Stretching along the north shore of the St Lawrence River east of Québec City, from the Beaupré coast to the Fjord du Saguenay, the region of Charlevoix, named after the Jesuit historian François Xavier de Charlevoix, is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Species like the arctic caribou and arctic wolf, not usually associated with such southerly latitudes, can be seen in the more remote areas, and because the Ice Age that shaped the rest of eastern Canada missed this breathtaking portion of the Canadian Shield, numerous pre-glacial plants still thrive here. It consists of gently sloping hills, sheer cliffs and vast valleys veined with rivers, brooks and waterfalls, a landscape that Québec’s better known artists – Clarence Gagnon, Marc-Aurèle Fortin and Jean-Paul Lemieux – chose for inspiration. Though Charlevoix has been a tourist destination for years and especially popular with people from Québec City on weekend breaks, the land has been carefully preserved, and quaint villages and tin-roofed churches still nestle in an unspoiled countryside.
Highway 138, the main route through Charlevoix, travels 225km from Québec City to Baie-Sainte-Catherine on the Saguenay. The main towns along this highway are served by Intercar buses from Québec City, but many of the quintessential Charlevoix villages – in particular those along the coastal Hwy-362 which starts from Baie-Saint-Paul – are not served by public transport. Be prepared to rent a car or bike; the expense is worth it.