By Caitlin Kelly
Baie St. Paul, Charlevoix, Quebec.
Only once — decades ago — had I ventured this far into northeast Quebec, writing a feature story when I was a Montreal Gazette reporter.
Jose and I planned a Montreal visit, our visit in 3.5 years, but were also lured to Charlevoix, a mountainous region bordering the St. Lawrence on its north shore.
We decided to try it on the recommendation of a travel writer and came to Le Germain, one of many hotel properties developed across Canada by the Germain family; I’d stayed in one of their first, in Montreal, a long time ago and loved its chic, minimal style.
When I looked at it on the website, it didn’t woo me. The buildings are large blocks of glass, metal and wood and the landscape didn’t seem that compelling.
It’s a four hour drive from Montreal.
But the room rates were excellent — $215 Canadian/night (right now about the Canadian dollar is 72 cents to the U.S. dollar, a serious saving for American visitors like us.) Most hotels have really jacked up their prices to painful levels. We also arrived right after Canadian Thanksgiving, when their rates were about $75 more per night.
Our room was small but the views were amazing and it had a small balcony with two chairs and a lovely wooden rocking chair in the room.
We loved our five days there: our second floor room offered incredible views across the valley south to the St. Lawrence, cloud-wreathed hills still filled with fall colors, two lunchtime visits to Joe’s Smoke Meat, where they go through 10 to 15 slabs of 26 pounds of meat every day.
We savored the hotel’s spa and heated outdoor bathing pool.
We loved waking up to the unlikely sights and sounds of mooing of longhorn cattle below our balcony and the baaaa-ing of stampeding sheep as their morning feed arrived — there’s a small working farm on the property.
Lavender beds directly below our balcony were done for the season.
We arrived at a slow time for the hotel and town, so the hotel was blessedly quiet and we had the large dining room mostly to ourselves at breakfast and dinner, and enjoyed its excellent morning buffet. (A wedding party of 150 arrived the morning we left.)
There wasn’t a lot to do or see, but we enjoyed that, as it gave us both time we needed and appreciated to nap, to enjoy slow mornings, to read, to take photos.
Most people speak English but it’s been great to speak French again every day, several times a day. I miss it!
We drove further east to Les Eboulements, a series of small villages tucked into the hills, most houses with the distinctively curved metal roofs typical of rural Quebec. We drove to the very edge of the St. Lawrence and visited a gorgeous paper-maker in St. Joseph-de-la-Rive, where we each bought 10 sheets of home-made paper which we’ll likely use to print photos on.
Quebec, of course, is heavily Catholic, with many double-spired churches.
The hotel staff told us many Germans and Italians like to visit here as well. It’s a timeless landscape with some very steep hills and dramatic views of the river — and we saw several freighters going by.
The hotel also sits right beside the town’s train station and bus station, with service back west to Quebec City and upriver (not very far) to La Malbaie. It was fun to see and hear the small train arrive.
I especially treasured how silent it was, and the delicious smell of woodsmoke.
We will miss this morning view, and look forward to a return visit.