What to do in Quebec
Rock climbing, whale watching and more in Charlevoix.
I should have known I was in trouble when the person organizing my rock-climbing trip to Les Palissades de Charlevoix e-mailed to ask if everyone in my party was in “good physical condition.” After being told not to let the pictures of rock-climbing children on the website lull us into believing this is easy, two members of my party backed out, but my 16-year-old son and I were still game…psyched, actually.
The park has a network of nine miles of trails spread throughout an impressive 1,200-foot-high granite rock. There are climbs for all experience levels, but I sign on for a three-in-one package that includes a via ferrata climb, a walk across a 200-foot suspension bridge and a sweet zip line at the end (aventurex.net; rates start at $56).
We’re fitted with harnesses and given a quick lesson (in French and English!), in via ferrata, basically a pre-established climbing route marked by cables, handles placed into the rock and small, painted dots telling you where to step.
The hike starts off simple enough and I’m feeling solid as I clip two life-preserving hooks onto the cable. It doesn’t take long, however, for me to understand the question about being in good physical condition. The little dots telling me where to step are often placed in spots I can’t reach, and I find myself using every muscle in my arms and back to pull myself to higher ground while clinging desperately to a cable hundreds of feet above the ground.
I make it through a rough patch only to have my son turn around and say, “It gets worse.” He’s not kidding. The path, or should I say the teeny, tiny groove I was happily perched on, suddenly disappears. The only way to get to the next part of the trail is to jump three feet over a drop that would certainly kill me if the cable fails. Seeing no other options, I take a flying leap. I stick the landing and am oozing with rock-climbing confidence when it starts to rain, making the rock super slippery. Somehow, I make it to the top, where I throw my arms up in the air in a Rocky Balboa–esque victory dance.
But my celebration is short-lived as we begin a slippery climb down to the terrifying suspension bridge. Made of cable and rickety slats of wood, the bridge looks like the kind of thing you tell your kids to stay away from. Yet there my son is, crossing it with nothing but emptiness below him. I’m next. Looking down is the only way to ensure I don’t miss a step, so I stare into the abyss and take one step at a time. Again, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment when I reach the other side. The zip line awaits at the end of an hour-long hike down. After what I’ve been through, swinging through the trees on a zip feels like recess. Class dismissed.
More to do
What to see
Whale watching. From a Zodiac boat ($64/two-hour cruise, croisieresaml.com). Need we say more? You might get wet, and you’ll most certainly be cold, but you may also look a whale in the eye!
Where to stay
Also known as the “castle on a cliff,” Fairmont’s Le Manoir Richelieu (rates start at $279) boasts world-class dining, a casino, free carriage rides, an observatory (seriously) and a golf course that non-golfers will want to play for the views alone.
Where to play
Cruise Charlevoix’s beautiful countryside on a crazy-fun motorized bicycle ($20/hour). Pedal for a workout, or hit the engine for help on those brutal hills.
Get there Fly Porter Airlines into Quebec City via a Toronto connection and rent a car for the one-hour drive to Charlevoix. Base fares start at $558, but check for promotional discounts that will save you big bucks. Bonus: Porter lets you carry on two bags and check one at no charge, and beer and wine are free—even in economy.
Writer’s stay/trip courtesy of Tourisme Charlevoix and partners.