Le Massif, Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec – Did you know we have a rail service owned by one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil? And the ride to Le Massif from Quebec City, we eventually discovered, is spectacular!
I had the name of the rail station on my itinerary
and we had the staff at our Quebec City hotel
explain to the taxi driver where we needed go. He
took us to a hotel at the top of Montmorency Falls,
12 km from the heart of old Quebec City. Turned
out the rail station is at the base of the falls. With
just minutes to spare we got the mistake sorted out and leapt back into the taxi – our driver took us on a mad dash downhill to the station. We bolted on board and threw ourselves into our assigned seats. It was a table for four. The one gentleman already sitting there gave us the ʻI donʼt want to move my stuff and shareʼ look as we pulled out. It wasnʼt a great start, but then we looked out the window and Mother Nature gave us treat: the spectacular mostly frozen Montmorency Falls (30 meters higher than Niagara Falls) complemented by beautiful night lighting. The view was stunning.
This eight-car tourist train is the creation of Daniel Gauthier, who bought the Le Massif ski resort in 2002. Gauthier started off as a street performer in Baie-Saint-Paul and went on to be co-founder of world-famous Cirque du Soleil. Originally a Chicago double-decker commuter train, the cars have vaulted ceilings, with a second high row of windows, and ceiling lighting that slowly shifts colour. Because darkness had fallen, the viewing on our first journey was limited to the falls, the beautifully lit pilgrimage shrine of Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, and the slopes of Mont Sainte-Anne, which has the highest vertical drop for night skiing in the country. A staff person was good enough to tell us what else was along the route, such as Cap Tourmente 60 km (37 mi.) east of Québec City, which is on the migration route hundreds of snow geese. In September as many as 75,000 with fly through.
The train brochure touts tapas or gourmet meals by Charlevoixʼs Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, and describes this 140 km trip as ʻrail cruisingʼ, but when the staff came to take drink orders, all that was served was a very small plate each with some sort of bits and bites.
Less than two hours later we conveniently pulled right up to the contemporary-looking Hôtel La Ferme. Our return rail trip several days later was 180 degrees different. This time we left Le Massif early in the afternoon with lots of daylight, and soon found out why the route is said to be so special. Our rail car snaked along beside the frozen St Lawrence river. On one side it seemed as if we were just inches from great chunks of ice shifting in the clear water, on the other side of the train we were an arms-length from shear walls of the 3.8 billion-year-old Canadian Shield – covered in frozen waterfalls. With the vaulted ceiling and extra windows the scenery was spectacular – and this time we were served tasty tapas and a delightful caramel mouse dessert.
Gauthier launched the rail cruising service in 2012 to bring tourists to Charlevoixʼs Le Massif,
the highest ski mountain east of the Rockies.
At first I found the minimalist design of Hotel Le Ferme curious, I just didnʼt get it. And, I was slightly miffed that two friends travelling together couldnʼt get a twin room. They had rooms with one double bed, family rooms with one double and bunk beds, and dormitory rooms with four single Murphy beds. We wound up with the dorm room. (FYI several dorm rooms are set aside for young travelers under 25, with special rates.) Later Director General Richard Germain (if the name seems familiar he is from the Germain Hotels family) told me this hotelʼs story. The original plan was to build a hotel in North Americaʼs largest barn – but before this got off the ground, the barn burned. So, elements of ʻthe farmʼ were incorporated into the new contemporary design. And, each of the buildings has a theme. Now, features of the décor began to make sense. The hotel, which is in the creative Baie-Sait-Paul community, also features an small outdoor heated soaking pool, spa, dining, a venue where shows can be held, a bar-lounge, a skating oval in the winter, market in the summer, and a shuttle to the mountain.
Our goal here was to head to the ski hills (the highest ski mountain east of the Rockies) – not to join the skiers, but to experience a first in North America: Rodeling. This is a 7.5 km sled run! The name rhymes with yodeling and itʼs one of the coolest experiences Iʼve had in ages (here’s my full report) For more information on the Le Massif Train, Hotel La Ferme, and mountain activities at Le Massif visit LeMassif.com
Le Massif de Charlevoix, 1350 Charlevoix Quebec (north of Quebec City, at Baie-Saint-Paul)