Canada’s scenic region of Charlevoix and the luxury resort, Fairmont le Manoir Richelieu, provide natural beauty, outdoor recreation and pampering for all family travelers including pets.
Charlevoix is that rarity, a region of Canada’s Quebec province which offers the Laurentian mountains, a dramatic shoreline on the St. Lawrence Seaway and a warm welcome — combined — at an isolated, family-friendly, luxurious country hotel.
Living in America’s gritty urban Northeast, we sometimes forget we are surrounded by majestic mountains, the Atlantic shoreline and charming New England towns, albeit crowded ones. Such population density makes it rare to find a comfortable family getaway where the region’s natural beauty is prized above its man-made attractions.
Charlevoix has Stunning Scenery
What lured us to the picturesque region of Charlevoix was its designation as a UNESCO World Biosphere, an honor earned by its pristine environment and sustainable development. Scientists believe this unique habitat is the result of a giant meteorite which struck the St. Lawrence River valley more than 150 million years ago.
Another sign of impact is the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park just offshore, a summer destination for families who join day cruises or Zodiac tours to watch the seals and Beluga, minke, finback and other whales which migrate from May to October. The Marine Environment Discovery Centre has underwater programs that you can join as a scuba diver, or watch on big screen TVs to get a closeup view of native sealife.
The region’s stark, rugged landscape, appreciated year-round in its many parks, is also a large part of its family appeal.
Parc des Grand-Jardins, noted for its striking Arctic terrain, herd of woodland caribou and the spruce lichen that typically only grow at northern latitudes, is open for cross country skiing in winter, and hiking, camping and picnicking year-round. Parc des Hautes-Gorges, whose steep granite cliffs soar above the Riviere Malbaie to rival the Grand Canyon, welcomes visitors only in summer, when several local outfitters offer whitewater rafting and sea kayaking.
On a winter road trip with our 10-year-old and his best friend, we discovered scenery galore along the coastal Scenic Rte. 362 which begins in the town of Baie Saint-Paul. This is an old town of fishermen’s homes and art galleries, clustered in the shadow of an enormous Franciscan Monatery. We arrived mid-day, and pulled over on the coast road to do as the locals: walk on the St. Lawrence riverbed at low tide and look for mussels.
This resort is a Hidden Treasure
Soon we reached our destination in central Charlevoix, La Malbaie, site of the luxurious Fairmont le Manoir Richelieu. This beautiful stone French chateau, which sprung from the ashes of a wooden turn-of-the-century hunting lodge in 1929, sits on 212 acres above the river. The coveted 27-hole championship golf course opened in 1925 for the visit of U.S. President William Taft and the design by British architect Herbert Strong has been maintained. Today, the resort boasts the Moment health spa, the fancy Casino de Charlevoix and all the trappings of a noble family life.
The hotel’s grand public spaces, huge fireplaces and its river-view tea lounge continually impressed the boys. Our large room was beautifully furnished in expensive fabrics, with two double beds and a sitting area overlooking the St. Lawrence view. The extra large marble bathroom had two sinks and two thick terry bathrobes.
We explored everywhere and dined at the more casual restaurant, which had a children’s menu and a buffet that was half-priced for kids. We never attempted the resort’s self-described ‘gourmet’ restaurant with them, but it has an excellent reputation.
Charlevoix is a Winter Wonderland
What the Richelieu promised and delivered on was lots of outdoor activities for a vacation any time of year. We spent days looking over the snow-covered lawns to the semi-frozen St. Lawrence and a vista of icebergs. In February, the steaming outdoor pool (one of two), illuminated under falling snow, prompted several kids to climb out and roll in the surrounding snowbanks then dunk themselves in the water heated to 98F degrees. This gorgeous pool is an obvious crowd pleaser in the cool summer months, too.
The Richelieu’s impeccably maintained locker rooms stocked with pampering products (for me, the sign of a truly classy place) meant we could shower, shampoo hair and blow dry without having to walk through the lobby dripping wet.
We never tried the Richelieu’s small hockey rink (the resort lends sticks and nets and rents out skates) or the figure skating oval that encircled a well tended fire in the evenings. Family amenities year-round also include French and English language videos screened in a small conference room each night, though our in-room entertainment system was a bigger lure for the boys.
One day, we snowmobiled for an hour with a guide who led us over the scenic historic golf course. Bundled up in the resort’s snowsuits, helmets and boots, we were impervious to the cold in the surrounding forest. The backseat boys were put off by the engine noise and somewhat bored, that is, until they had a chance to ‘drive’ a bit on their own. All the activities were reasonably priced with hourly, half day and full day rates.
Another day took us to Mont Grands-Fonds, where we rented cross country skis for the very first time. Displaying the Quebecois warmth we saw repeatedly, Simon and the rental shop staff outfitted the boys quickly and gave us some pointers. On this sunny, 20F degree day, we shuffled through the woods with our trail maps, following a neat path groomed with two sets of carved grooves. We fell dozens of times, but the elderly Maurice Chevalier types who stopped to see if the boys were okay — even offering to re-wax their skis as they lay prone — made it a delightful excursion.
Some might call it unproductive, but if kids finish a new activity willing to try again, I think it’s been a good outing. Mont-Grands-Fonds was very reasonable, too for an entire day of cross-country gear and lift tickets. The park also has sledding. Children under age 6 ski for free.
The Richelieu’s Multi-Sports staff, who are kept much busier in summer, urged us to borrow snowshoes (our old-fashioned models made it easy to see why they are called raquettes in French). Although we could hardly keep them on our feet, we had a lot of fun slopping around the golf course and met the golf course manager, who patrolled on an ATV. He rode over to greet the boys in that friendly Quebecois way we’d come to expect, and it was the highlight of their day
For Kid’s Only
There is a variety of family activities that includes badminton, tennis, bicycling and guided carriage rides. We saw parents with toddlers in the playroom and dads in the arcade challenging teens to a game of billiards. Adults can book childcare from a selective list of local babysitters, to enjoy a massage, more adventurous snowmobile adventure or have a gourmet dinner and a shot at the Casino.
Fun for Man & Beast
We haven’t mentioned our dog Snowy, whom we brought into Canada with the requisite vet- certified Letter of Rabies Vaccine. At the Fairmont le Manoir Richelieu (where he was welcomed for an additional cleaning charge), we hiked together along segments of the 150-km Sentier, the shore trail high above the St. Lawrence. As on other dog travels, we scheduled our no-pet activities for mid-morning and mid-afternoon, when he would happily nap in our lovely room.
Snowy’s favorite part of the resort was the outdoor pen belonging to the Fairmont’s popular dogsled team. Because these huskies were in constant demand to pull guests along the wooded trails, they were never ‘at home’ when we visited.
But then, with so much winter fun to enjoy, we weren’t ‘at home’ much either. And maybe we’ll just have to return in summer!
Trip Planning Details
For special winter or summer offers, visit Fairmont.com where you can access information on family packages. If you’re flying into Quebec City, you will find year round car rental deals at Enterprise when you book directly with them.
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