La Malbaie, Canada

Photo: La Pinsonnière, Relais & Châteaux
Photo: La Pinsonnière, Relais & Châteaux

Do you wish you could spend the summer practicing your French, drinking rosé wine, and not caring about calories as you eat baguettes and Brie with an ocean view? You may not be able to ditch everything to head to Aquitaine or Brittany this year, but a little bit of French culture may be a lot closer than you think.

The Charlevoix region of Quebec–Canada’s French-speaking province–is less than two hours from Quebec City, but it feels worlds away. Follow the St. Lawrence River north, winding through the Laurentian Mountains. You may be slowed by a tractor crawling down the two-lane road or the occasional moose crossing in front of you. Or you’ll stop at a cheese factory to sample blue cheese and cheddar. Not that you’re in a rush anyway.

Eventually you’ll reach La Malbaie. Its scenic bay is where the Malbaie River meets the St. Lawrence. The area, known for its beautiful lilacs, first became a summer tourist destination in the 18th century. The white-trimmed saltbox houses that line the water are now home to tiny shops and gourmet restaurants. Spend your days on the water. Go salmon fishing up the Malbaie. Kayak into deep fjords. Learn to sail along the vast, ocean-like St. Lawrence. Go whale watching. You’re bound to see fin and minke whales. Probably sea lions, as well. Or keep your feet on the ground. Go hiking through the black spruce forest of the Grands-Jardins National Park. A herd of caribou might be just around the bend. And mountain bike to the White Stream Waterfalls in the Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park.

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Photo: La Pinsonnière, Relais & Châteaux

You’ll be ready for a good meal, a comfortable bed, and some pampering by late afternoon. All of that can be covered at La Pinsonnière, just up the river in the tiny village of Cap-à-l’Aigle. Go for a swim in the indoor heated pool or have a chocolate massage at the spa. The cocoa has natural oxidizing agents. Eat homemade duck foie gras and grilled rainbow trout with a Bordeaux at the restaurant. And eventually retire to your room, which has heated floors, a fireplace, and a balcony looking out to the river.

Now you just need to start working on your rusty French some more.

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