Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Quebec's Best Kept Secret Part 1

columnist bdb 

By Belt Drive Betty
with photos by Belt Drive Betty and Ken Aiken

 I was invited to ride the Charlevoix tourism region of Quebec by Ken Aiken. I was only too happy to accept when he explained to me how hard the region has worked at becoming motorcycle friendly!
On the flight to Quebec City, I was fortunate enough to be seated on the plane with Francois Gariepy, the delegate for the Charlevoix region; he was heading back to Charlevoix from the Rendezvous Canada Conference, which was held by the Canadian Tourism Commission in Edmonton. Between our time on the plane and during our layover in Ottawa, we had some 5 hours together to speak about the various aspects of motorcycle tourism, the Charlevoix region and many other fascinating topics. One of the most fascinating is that Francois is a rider and he was able to share with me his ideas on the most exciting things to do in Charlevoix while on a motorcycle holiday. Like Ken, Francois’ enthusiasm for the region and for motorcycling was clearly evident. I knew I was in for a very special time!
We arrived at the Quebec City airport and collected our luggage; Ken on his BMW, Elizabeth, Francois’s wife and a local guide who was operating the sidecar from a company called Charlevoix Eco-Mobilite met us at the airport.
It seems I was being chauffeured to La Malbaie in the sidecar!
I eagerly got my riding gear out of my suit case and got all geared up for the trip to La Malbaie some 2-2.5 hours away. I have never ridden in a sidecar before and while that was a treat, the bigger treat was the scenery as it began to unfold in front of me.
The stunning views of the Saint Lawrence River gave way to rolling hills and lovely curves. There is something to be said for being a passenger in a sidecar and the way you can look all around!
We climbed into the higher elevations of the Laurentian Mountains, and as dusk began to fall it did get crisp! With the sun waning on the valleys and peaks, I could see why they put me in the sidecar – they wanted to get the juices of my imagination flowing – to tempt me and stimulate me with a vague glimpse of what 2 and a half days of riding in the region would of fer. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
As we pulled into the hotel I saw the bike that I would be riding the next day, parked and fueled up. Of course I had to walk over and introduce myself to this gorgeous blue Honda. I had to sit on her , stroke her, check out the fuel and the fit…I was well pleased!
We went to the hotel’s front counter to get room keys and I was given two packages – one from Charlevoix Eco Mobility – the motorcycle rental company that provided the Sidecar and the Honda I would ride. Inside was a brochure on the company and the key to the bike! The other was from Charlevoix Tourism – a handy folder including a memory stick filled with information on the region.
As I headed downstairs via the elevator to my room I had the most incredible surge of excitement rip through me.
I put the card in the door of my room and swungthe door open. I stopped, paused and sucked in a big breath of air – “OH MY” was all I could say . The room was ENORMOUS! The balcony was the biggest I have ever had in a hotel and the bathroom – well, a Jacuzzi tub & it’ s own hot water heater – WONDERFUL!!!!!
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Photo courtesy Fairmont website
Of course, even though we had to basically drop our bags and run to the Fairmont for dinner, I still had to bounce on the bed a wee bit to see how that was going to be…hmmm, I was gonna love this room!
My tour guide, Ken Aiken knocked on the door, asking if I was ready to go eat. The answer a resounding yes, as it had been a long time since the snack in Ottawa! We walked down the twisty steep hill to the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, with Kengiving me a history lesson.
The building was magnificent, reminiscent of a castle and as Ken explained the hotel’s history to me, my mind’s eye fairly danced with the images he created with his words. The hotel was originally built in 1899 and had 250 luxurious rooms. In the fall of 1928 the hotel was decimated by fire; completely destroyed. A Canadian architect named John Archibald was tasked with the job of rebuilding the hotel using the newest of technology and building materials; namely concrete! The hotel reopened in June of 1929. Think about that for a minute. Destroyed, redesigned, rebuilt and open for business in 9 months! The next major retrofit of this arrestingly beautiful hotel did not take place until June 1998. 140 million dollars and one year later, the newly updated hotel reopened with 405 rooms all designed to make you feel like you were living in a castle! Le Manoir Richelieu boasts a championship quality 18-hole golf course, a world-class spa and let’s not forget; some of the best food in the region!
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Photo courtesy Fairmont website

There are some things in life that words simply cannot express. The things that your eye beholds is one thing, but expressing how those things touchyour heart is entirely another.
Throughout this entire trip this would become my dilemma; how to share with you the way the Charlevoix region touched my heart. The photos and videos I will share with you say far more than words can, but they still fall very short of expressing the emotions that the region evoked in me.
As we walked into the foyer of Le Manoir Richelieu, Eric Quesnel, the director of sales & marketing, greeted us. I was gifted with a kickstand puck and a folder on the hotel and then Ken and I were directed towards the dining room.
Chef Patrick Turcot joined us as our waitress brought us menus and after a few moments of discussion we were invited to the kitchen to take photos and cook our own foie gras!
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Ken & I with Chef Turcotte

What a trip that was!
After we were done preparing our foie gras, it was time to go to the dining room to eat it!
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Foie gras
Foie Gras ready to eat!
Served with candied apples and a bacon mousse the foie gras was perfection. The locally grown apple cider that was chosen to accompany the foie gras did far more than compliment! The light crisp taste of the apples contrasted with the velvety smoothness and the husky smoked taste of the dish and made this an appetizer one I took my time to savor.
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We broke bread, ordered some wine and Eric shared his views on motorcycle tourism and how important it is to the Charlevoix. He explained that Le ManoirRichelieu caters to motorcyclists in the summer and snowmobilers in the winter. Packages start at $220 per person, offering the motorcyclist secure indoor parking, cleaning cloths and supplies, a magnificent room, a breakfast buffet that is unparalleled in the region and a complimentary beverage.
When our main course arrived, Eric explained the philosophy behind their foods. Wherever possible, Le Manoir Richelieu purchases the ingredients from the area producers that are incorporated into the splendid menu offerings. Chef Patrick expanded further saying that these ingredients make his job a pleasure. The quality of the cheeses, the meats and the produce are amongst the best in the world, allowing him and his staff to create marvels that are savory and diverse.
I indulged myself with the Black Angus beef tenderloin served truffle flavored Roesti potato. The flavors of the potato and the meat complimented each other with such perfection. The steak melted in my mouth.
As we ate this gastronomical delight of a meal and shared wines from around the world and the region, the conversation waned and my mind started drifting off to the morning and what was in store for me. If all of this phenomenal food that I was experiencing at my first meal was provided by producers in the region and many of the spirits were too, then this trip would give a whole different meaning to riding! My attention was snapped back to the present as I finished my steak and was invited to partake in dessert! MMM! Caramel crème brule and rich coffee – the ideal way to end a perfect meal!
After a wonderful evening filed with marvelous, marvelous service and the most delectable of food, beverage and wildly stimulating conversation was over, Ken and I hiked back up the twisty steep hill to our hotel, chatting the whole way about our plans for the next day.
I was like a little kid in a candy store and the experience was barely getting underway! Sleep was hard to find that night but excitement and anticipation was not!
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Friday morning dawned with the most incredible view from the balcony of my room. As I sipped my morning coffee and worked on the computer to get the things ready for the layout of the Busted Knuckle, I again found it hard to concentrate. My imagination was working over time. Looking out over 23 kilometers of the Saint Lawrence and over the top of Le Manoir Richelieu I was wondering what it would have been like to live here 100 years ago…
After a light breakfast in the hotel breakfast room, Ken and I headed for the bikes. The Honda was going to take a bit of getting used to as my big clunky boots filled with ankle braces and the shifter did not like each other – over the next number of miles I did figure outhow to shift and get my foot out from under the shifter without wrecking the bike or myself! We wound our way up and down the hilly terrain, through alternating tight and gentle curves. Our first stop of the day was to visit a chocolaterie!
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Chocolate Shop
La Chocolaterie du Village’s primary location is in Les Eboulements and owners, Line St.Pierre and her husband Yves Huppe had so many tantalizing goodies to offer! I sampled dark chocolates with maple, Bailey’s, cherry and other delectable centers. I also sampled dark chocolate wafers with peppercorns and others with lavender laid on top. I was proud of myself as although I ate a large amount of this superb chocolate, I did have over 80 varieties to choose from and only chose 7 to sample!
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Ken & Yves chocolate animals.
Belgian chocolate, so exquisite – A lover of really good dark chocolate, I of course chose only from the dark chocolates available. Line & Yves use 21 different cacao beans from around the world and blend them into this most mouth-watering explosion of taste! I cannot imagine what the milk chocolate would have been like, as I did not try them, in hindsight, I wished I had.
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Yves & Line
Line and Yves traveled to Denmark to learn the trade and become master chocolatiers and they take their chocolate very, very seriously! So seriously in fact that many places carry their products! They have supply shops in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec City, and in Ottawa, and have even opened another shop of their own in Montreal!
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Our steeds in Iles Coudre
After some of the best chocolate I have ever eaten, we were back on the bikes and heading to L’Orange Bistro in Baie-Saint-Paul for lunch…Ken and I joked that this was going to be dubbed the “Eat to Ride, Ride to Eat” tour!
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Mill Entrance
On the way to Baie-Saint-Paul, we stopped at the Moulin Seigneurial des Eboulements – a working watermill that is set in one of the most picturesque of locations.
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lumber mill which runs on gas and water
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Before we went up to the watermill, Ken showed me the lumber mill. It is capable of running on both water and gas!
As we walked towards the watermill, we took a moment to admire the clay bread ovens and the water lock that holds the river at bay and feeds the mill. As we came closer to the mill, Ken explained the history for me:
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Clay Bread Oven

Built in 1790 by Seigneur Jean-François Tremblay on top the waterfall on Rivière du Moulin, that cascades down some 30 meters, the Moulin Seigneurial des Éboulements, has remained virtually unchanged over the centuries. With its original equipment and the Seigneurial manor just next door, it’s one of the last authentic examples of mills of this type in Québec. Generations of millers have resided in the adjacent quarters - a tradition that has continued to this day and today’s miller holds the same last name as the founder and guess what – HE RIDES!!!

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Mr. Tremblay

Visitors get to see the mill’s gears and its water wheel in action as the miller grinds the grain to make the wheat and buckwheat flours that are sold on the premises!

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The sound of the water rushing under foot and in the waterwheel itself (contained behind the glass) along with the whirring sound of the belts and gears turning is almost deafening. In the photo below you will notice that there is a lever almost touching the floor. That lever controls the waterwheel.
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The view of the river from inside the mill is absolutely stunning!
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The river as viewed from the millhouse.
During the tourism season, mid June – to early September, you can visit the mill for a paltry $4 for adults. If you at all love old buildings, remarkable scenery, impressive gears and mechanisms, then thisis a MUST see when you are in the region!
After visiting the mill, Ken and I were back on the bikes and heading to lunch!
L’Orange Bistro is so much more than a bistro. Once a Victorian home, it boasts 2-second floor rooms for rent that are decorated to match the period that the building came from. Downstairs is a mixture of period and modern décor that somehow just works.
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The huge outdoor patio that is very popular with riders as it allows them to watch their bikes that can be parked across the street in the big paved public parking lot. Our first waitress did not speak English very well and of her own accord promptly went and got a bilingual waitress for us. Francois’s wife, Elizabeth joined us and we visited while waiting for Francois to join us. Elizabeth was on a mission, she invited us to join them for a beverage at the surprise birthday party for Francois that evening, before we were to leave for Le Maison du Bootlegger for our supper!

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Inside L’Orange
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Inside L’Orange
We were offered a menu that has such a wide variety of things to choose from that my head was spinning in an attempt to choose one thing. In what would become the norm for most of our gastronomical forays, Ken ordered one thing and I another and we taste tested each other’s choices. Ken had poutine and a salad, I had a wonderful mushroom soup and pizza with French fries and Elizabeth had the calamari. After sampling each other’s fare, a unanimous conclusion was reached that while everything was tasty, the calamari was the hands down winner! It was amazing with a batter that was light but crispy and had a very lively zing to it and the squid was moist, flavorful and not all a chewy! Francois unfortunately detained, did not arrive until we were ready to leave!
With plans set for the evening, Ken and I headed out again to explore more of the Baie–Saint-Paul region. We traveled up and down some gorgeous but narrow roads filled with lovely sweeping curves. Pastoral describes the scenery that surrounded me, all lush and mellow, reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.
With the sleeping valleys that are just now becoming green as the trees are leafing out and the incredible old homes, representing the grandeur of days gone by, you feel utterly transported to a different era!
At one of our stops, Ken explained the geological history of the region to me and how a rather hugemeteorite was responsible for the stunning vistas we encountered.
Charlevoix is in the heart of the Canadian Shield, the oldest land formation of it’s kind on the earth! The Charlevoix region was fashioned by a meteorite weighing 15 BILLION TONS that hit the earth an estimated 350 million years ago! Charlevoix is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and has been since 1989, which is unusual as most Biospheres are relatively uninhabited.
The region boasts three National Parks: - Grands-Jardins, - Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie, - Saguenay – Saint-Lawrence Marine Park And it covers some 6 000 km2 territory!
Pretty soon it was time to head back to Baie-Saint-Paul and La Muse Auberge for drinks.
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As we headed up the historic Saint Jean Baptistestreet it was evident that I was in for another sensory experience and a half!
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We were early and had time to take in some of the shops that inhabit the beautiful old buildings on this street. I am afraid I got lost in time in the Galerie d’Art Iris and did not explore as many shops as I would have loved to. The Charlevoix region is filled with incredible talent and this gallery showcased so many who practice their crafts in so many genres!
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We walked back to La Muse Auberge and Elizabeth, Francois’s wife, Manon from the tourism office and many others were beginning to get settled in for their birthday dinner. I had a green tea and listened to the discussion going on around me in French and English. It was amazing to me that these people all wanted to make sure I knew what was being discussed! The topic of discussion…Francois being late! Pretty soon Ken signaled me that we had to go if we wanted to be on time for our reservation at La Maison du Bootlegger. Every time Ken mentioned the place and someone tried to talk to me about it, Ken would politely but firmly tell them to SHUSH! And so we headed out to this place, me wondering what in the heck the big secret was.
It did not take very long to find out! But you will have to wait until next time!

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