Let it Begin

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck (unless otherwise noted)
I’m not a person who believes in making resolutions, or the fact that a turn in the calendar is required in order to start anew. But somehow 2015 feels different.I feel like we’ve earned some freedom. That after working so hard this past year and proving that we are truly capable of making our own way, we now deserve to begin the playing hard part. In fact, for the first few days of the year, I couldn’t contain my excitement, and maybe drove Pete a little nuts. While we of course still have all kinds of work to do, I struggled to sit and do it. I was bouncing, beaming, glowing.

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.

After working so hard this past year and proving that we are truly capable of making our own way, we now deserve to begin playing hard.

Sunset in 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.

Charlevoix Beach

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.



Photo via Le Massif. We were there at nighttime instead, but you get the idea. 🙂

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

Charlevoix is a just over an hour drive from Quebec City, but is also accessible by train during the summer months.

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.

18 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Anne-Marie
    January 26 2015

    Hello Dalene,
    As always love to read about latest exploits. I usually don’t do NY resolutions neither, but this year is different for me too.
    Your housesitting experience made me curious. I read up on all your posts about the various websites … and today i signed up!
    Let’s see where 2015 will bring me.
    Enjoy Finland.

    • February 6 2015

      Woot! Good luck in your housesitting adventures!

  • That hot tub looks amazing!! I was pretty spoilt growing up in NZ’s North Island where there are numerous thermal pools and hot springs and I now seek them out whenever possible while travelling.
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..This is why Cape Town is one of the best cities in the world!

    • February 6 2015

      Funny how we look for the things from home everywhere in the world, hey? 🙂

  • Victoria (Girl Tries Life)
    January 27 2015

    Only Canadians would wear toques while in the hot tub! We’re a crazy species. So glad that you guys are able to take a little more time for yourselves this year and dial back (if only a little!) on work.

  • January 28 2015

    Dalene you have such a way with words – you made me want to book a flight to Charlevoix right this very minute 🙂

    By the way, are toques in hot tub a Canadian thing? Never seen it in Europe but I guess it only makes sense because one’s head is exposed to the elements, however hot the water!
    Savi of Bruised Passports recently posted..11 Things To Do In Jodhpur, India

    • February 6 2015

      Haha, maybe it is a Canadian thing! Thank you Savi!

  • January 28 2015

    You know, every year, I say that I want to celebrate January 1 in a special way, because there are no do-overs, on any day really, but first day of the year just somehow feels even more important. This year, we celebrated in a company of friends whom we haven’t seen for 15 months due to travel. Your post, is making me seriously consider Charlevoix as our special destination for 2016. Cheers and Happy New Year!
    Jenia from HTL recently posted..Hai Van Pass Trip Report

    • February 6 2015

      Hope you make it there Jenia – it would definitely be the perfect spot for a special occasion.

  • A Montrealer Abroad (@marievallieres)
    January 28 2015

    La Ferme is still, to this day, one of my favorite hotels in the world! Such a gorgeous and inspiring place.

  • January 29 2015

    I see chocolate and icecream dessert! 🙂 Sorry but that is more tempting than the spa in that weather! Enjoy your year of play. You deserve it
    Natalie recently posted..6 Suggestions of Food to Eat in Istanbul

  • January 29 2015

    I can only gasp looking at the beauty of Charlevoix, such a pretty little place! And those desserts, they look so very tempting 🙂
    Arti recently posted..Hare Krishna ISKCON Temple, Pune

  • Woah! What a fabulous hotel experience! Thanks for sharing and I cannot wait to follow your adventures in 2015.

    Happy travels 🙂
    Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren recently posted..My Top 3 Reasons to Visit Cambria

  • February 1 2015

    We’re not cold weather travelers – so we’d probably spend a lot of time in the sauna or that hot pool :-). Charlevoix looks quite charming. Certainly Quebec City is delightful!
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted..Ahhh… Turkish hammams cleanse body and soul

  • February 2 2015

    Looks like a beautiful trip! And that food looks like artwork that belongs in a museum 😉

  • Carmel
    February 4 2015

    I grew up in Ireland where we didn’t have lots of snow but every now and again it would come and we’d head out to the beach to slide around on the frozen sand. Happy childhood memories!

  • Laura Lynch
    February 4 2015

    Those food photos have me truly captivated. There are obviously a million places in Canada where I need to travel. Adding Charlevoix to the list right now!

  • Quite a kickoff to the new year!

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