Let it Begin
And as I tried to explain my feelings to him later while in a downright giddy mood, he looked me in the eyes and then down at my drink. Back to my eyes, and down to my drink again. That’s not it, I asserted, even though the Verger Sour in front of me – similar to a whisky sour but doused in cinnamon – was devilishly delicious and being guzzled like juice.
We had begun our first excursion of what we expect to be a phenomenal year, and despite the temperatures dipping outside to the lowest we’d seen them in a long while, I was embracing it all with gusto. Bring it on, 2015.
Bring it on, Charlevoix.
The small city of Baie-St-Paul, the heart of the Charlevoix region, inspires as much from the outside as within. The first view is an impressive one, winding into a deep valley forged by a massive meteor millions of years ago up against the mighty Saint Lawrence river, some say it is this galactic connection that gives this area such a special feel. While it is easy to lose track of time enjoying the view from above, (like we did, gazing at the sinking sun late in the afternoon), life in the city below has just as much draw.
There is an impressive number of galleries that are representative of the vibrant and diverse community surrounding. Quaint cafes and restaurants line the quiet streets, many with a focus on supporting the local community in their offerings. And then there’s the bay itself, a small stretch against the river, we played in a mix of sand and snow for our January visit. A chill wind whipped around us, but any coastal place with beautiful light is enough to draw out our cameras and playful nature.
From there, a short drive took us directly to the Hotel La Ferme. We don’t often divulge many details about the hotels we stay at around the world, but La Ferme was a grand and inspiring experience unto itself.
And that is where I celebrated my new life view over the delectable Verger Sour, where Pete raved about a strong dark beer from a local brewery, and we gorged on some seriously creative cuisine of local specialities including lamb, foie gras, and more. This after an hour spent luxuriating in their Nordic Spa. Wearing nothing but bathing suits and toques, we carefully scattered down the stone path in -20C temperatures to the +40C tub waiting for us outside. Snow blew across the top of the water, steam rose off of bodies as they emerged, and we snuck into a dimly lit corner to soak. I insisted that we play who-could-keep-their-toes-in-the-cold-air-the-longest, but quickly lost. Back inside we alternated between the hot saunas and rubbing our skin down at the snow fountain, before enjoying the quiet room.
We did it a bit backwards though, it seemed, and we longed for the heat and relaxation of the sauna after the following day, as we happened to choose the coldest of all our time in Quebec to hit the ski hill nearby.
This isn’t a hill for beginner-beginners, our guide JB reminded us, after I made him ski an entire 5kms backwards. In truth I probably reminded him of that, given my tentativeness and sheer lack of skills, and his need to keep a watchful eye. After only truly experiencing skiing for the first time the year before, I was nervous and took to the hill so gingerly while others flew around me. The hill was busy, some of the sections a little tight, and my cocky play-hard attitude from the night before evaded me a bit. I forced us to follow the route facile signs all the way down.
My hesitance was rewarded however, when about halfway down, the trees opened up and the mighty Saint Lawrence came into view. This is the highest hill in Canada east of the Rockies, and serves up a perspective like none other.
At times it appeared that we may hit a rise and ski right off into the water. This is when I didn’t mind at all being the slow-poke on the hill – my frequent stops meant a bit more chill would creep in, but also left me to gaze in admiration at our surroundings.
After my one long run, I was spent. (Skiing with the “brakes on” all the way down is hard on the knees.) Pete continued for two more runs and I retreated to the lodge. I relaxed and took much pleasure from steaming hot chocolate, the panorama, and conversation with other skiers.
Our stay in the area and my ventures on the hill may have been brief, but they were intensely relished, and set the proper tone for the new year. It provided just a taste of our big adventures yet to come.
how to do it and where we stayed
Le Massif de Charlevoix ski hill sits just outside Baie-St-Paul, while its hotel La Ferme sits in it (guests can also take a train that runs from the hotel to the base of the ski hill). On the base of a burned barn, the hotel has won numerous high level awards and is well-deserving of every accolade for its style, sustainability practices, and commitment to the local community. It is a very inclusive complex, with everything from gorgeous suites to hostel dorm rooms.
Many thanks to Tourisme Charlevoix for hosting us during our stay. As always, all opinions are our own.