A theatrical journey into Canada’s Charlevoix
Both morning departures give passengers three hours in the town of Baie St Paul, which is ample time to take part in a local tour. One of the most interesting is a motorcycle trip in a sidecar that loops around the southern section of the Charlevoix, en route visiting the attractivechurch of the village of Les Éboulements situated on Mont des Éboulements. There is an excellent view from this meteor-created landmark, looking out over the surrounding mountains and the St Lawrence, with picturesque fields and villages in between.
Other Baie St Paul tours include the Flavour Trail, a two-hour circuit of local farms and food producers. A 90-minute visit to the town’s Contemporary Art Museum showcases the region’s artistic links, while more adventurous travellers can enjoy a two-hour kayaking tour along the Gouffre River, which flows through the town’s centre.
If you want to spend the night in Baie St Paul rather than returning at 3:30 pm to Québec City, the train terminates at the Hôtel La Ferme, a newly opened hotel that is also owned by Gauthier’s Le Massif company. It has its own theatrical touches, such as a performance space and a restaurant with the kitchen in the centre, and an airy open design with earthy elements such as old timber beams incorporated within the modern architecture.
The township of Baie St Paul is a pleasant walkable area, with cosy eateries such as Orange Bistro where dishes include a mushroom-topped version of the Québec comfort food poutine, a mess of gravy, French fries and cheese curds. Another good lunch option is Le Café des Artistes, with excellent pizzas and atmospheric seating on its front porch. Along the town’s streets are studios and art galleries, including the Galerie d'Art Iris, which sells work by young Québec artists. There are also shops selling local foodstuffs, including the beverages of local cider producer Pedneault.
At the end of the line, La Malbaie has more earthy pleasures, such as the upmarket accommodation, dining and casino at the chateau-like Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu; while another local hotel, Auberge des Falaises, offers packages including golf, kayaking, mountain climbing and whale watching.
On the train’s evening return journey from La Malbaie, which departs at 5:05 pm, passengers see the St Lawrence Seaway shift through shades of blue into darkness as night falls. At one point, the table iPads unexpectedly play an image of flickering candles as the carriages pass through a tunnel. The Cirque du Soleil theatricality is never far away.