The earliest French settlers who landed in North America established their first towns and villages in the Charlevoix region of Quebec. It is easy to understand why they chose this area: the immense St. Lawrence river provides both easy access and abundant fishing, while rich farmland borders the banks of the river. A drive along the historic Chemin du Roy (King's Highway) that runs along the river gives you spectacular vistas while reminding you of the central role Charlevoix has played in the history of Canada.
The Charlevoix region is bounded by Tadoussac in the north, where Samuel de Champlain first landed on his pioneering voyage in 1603, and Quebec City in the south, where he laid the foundation for a settlement in 1608. In between these two extremities lies a land of serene beauty with gently rolling hills and farms that slope towards the banks of the St. Lawrence river.
The names of the villages in the region are evocative of its history. La Malbaie (the "bad bay") was given its name by Champlain after his ships ran aground in the shallow bay next to the village. The Isle-aux-Coudres is a small island in the river that was named by Jacques Cartier, the first European to visit the area, after he saw hazel trees growing on it (coudrier in old French). The biggest landmark on the island is an old windmill that was built to grind flour, and has been lovingly restored and still operates. You can buy excellent buckwheat flour ground in the old millstones.
The most distinctive sight in all of Quebec are the churches with their iconic twin spires. Even the smallest village will have a church in its centre and these have been the hub of community life for centuries.
It is hard to pick the most picturesque of the many lovely little villages in Charlevoix, but a strong contender on any list would be Baie-Saint Paul. A walk down its main street lined with charmingly quaint buildings is an absolute delight.
If you are planning a road trip through the Charlevoix region, be sure to pack along a large cooler. This part of Quebec is well known for it's flavourful lamb, artisan cheese, smoked fish, maple syrup and ciders. You will find yourself stopping often to load up on all these and so much more!
A good place for one stop shopping is at Laiterie Charlevoix in Baie St.Paul. It is a family run enterprise where you will find local goodies you didn't even know you wanted!
Most of the restaurants in the Charlevoix area support local farmers by showcasing their products on their menus. We had dinner at Hôtel Cap-aux-Pierres in L'Isle-aux-Coudres where the chef had worked his magic with local ingredients to create a lovely meal. The view from the restaurant is also spectacular and makes for a memorable evening out!
When on the island, a visit to Boulangerie Bouchard is a must. Their freshly baked goods are fantastic and you can (must!) pack some to bring back home too.
We also had the fabulous charcuterie platter at Le Saint-Pub in Baie St.Paul and were hooked on the 1608 cheese (named for the year of the founding of Quebec), locally made salami, pork terrine and smoked salmon.
Putting together a charcuterie board or platter is easy and fun and it makes a great appetizer with drinks. It's up to you to decide how large you want to make it and here are a few options to get you started: cheese (a softer spreadable kind and a harder, aged variety), several different kinds of salami and smoked meats, pates and terrines, smoked fish mousse, olives, nuts and dried fruit (smoked almonds, roasted cashews, figs), pickled vegetables, chopped or sliced fresh vegetables (salad), preserves and chutneys, several kinds of crackers, toasted pieces of pita, lavash or other breads and some fresh fruit (grapes, figs) if you have room!