How to Make the Most of Your Great Escape to Charlevoix, Québec

by Nancy Mueller
( July 29th, 2015 )

Parc national des Grands-Jardins

The more I travel to Québec, Canada, the longer I want to stay . . . From following the culinary trail in Montréal, to celebrating Winter Carnival in Québec City, to sampling the restorative spas in Lanaudière and Mauricie . . .

For my latest exploration, I’m off to the charming Charlevoix region an hour northeast of Québec City for a few days of summer play. Infused with the natural beauty of a mountainous landscape, plus the immensity of the St. Lawrence River (Fleuve Saint-Laurent), the area attracts outdoor enthusiasts, art & culture lovers and passionate foodies.

Recreational adventures abound here – hiking, biking, kayaking, whale-watching, and star-gazing, with plenty of culinary discoveries and comfortable lodgings along the way – making Charlevoix, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the perfect getaway for traveling solo, with friends or family.

Take a Hike and Discover the Via Ferrata.

Hotel Le Germain Charlevoix

After an overnight stay and tasty breakfast at Québec City’s Hôtel Royal William in the trendy New St-Roch district, we’re off on our road trip to discover the wonders of Charlevoix. Upon arrival, we drop our bags at Hôtel Le Germain Charlevoix, our home-away-from-home for the night. Contemporary in style, the hotel combines artistic, urban sophistication with country ambiance, in a nod to its cultural and historical roots.

Hiking Parc national des Grands-Jardins

Following a lunch that features flavors of the region, we head out for a light afternoon hike at Parc national des Grands-Jardins. My first clue that our planned activity entails a bit more than light hiking comes when we meet our guide who offers helmets and harnesses for our venture. Uh-oh.

Waivers signed, we start our hike, pausing occasionally to take in the spellbinding views and snap a few photos, and for some of us to catch our breath. Made it!

But wait – our guide leads us to the “Practice Rock,” the first step to the via ferrata circuit on the Mont du Lac des Cygnes. Uh-oh, again.

via ferrata Tourisme Quebec

Way too slowly, it dawns on me: Via ferrata. Translation: “Iron Way.” Ohhh. Now I get it. Mountain climbing, of sorts, with cables and clips and pegs, oh my! Where’s my high school French when I need it?

Willing to keep an open mind for the promise of spectacular views on a safe itinerary, I give it a go, but within a few upward steps, I learn my limit while translating the phrase, “Geez Louise” to my Quebecois host. Instead, I opt to take the trail back down to the lodge and wait for the others to follow. But for other wanderboomers in our group, the via ferrata proves irresistible. Challenging, sure, but ultimately rewarding. The rest of us applaud their accomplishment as we head to Le Saint-Pub Microbrewery in the heart of Baie-Saint-Paul to celebrate. Cheers!

Go Kayaking on Rivière du Gouffre.

With the new dawn comes a new adventure – river kayaking! After a short, hands-on demo on how to hold and use our paddles, our small group of single and double kayaks heads out on our 6 km (roughly 3.7 miles) expedition. Easy whitewaters and shallow waters make for a fun outing for novice and experienced kayakers alike as we descend down the Rivière du Gouffre to Baie-Saint-Paul.

A few beachings, seaweed entanglements and waves of laughter later, we thank our guide for the chance to explore beautiful Charlevoix from the water’s edge.

Bike Around Isle-aux-Coudres.

After a quick stop to pick up boxed lunches, we board the ferry to Isle-aux-Coudres for our next outdoor adventure, a bike tour of the island, with a few planned stops along the way. My Charlevoix host sets the pace on our tandem bike as we pedal along on the flat, country roads while enjoying the soft summer air and scenic views.

Before long we arrive at our first destination: Les Moulins de L’Isle-aux-Coudres, the unique site of an authentic working watermill, restored windmill and miller’s residence. We watch as guides demonstrate how wheat and buckwheat are ground into flour at the mill, explaining the process in both French and English.

All that biking worked up a thirst! Fortunately, we happen to be close to a cidery, Cidrerie Vergers Pedneault, the next stop on our island tour. Our cider tastings include several of the cidery’s award-winning artisan apple, pear, plum and Saskatoon berry products. Yum!

Discover Innovative Regional Cuisine.

Dining at Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu

Charlevoix is a food lover’s paradise easily discovered by following the region’s Flavor Trail from Petite-Rivière-Saint-François to La Malbaie. Over 40 regional growers, producers and chefs welcome visitors along the trail with delicious gourmet treats like artisan breads and pastries, pates, charcuterie, chocolate, honey, duck, pork, cheese, ciders and beer.

Playing Golf at Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu

After our afternoon adventure on the Isle-aux-Coudres, we check in at the historic Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu overlooking the St. Lawrence River in La Malbaie. On site, we continue our regional and classical cuisine discoveries at Le Charlevoix Restaurant with Executive Chef, Patrick Turcot, who introduces us to delectable trout carpaccio from les Eboulements, pan-seared scallops and foie gras with calvados and apple crisp, seared crab salad and red pepper cream and maple salmon gravlax, puffed quinoa salad and roasted almonds. Time to go hiking, biking and kayaking again!

Enjoy a Night of Star-gazing.

What better evening entertainment than a star-gazing session at the Astronomy Observatory (Observatoire Astronomique)? In partnership with the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, the observatory invites guests to search the skies with specialized telescopes under the guidance of scientifically-trained staff. Visitors can also take a self-guided tour of a scale model of the solar system by following a 3 km (just under 2 miles) trail along the St. Lawrence River.

Curious about the landscape and geology of the region? Through exhibits and lectures at the observatory, you can learn how the impact of a 15 billion tons’ meteorite that hit 350 million years ago created the mountainous character of Charlevoix.

Take a Whale-watching Zodiac Cruise.

Whale watching Quebec

On our last day in Charlevoix, we’re all suited-up in weather-resistant gear and ready to start our whale-watching adventure for the chance to see blue, fin, minke, humpback and beluga whales at play. In calm waters, before long we spot several seals near our boat while holding out hope for whale sightings. Success! Not only do we see several fin and minke, but our naturalist on board points to the horizon where a couple of belugas are swimming near shore. Moments later, a mama and baby beluga pass our zodiac where earlier we had watched one whale shoot towards our zodiac like a torpedo, only to veer away at the last moment. Wow.

Hop Aboard the Train Léger de Charlevoix.

Train Leger de Charlevoix

As we near the end of our Charlevoix journey, we have time for one more excursion before returning to Québec City: a rail cruise via The Charlevoix Light Rail Transit. Fun. Easy. Relaxing. We wind our way along the shoreline, mesmerized by views of the stunning river and mountain landscape, daydreaming about our unforgettable Charlevoix adventure.

View from Train Leger de Charlevoix

Many thanks to Tourisme Québec for hosting our days of summer play in Charlevoix!

For more information visit:

Lodging:
Hotel Royal William
Hôtel Le Germain Charlevoix
Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu
Hôtel Chateau Laurier Québec

Activities:
Parc national des Grands-Jardins
Katabatik
Vélo-Coudres
Croisieres AML
Les Moulins de L’Isle-aux-Coudres
Train Leger de Charlevoix

Eateries & Cidery:
Le Saint-Pub Microbrewery
Resto-Boutique La Table
Cidrerie Vergers Pedneault
Pains d’Exclamation
Café Chez Nous

Wander on!

Nancy

What about you, wanderboomers? What’s favorite place to visit in Quebec? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Solo Travel for Adventurous Boomer Women

by Nancy Mueller
( June 22nd, 2015 )

Nancy Mueller Alaska

It’s no secret that we encourage solo women travel here at Wanderlust and Lipstick. Yet I marvel at how often my traveling alone to exotic destinations provokes a variety of reactions from fellow women travelers who are not, ranging from:

“You’re so brave!”

“Really?” (as in, Why would anyone want to do that?)

to:

“Wow.” (as in, How do you get to do that?)

“Cool!”

Solo Travel Nancy Mueller Langley, WA

While I’m a great proponent of travel with family and friends given the opportunity, I’m also a strong advocate for solo women travel. In fact, according to recent reports cited both in The New York Times and Oprah Magazine, the number of solo travelers, American women in particular, is on the rise.

As a Boomer woman living life single, as an empty nester, or with a partner who doesn’t share your travel bucket list, perhaps, you too, wonder whether solo wanderings are for you. Having ventured around the world on my own and with travel companions, here’s what I know for sure:

“You’re so brave!”

Solo Travel Nancy Mueller Ecuador

I’m not really. But given the choice of seeing the world solo or not at all, having once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences or not, my bags are always packed. Traveling feeds my soul and the confidence I’ve gained from doing so on my own has returned to me a thousandfold when facing similar, potentially intimidating situations in life. Susan Jeffers said it best in her ground-breaking book. Sometimes you just have to Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway in order to get where you want to go.

If the fear of traveling on your own is preventing you from doing so, make a list of your travel fears, followed by an action plan to minimize their impact. Ask for help from experienced travelers. Browse the Internet for tips from travel pros. Find out how to protect yourself from possible theft or handle other safety concerns. Don’t let fear drive your decision to stay home if you want to see the world but don’t have a travel companion.

“Really?” (as in Why would anyone want to do that?)

Solo Travel Nancy Mueller The Danube, Kelheim

Lots of reasons. Because all the award-winning photography in the world can’t compare to the unexpected emotion you feel when surrounded by Monet’s waterlily paintings at the Musee de’Orsay in Paris. Because when you witness the pristine, natural beauty of sites like Alaska’s Inside Passage up close and personal, you understand in a visceral way why it’s vital to protect our environment for ourselves and future generations. Because the memories of sailing aboard a felucca on the Nile at sunset or biking the backroads of Provence can sustain you when all else around you fails.

Besides enjoying exotic destinations, besides building self-confidence, traveling solo exposes you to fast friendships and exponential growth when you interact with others who speak another language and who see the world through a different lens than you do. Why not learn how to cook the cuisine of Ecuador on location? Why not listen to Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the opera house in Vienna? Why not saddle up for a solo horseback ride in Patagonia if that’s what you want to do?

“Wow.” (as in How do you get to do that?)

Solo Travel Nancy Mueller Montreal

I get to see the world in my role as a travel writer. But you don’t need to be a travel writer to enjoy the best that solo world wanderings have to offer. Research your travel options with the help of a travel agent or tour company that specializes in solo journeys. Network with like-minded adventurers. Set your intention, make a plan and get going.

For more information on solo travel, check out these articles:

The New York Times
Oprah Magazine

Wander on!

Nancy

What solo travels have you taken, wanderboomers? Please share your experience with us here.

 

 

 

 

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Ziplining 101 with Ziptrek Ecotours

by Nancy Mueller
( June 5th, 2015 )

Nancy Mueller Ziptrek Ecotours

Ziplining has never been high on my bucket list of travel adventures. While I’m not overly scared of heights, I’m respectful of the distance between heaven and earth with a strong preference for staying grounded unless winging through the air from one exotic destination to another from the comfort of a Boeing jet. Think cushioned seats, seatbelts and a stiff drink.

Still, an invitation from Ziptrek Ecotours to experience “eco-exhilaration™” on their Eagle Tour at Whistler, BC, beckoned, hung in the air, so to speak. When I tweeted before the Big Event, asking readers to remind me why I was doing this, Ziptrek shot back in a nanosecond: “Because it’s FUN!” Ohhhhh. Right. The FUN factor. But for whom, I wondered: for me – or for those watching as I hurl myself like a shell from a loose cannon off into the stratosphere?

Ziptrek Ecotours

Yet here I am, poised on the edge of a platform alongside a hearty group of twelve, a mix of first-timers (thankfully, not our guides) and repeat zippers. We stop our pre-zip nervous chatter long enough to fix our gaze on our hero guide who shows us exactly how it’s done. He smiles before launching off, zipping through the air effortlessly before landing way too far away for my Boomer eyes to follow.

Ziptrek Ecotours Adventurers

Lost in our own private reveries while processing the FUN we had just observed, another guide steps forwards and asks in a cheerful tone: “So who wants to go first?” A long silence follows. Finally one participant speaks up: “I will.”

My fellow zipper whips around to face me: “What!? I can’t believe you just said that!” Wait – why is she looking at me? I said that?? In my lightheaded daze, I must have been reflecting on what my dinner host had shared with me the previous night. “My mother was terrified before she went ziplining the first time,” she said. “If I can offer you one piece of advice, it’s this: volunteer to go first. That way you won’t be standing around getting more nervous than you already feel.” How else to account for my inexplicable moment of madness?

Ziptrek Ecotours Nancy Mueller

So this is how the body of a jellyfish feels from the inside out, I marvel, in my own out-of-body experience. With a smile plastered on my face, heart pounding, I step towards our launching pad. My guide opens the platform gate and closes it behind me, separating me from the supportive womb of the others. My smile fades as I fight the urge to curl into a fetal position, cry “Wah!” and ask for my mommy. He checks my helmet and full-body safety harness as many times as I ask, then says matter-of-factly, “You’re good. Just take one step at a time until you feel the slack between your harness and the zipline tighten. Then go!” Sure. Okay. Just a step at a time. Easy-peasy, right? I mean, hundreds of thousands of real people have been on a Ziptrek tour in the last 10 years. Real people from age 6 – 96 do this all the time – theoretically, at least – since to date, the oldest participants on Ziptrek Ecotours have been only 92 years old.

Of course, stepping down stairs into space with a railing on either side of you is one thing. But stepping down into space with no railing on either side in sight, even when harnessed? Can’t I take the stairway to the stars instead?

Whoa! I remind myself to breathe. Long, slow, deep breaths follow. Just do it, I coax myself, becoming my own best coach in the moment. Don’t think about the fact that you’re about to dangle somewhere over Fitzsimmons Valley between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains from a height of up to 300 feet. Or that you’re about to zip through old-growth rainforest at speeds that can reach up to 56 mph depending on weight and weather conditions. Never mind that the first zipline on the Eagle Tour is the longest – 2400 feet with a 30-story descent. No, better not to think about any of that now. Better to hum a few notes from Donna Summer’s blockbuster hit, “I Will Survive!” instead. Remember, I tell myself. The actual time on each of the five ziplines (yes, there are five on the Eagle Tour) is only 35 – 40 secs. That’s it! Oh, well, in that case . . .

Nancy Mueller Ziptrek

In one cotton-mouthed gulp, I’m off! Whee! Sure they can hear the screams of my inner Jane all the way down in Whistler Village. No matter. I’m doing it! I’m zipping through the air, well, maybe not with the greatest of ease, but on my own terms, eyes tightly shut until I remember to open them two-thirds of the way through my run, twisting and twirling most of the way, hearing the whoosh of the wind surround me as I zip my way to the landing platform. Yes! Success! One down, only four more to go. Whew.

The Pacific Rim Caesar

And the payoff for accepting Ziptrek’s offer of this thrilling outdoor mountaintop adventure? Besides my personal treat of The Pacific Rim Caesar at Garibaldi Lift Co. Bar & Grill (“Make mine a double – stat!”). Besides gaining new-found confidence that comes from working through one’s fears and picking up tidbits of ecological information from knowledgable guides which I would gladly have shared with you here had my focus been on learning rainforest lore rather than on survival, is this text exchange with my 16-year-old daughter afterwards:

DD (for Darling Daughter): ZIPTREKKING? What have they done to you? Looks like a blast!!


Me: Ha, ha – It was totally FUN! First step off into space was the hardest. And I went on 5 different zip lines!


DD: OMG. You’re crazy. That sounds like so much fun. Hahaha. I’m impressed. Becoming an adrenaline junky?


Me: No worries.


There. That’s it right there. Thanks to your showing me how to zip through the trees, Ziptrek Ecotours, you helped this Boomer woman impress my 16-year-old daughter. Not an easy feat – and reason enough for me to sign up for another of your amazing tours again. Great FUN all the way around, just as you promised!


Nancy Mueller Post Ziptrek Ecotours


For more information on how you, too, can soar through the forests at Whistler while dazzling your own children and grandchildren on a ziplining adventure, visit Ziptrek Ecotours.


Rainbow Backdrop


Thanks to host Ziptrek Ecotours for sharing this FUN adventure and to our most amazing guides, Keir, Admir and Kiah, for putting up with the likes of us!


Wander on!


Nancy


What about you, wanderboomers? Have you gone ziplining? What are your travel fears? How have you overcome them?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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