By Denise Mattia
Participating in a Bordeaux wine tasting festival, replete with delicious nibbles isn’t much of a chore in Quebec. For two days I imbibed the excellent grape and savored the delicacies. Still, neither food nor wine interfered with my enjoyment of a helicopter ride following the festival.
It was a hazy morning when four of us lifted off and flew over a stunning landscape of Le Massif to Baie-Saint-Paul (the original home of Daniel Gauthier’s Cirque du Soleil) on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River.
[slideshow id=21]Le Massif is a ski mountain about 50 miles east of Quebec City. A dozen years ago Gauthier began to transform the barely-known mountain into a world-class four-season destination. Hotel La Ferme (The Farm – a footprint of the once existing farm buildings) gracefully unites urban and rural styles. Earthlike materials and a warm palette in modern, glass, wood and concrete buildings combines perfectly with the views of the surrounding landscape. Inside, the accommodations range from dormitory living to luxury suites.
After touring La Ferme we were served lunch at Les Labours, one of three restaurants at the hotel. Chef David Forbes mixed colors, textures and flavors of fresh products from the Charlevoix districts to develop imaginative and delicious dishes.
In addition to Hotel La Ferme, developer Gauthier resurrected and transformed the train, which runs along the coast from Quebec City, to bring guests to the “all-seasons’ resort” and surrounding area.
We boarded Le Train bound eastward for La Malbaie and then reversed to return to Quebec City, hugging the coastline of the St. Lawrence River. While traveling through miles of Quebec’s beautiful north shore, we passed Montmorency Falls, Ile d’Orleans, Cap Tourmente Wildlife Reserve and Petite-Riviere-Saint-Francois in addition to several other sites. The rail cars maximize views, with large windows and a softly lit rooftop. GPS locators in the rail cars activate iPads that present multimedia films and documents of the region’s history, culture and attractions.
The cars are set up as luxury dining cars, generally two-to four guests at a table, where Mario Audet, food and beverage master supervisor oversees 1300 gourmet meals daily and innumerable bottles of wine in minute-sized galleys. Imaginative dishes such as an escargot terrine with oyster mushrooms, duck ballottine braised with almonds and apricots, and dark chocolate espresso tart with Bailey’s Irish cream truffle are served at a leisurely pace so that guests can enjoy the scenery or each other.
I sat with my newly formed friends and related my first experience traveling across the U.S. by train. The joyful memories of catching a starlit glimpse of the Rockies and being graciously served in the club dining car are reminiscences of Le Train. Gauthier’s investment has brought back the charm and elegance of an era that was almost completely lost.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.