Many artists – members of the Group of Seven among them – have been drawn to the bucolic rolling hills, dense forests and clear blue lakes. But it is the ever-changing light -hard to articulate but a wonder to behold – that captures the imagination of artists and amateurs alike.
This same geography makes the region a hiker’s paradise. Two national parks and tons of trails that wind through backcountry offer something for everyone. Hard-core enthusiasts will find multi-day hiking opportunities in these parks; the more moderate hiker (ahem, me) can sign up for an enjoyable three-hour hike on La Chouenne trail in the Grands-Jardins National Park.
For me, it was on that trail’s summit that I was finally able to catch my breath – in every sense of the word. There, with sky, mountains and forests as far as the eye could see, I was reminded that even when a crater bottoms out your life, eventually good things form again – you just need to give it a little time.