Standing in the Charlevoix region of Québec in eastern Canada, it is hard to miss the enormous meteorite crater. More than 300 million years ago, a rogue asteroid plunged out of the heavens and landed here, gouging a great hole in the earth.

On the horizon are the crater walls, now a ring of tree-covered mountains and national parks. Within its slopes are dotted small towns and farms. And in the centre of the impact zone is the Mont des Éboulements (Mountain of the Landslides), a 768m-high mountain that was thrown up by the collision, just as a drop of water rebounds after a stone is thrown into the sea.

Wealthy Americans summered in this scenic region from the 19th Century onwards, as did many artists including the famous 20th-cntury Canadian painter Alexander Young Jackson. For the modern traveller, however, the Charlevoix has been overshadowed by the plentiful historic attractions of Québec City, the provincial capital.

But that is all set to change thanks to Daniel Gauthier, co-founder of the internationally acclaimed circus Le Cirque du Soleil, which began life in 1980 in the Charlevoix town of Baie St Paul as the touring troupe Les Échassiers. And his newest and equally exciting enterprise is Le Massif de Charlevoix, a luxury train that runs 140km northeast from Québec City via Baie St Paul to the town of La Malbaie.

Constructed in 1889, the Charlevoix Railway carried passengers along a single track on the same route until 1959. Fifty years later, Gauthier wanted to give something back to the region that had kick-started his success, and, assisted by the Canadian and Québec governments, he upgraded the line to make it viable for a luxury train, hoping to encourage travellers to visit the Charlevoix from Québec City.

Two versions of the Le Massif train leave each morning from a suitably dramatic locale, the spectacular Montmorency Falls on the outskirts of Québec City. The first departs at 9 am with passengers on the Escape to La Malbaie tour, which runs the length of the railway. The second train, departing at 9:45 am, is the Baie St Paul Discovery tour, which terminates at Baie St Paul.

The train carriages, each carrying 62 passengers seated at comfortable booth-style tables, are surprisingly lofty, with large windows and a dash of industrial chic via the solid metal crossbeams near the ceiling. The trains are former two-level 1960s commuter carriages from Chicago, refurbished and redecorated in white, and opened to provide greater natural light and easy sightseeing.

There is plenty of opportunity for scenery gazing on the 2.5 hour journey From Montmorency Falls to Baie St Paul, with the leg to La Malbaie running a further 75 minutes. On one side, the train passes small towns such as Château Richer and Petite Rivière Saint François, with their pitched-roof homes and silvery-steepled churches. On the other, the broad St Lawrence River is a steely grey-blue, its opposite bank a distant misty outline.

Gauthier’s theatrical origins come to life via the iPads that are placed on each table. At first these display table numbers, but once the train departs they show a constantly updating route map, interrupted by carefully timed bursts of music and video that match an attraction appearing alongside the train.

About a third of the way to Baie St Paul, the impressive stone church of St Anne de Beaupré in the village of the same name is highlighted by the sound of church bells; while further on, as the train clears the northern tip of Île d'Orléans offshore in the St Lawrence, the protected birdlife promontory Cap Tourmente is accompanied by a video of flying snow geese. Cleverly, these short sequences have no commentary, but are aimed at amplifying the mood.

Food is another focus of the luxurious journey, with gourmet dishes emphasising regional ingredients. On the outward trip from Québec City, breakfast might include eggs stuffed with asparagus and maple syrup crepes. Dinner choices range from a smoked duck carpaccio with spices from the local duck farm La Ferme Basque de Charlevoix to escargot terrine with locally-grown oyster mushrooms from Champignons Charlevoix, the snails a nod to Québec’s French heritage. And a dessert of macaroons and field berries uses an apple mistelle (a fortified wine) from local cider producer Pedneault.

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.