Northeast of Quebec City, Canada, glacier-sculpted mountains plunge to the northern shores of the mighty St. Lawrence River, with 400 acres of skiable terrain. The dramatic landscape of the Charlevoix region has long lured artists and dreamers, and earned it UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve status. More recently, thanks to welcome changes at the ski resort Le Massif (“The Massive”), skiers and snowboarders are flocking here in winter.
And welcome to the launching point for one of the world’s most wonderful drives: a 130-mile meander along the St. Lawrence River to the lively village of Tadoussac. Though short, the trip takes in forts and funiculars, waterfalls and island farm stands, art galleries and whale watching. As you move north, pine-studded mountains crowd the shoreline and the St. Lawrence widens into a majestic estuary. It’s no wonder that artists have settled here for centuries. Bon voyage!
Le Massif was first developed in the late 1970s, but for years it was a rough-and-ready establishment. The ski hill is distinguished by its topsy-turvy composition: The main lodge is up high, just below the 2,645-foot summit, and the trails (some as long as 3 miles) descend from there to the St. Lawrence. Now, the entire resort experience is being turned upside down. Since 2002, the owner (and ringmaster) has been Daniel Gauthier, a co-founder of Cirque du Soleil. Drawing on his creative background, he’s re-imagined the resort as a multi-attraction four-season getaway, Le Massif de Charlevoix. Under Gauthier, the ski mountain has become a stage. Vaudeville-style entertainers—jugglers, ice sculptors, clowns, magicians—pop up around the lodges. A skier on stilts adds a circus element. Free après-ski shows feature well-known and up-and-coming Quebec acts as well as crowd-pleasers from outside the province. And the lodges are decorated with paintings by renowned Canadian artists inspired by the region’s scenery.
ON WITH THE SHOW
Gauthier recently invested $16 million for improvements—new high-speed lifts, expanded trails and off-piste glades, new lodges and renovated old ones. But that is only a fraction of his $230 million master plan. As of 2011, a new coast-hugging excursion train links Quebec City with the town of Baie St. Paul, less than 10 miles from Le Massif. That’s where Gauthier constructed the Farm, which includes a train station, 150-room hotel, spa, culinary center with restaurant and a year-round farmers market. Performances of all kinds will take place both outdoors and in a 500-seat theater. A separate train will shuttle visitors between the Farm and Le Massif’s new base-village plaza. The resort also includes eco-friendly on-mountain lodging (such as accommodations on stilts that allow guests to experience the wind), as well as a 10-kilometer summit-to-base luge run and shops, restaurants and wellness centers.
The province of Quebec is known for its food, and Le Massif is no slouch in this regard. Wherever you go to eat on the mountain—the cafeterias, the Camp Boule Crêperie, the more upscale Mer & Monts Restaurant—you’ll find freshly prepared, locally sourced cuisine, from charcuterie and cheeses to pastas and grilled meats. Nothing is fried. The feast continues in Baie St. Paul. You can sample cheeses at Laiterie Charlevoix or Maison d’Affinage Maurice Dufour, and chocolates at Chocolaterie Cynthia. Browse the artworks at the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul, the Galerie d’Art Beauchamp or Galerie d’Art IRIS. And for dinner, book a table at one of the town’s top restaurants: Au 51, for exquisitely prepared updated French classics; L’Orange Bistro, which serves fine food in a bright, bistro setting; or Chez Bouquet, where healthful dishes have an Italian accent.