The unique Le Massif de Charlevoix train
When I started planning my first visit to Canada, I was sure one of the regions I was dying to see was Quebec. Little did I know about how many pleasant places I would find, positive people I would meet and hidden nature gems I would discover there until Quebec tourism showed me the best of the best.
One of the attractions completely unknown to me was also Le Massif de Charlevoix train but I highly trusted the choice of the helpful tourism people to make me experience what was really worth it. Thus, I said yes to the train.
I didn’t know much about the train before traveling to Canada until I properly checked it a few days before hopping on it. Out of the different packages of 1 or 2 days, I chose the one leaving at 9.15 am.
I took a taxi from my hotel in Quebec City Centre to Gare du Parc de la Chute – Montmorency Station to board the train. The package of 140 km from Quebec City to Malbaie I had costs $275 … the unique experience is worth every penny.
Everything was very well organised, I took with me only the necessary stuff and they boarded my big suitcase without me worrying about it. I even had a cute chat with the lady checking in the passengers while waiting. We were told the car numbers with out assigned tables so everyone knew where exactly to go and sit.
As soon as I boarded, I thought of Napa Valley Wine Train I took in the US back in April, which was so different but yet so similar in some aspects. The views were diametrically different, no vineyards all around like in Napa, but cliffs on the left side and St. Lawrence river with islands on the right, together with a few dark tunnels to cross.
On board the train I found out more information about its history, present day and future plans …
Daniel Gauthier who started the world-known Cirque du Soleil, bought Le Massif de Charlevoix train once he sold the Cirque. He wanted to give back what the region gave him in the past. The train was first a tourist train coming from the US, then a construction train, again for tourists only and then Le Massif bought the tracks and changed them into the beauty we see now.
The first train started operating back in September 2011 with refurnished old cars from Chicago that had 2 floors. Nowadays, the train consists of just one floor and the windows were enlarged to see the landscape which makes it very contemporary, spacious and cozy.
Le Massif de Charlevoix is rather modern, with swapping violet, blue and green lights on the ceiling and iPads on each table showing some important information about the spots we pass on the way. It brought you more into the scenery or village we were just crossing. Each video about different attractions in the region was accompanied by music and really surprised me. At first I started looking around what was happening 🙂 Just imagine, lights, music, different sounds every few minutes … Ah, and there was wifi on the train too! Legendary!
I was told that the cars of the train are lit with different colors and with the music on at Christmas and you can dance there. Also the Montmorency falls are lit with lights during Christmas holidays.
All the splendour of the modern well-designed train with everyone around smiling and having a great time was not all … There was time for food … and seeing the detail on everything contemporary and magnificent, there was no doubt the cuisine was going to be another example of the best of the best.
The food is made by Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu’s chef who uses fresh ingredients from local producers only. Every single car has its own kitchen where the final bakery and decoration of the meals is done.
I was served by a lovely Francois, an amazing person and another traveler. We talked a lot especially on the way from Baie-Saint-Paul to La Malbaie once I was on my own and had more free time. Francois travels and moves a lot and he used to work as flight attendant too so we found more things in common than I could ever imagine we would.
Like I mentioned already, you can choose from different Le Massif de Charlevoix packages returning the same day, or the following, or even a few days later. The aim of the one I had was to see the scenery not accessible by car – between Baie-Saint-Paul and La Malbaie which is supposed to be the most breath-taking part of the whole train ride as you have the river right there on your right and the cliff on your left.
Le Massif de Charlevoix train is exactly what ”it’s not only about the destination, it’s about getting there too” should be. The train is for sure one of the best examples representing this quote when you spend the whole journey in the present moment observing every single detail of your surroundings … the shape of St. Lawrence river, the flying birds, the locals working and waving at you, pretty local architecture … and of course the taste of the delicious meals on board the train.
On the way we also passed the ski station at Petite Riviere St. Francois mountain which is the key for the project since Daniel bought it in 2002. He’s been skiing there since 1970’s when it was accessible only by bus and without any ski lift. It has been transformed now, it’s bigger, has 6 ski lifts, new trails and many activities and events in winter. One of them is 7,5 km long luge sliding/rodeling for everybody older than 10 years where a guide is always with you if you are not a skier. Snowshoeing is also popular here.
”600 cm of natural snow in winter makes the place a paradise for lovers of snow powder and skiing for both beginners and ski experts.”
In summer the mountain is great for picnics or pedestrian trails with signs about local flowers. In summer time the rail shuttle runs 3 times per day. The goal is to make it a four season destination with a unique panoramic ski lift in the future, musical performances with DJs under a tent and mountain biking. There’s the highest vertical drop at the East of the Canadian Rockies there – 770 m is a real challenge.
The plan is also to build a big hotel and a hostel at the base of the mountain in the future, together with wooden chalets and condos for both sale and rent (of different budget). The chalets will use rain water in the garden and other ways of leaving the nature as natural as possible.
We also passed by the place where Spartan Race, the funny sports competition where both women and men can win medals, originated in 2009. Since then Spartan Race takes countries such as Mexico, Slovakia or Australia.
On the way we saw Basilique Sainte-Anne-de-Beau where it is said that the Saints do miracles.
And we had a stopover in Baie-Saint-Paul and Hotel la Ferme before we hopped on the Le Massif de Charlevoix again to go to Malbaie.