By JOHN MARSHALL
LA MALBAIE, Quebec (AP) — Danielle Ricard was walking through the woods not far from the shore of the St. Lawrence River when her husband, Jean-Pierre, kicked a patch of mushrooms. It led to an epiphany. Bankruptcies had hit the Charlevoix Region of eastern Quebec hard in 2002 and the couple had been looking for another source of income to get by.
“I know what we’ll do!” Danielle told her husband. “We’ll grow mushrooms!” It took eight years of research and development, but the Ricards finally got it right, developing a delicacy with bucket-grown oyster mushrooms in a red barn at the foot of the Laurentians.
The mushrooms of Champignons Charlevoix lie at the heart — stomach? — of the epicurean delights found along La Route des Saveurs de Charlevoix, known in English as the Charlevoix Flavor Trail. Located northeast of Quebec City along the St. Lawrence River, the Charlevoix Flavor Trail features more than four dozen local growers, producers and restaurateurs in an area known as a rural vacation spot for the wealthy in the early 20th century.
Artisanal cheeses, craft beer, aperitif wines, homemade ciders, fine chocolates, fresh fruit and produce, and organic meats can be found all along the 89-mile (143 km) route. If you’re looking for something exotic, try salty duck foie gras made according to traditional Basque methods at La Ferme Basque de Charlevoix, or the tomato-based aperitif wine at Omerto, or emu steaks and oils at Centre de l’Emeu de Charlevoix. Most growers and producers are happy to provide samples and, in most cases, demonstrations. The restaurants, from bakeries to bistros to fine dining, offer foods from across the Flavor Trail and the region, every bite leaving you wanting more.
“We are very proud to provide meaningful visitor experiences to people who are definitely focused around foodie interests,” said Louise Vidricaire, owner of Azulee, an organic lavender farm in Baie-Saint Paul. “I think anybody who comes to Charlevoix should look into La Route des Saveurs. It offers a complete tour of the area from the river route, and you can return to your base through the mountain route.” Azulee sits on a heritage Charlevoix farm built in the mid-1800s and is filled with bright fields of purple — when the lavender is in season — and various plants, organic herbs and edible flowers.
Vidricaire, a translator and former English teacher, has a drying shed/boutique behind the main house, and offers food products ranging from double chocolate lavender brownies and blueberry lavender jam to lavender essential oils, candles and lip balm. “I told my husband I was going to start gardening and he didn’t expect it to be quite this scope,” said Vidricaire, who began developing the farm in 2014. “When I studied how much sun I get on this land, which is between eight and 12 hours, it was ideal for lavender.”
Pascal Miche created one of the most unique products on the Charlevoix Flavor Trail — or anywhere — by building upon an idea of his great-grandfather’s: tomato wine. Omer Miche had concocted a tomato-based elixir in 1938, and long wanted to make wine from tomatoes. Pascal did so, naming it in his Belgian great-grandfather’s honor. In the mountains above Baie-Saint-Paul, Omerto produces dry and sweet wine from six varieties of tomatoes that have won numerous awards.
“I researched the best variety to adapt to our climate here in Quebec,” Miche said. “I found the six best varieties, and to vinify it is exactly the same process as the grapes.” If you have time for the scenic route, take the Train de Charlevoix, about two hours roundtrip from Baie-Saint-Paul to La Malbaie, which both have numerous stops on the flavor trail.
GETTING THERE: Montreal is about a four-hour drive from Baie-Saint-Paul and has direct flights from most major cities. Quebec City is about 75 minutes by car, but may require a connecting flight.
WHERE TO STAY: Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, La Malbaie. The spectacular hotel overlooking the St. Lawrence has been a favorite of celebrities and world leaders, and hosted the G7 Summit in 2018. It has five superb restaurants and is a short walk from another stop on the Flavor Trail, Auberge des 3 Canards.
WORTH SEEING: Old Quebec City. Set along the St. Lawrence, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to France, with the old buildings and Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac — site of the Quebec Conferences during World II — rising above the lower portion of the old city.