Imagine yourself up to your neck in a large, tile-lined hot tub, soaking in soothing 99-degree water lit blue from beneath, and thinking about the last run of the day. Imagine being stretched out along one of the sides so a couple of strong jets pummeled the weary, slightly sore muscles in your calves and thighs. A frigid breeze coming across the expanse of snow and ice facing the St. Lawrence River occasionally clears the dense fog that drifts a couple of feet off the surface just long enough to reveal countless stars that seemed to wink at you. . . .
That’s just part of the routine at Germain Hotel Charlevoix.
Savoring The Luxury At Le Massif: A Lodge Lunch to Remember
After years of couch surfing, shared condos and brown-bag lunches, my family—wife Laura, sons Ethan (17) and Becket (15)—and I decided to splurge on a getaway in Quebec, savoring the luxury at Le Massif de Charlevoix, where we’d been enjoying skiing a variety of terrain with wonderful snow and incredible views of the St. Lawrence River below. Now when I say “splurge,” I don’t mean we had to deplete the boys’ college fund. At Germain Hotel Charlevoix, you can book a four-person dormitory room for $245 Canadian per night (single beds in the dormitory are available for $85CAN, but you’ll have to call in; the booking website doesn’t seem to allow it). The dorms are as carefully appointed as the suites, and you get full access to all the amenities of the hotel.
On our second day at Le Massif, I’d left my family to enjoy the lift served slopes for the morning, while I took a guided ski tour skinning up and skiing down Mont-Liguori’s off-piste gladed playground. Later, I met Laura and the boys in the summit lodge. They’d skied their legs out by then, too. So we settled in to share a long, leisurely, deeply satisfying late lunch, each of us sampling the other’s spaghetti and meatballs, veggies and couscous, roasted chicken and pizza. Dining well is an important part of Quebecois culture and this sure beat our usual peanut-butter and jelly brown-bagged lunches!
The afternoon shadows were growing long by the time we finished. Fighting post-lunch lethargy, we shouldered our boot bags and clicked in for a long, gentle cruise down La Prairie to a green trail called La Combe that snakes down to the base. Even an easy run like that drained the last bit of energy from my weary legs. It was all I could do to kick off the skis and step on to the gondola that took us on the three-minute descent to the ski train waiting at the river’s edge for a ride back to Germain Hotel Charlevoix.
Savoring The Luxury At Le Massif: Hot and Cold Comfort
Shortly after that, soaking in the hot tub just outside the big windows of Spa Du Verger trying to make out the St. Lawrence in the distance, I wondered how much better the day — or night — could get.
Just so I could say I did it, I carefully stood up and climbed out of the hot tub to pad over to the cold plunge. I climbed to the top of the barrel and held on to the railing as I held my breath and dipped — quickly — in and out, feeling like the shock of the icy water propelled me back into the frigid and dry Canadian air. I tottered back to the hot tub as quickly as I could and submerged myself again in the welcome warmth. I think I might have broken the spa “rules” by skipping the steps to get back in. Indoors, the spa ($20 to use its facilities for hotel guests) is luxuriously appointed with a nice big quiet room with couches and big pillows, a Finnish sauna next door to a steam room where eucalyptus oil scents the thick air, a bracing Nordic shower and even something called a fontaine à neige in the passage between shower and steam room that looks like a giant snow-cone maker sticking out of the wall. It intermittently deposits corn snow into a trough. I suspected the idea was to take a handful or two of the graupel and scrub it onto your body before moving to the sauna or steam room, but I demurred.
In case the skiing and gallery hopping in Baie-Saint-Paul isn’t enough exercise for you, there’s also a small but nicely appointed gym upstairs from the spa. Spa Du Verger also employs experts who will give you Swedish massage, facials, body scrubs, etc., by appointment. And there are a number of different “spa experiences” you can indulge in for prices that begin at $155 and quickly climb north of that point. Decadent? Maybe. Worthwhile? More than likely. Laura and I put it on our “bucket list” for after the boys are out of college.
Savoring The Luxury At Le Massif: An Embarrassment of Flavors
That evening we indulged our sybaritic selves with a meal at the hotel’s formal dining room, Les Labours. Upon entering a room designed with lots of copper and glass, you pass a clear-walled wine cellar with enough variety to satisfy any oenophile. The wine list was a stunning tome outlining different varietals, producers and regions. Thankfully the catalog was arranged by price so we didn’t have to dig too far back (where bottle prices ranged up to thousands of loonies!) to find a couple of wines served by the glass that would satisfy our more pedestrian palates. I was looking forward to sampling some Quebecois lamb or some equally exotic red meat and so chose a red Spanish blend from Bercial that didn’t disappoint while Laura picked a familiar favorite of hers in a Copian Chardonnay. Shirley Temples for the boys, Ethan bemoaning the few months left until he’d have been old enough to imbibe.
As we sat waiting to sample the wines, soft music (industrial funk leaning toward island boogie) played in the background of the moodily lit dining room. Floor-to-ceiling windows looked out on the festive courtyard of the hotel where some ice skaters were making loops around a short track below.
Our waiter, Pierrot, returned with our wines but no menus, suggesting instead that we allow the chef to prepare a tasting course for us using a variety of local meats and vegetables. He described the region’s agricultural terroir as a “nice playground” for Chef Sylvain Dervieux. Oui, s’il vous plait!
After he left us with a cheese board I looked at Laura with raised eyebrows and said, “This is going to be better than I expected.” The only response came from Ethan: “This is going to be fancy!”
I looked around at the crowd, and it was certainly getting busy—and fancy. I wondered if it was accurate to call this “Aspen in the Charlevoix” or perhaps more accurate to call Aspen the “Baie-Saint-Paul of the Rockies”.
We had to remind ourselves to slow down, this food was meant to be lingered over and savored as a counterpoint to good conversation. We talked about the mountain, the surroundings, and the design of the hotel, speaking in superlatives until Pierrot came back with the pièce de résistance: a braised lamb shoulder that fell apart when poked with a fork. It was an eye-opening meal. I think each of us had fully absorbed and locked away the experience in our brains as a top-five lifetime gustatory adventure when the chef himself came to the table to check on us. After we expressed how much we enjoyed the experience, we found out that he would be making pizzas the next night at le Bercail, the pub downstairs. Oui, s’il vous plait!
Pierrot returned with a desert (not typical for our family, but who were we to turn down something sweet?). The chef called it chômeur, which when translated refers to an unemployed person. It was a dessert developed a few generations before during a depressed period in the Quebec economy when people struggling to make ends meet discovered a good use for stale, old bread. As described by chef Dervieux, “a dried out brioche or chunk of bread is soaked in maple syrup and then baked until the top develops the consistency of toffee.” The result is a wonderful bread pudding with a candied layer of maple on top of a spongy maple-infused base that melts in the mouth. I have to admit, though, that I’m decidedly biased toward anything maple — as long as it’s the real thing (a New England-Quebec commonality, for sure!).
On the way back to our room, I thought “I could get used to this.” Sure, the quality skiing meant more to us than savoring the luxury at Le Massif, but who’s to say comfort has to be sacrificed for outdoor adventure?
Hardcore on-piste skiing, extraordinary guided off-piste skiing, and wonderful lodging and food; who could ask for anything more? Non-skiers could, and Le Massif has the answer…guided luge sledding! Off we head to try that…