|Le Manoir Richelieu
is a study in authentic French Canadian design, true to the
architectural integrity of the 1920's, reflecting the rusticity
and understated luxe prevalent
in manors of the era.
Le Manoir Richelieu, the peak attraction in
the UNESCO-protected Bioshpere Reserve of Charlevoix, Quebec, has
vast windows that extend interior spaces past scenic hills and bays
to the horizon, inviting in the sunlight and the sea.
Text and photos by Toby Saltzman
If predictions count, the faster modern life spins into the millennium,
the more appealing to seekers of solace will be the pristine, unsung
corners of the globe - like the Charlevoix region surrounding the
newly-reopened Le Manoir Richelieu.
As far back as 1535, Jacques Cartier knew that he'd discovered
a gem of nature in the the striking coastline of the St. Lawrence
River, marked by wooded capes, bays and finger fjords, and a narrow
river that ribboned inland to a deep gorge cloistered by towering
cliffs. By 1760, this Charlevoix region in the heart of Quebec,
120 kilometers east of Quebec City, had become an enticing lure
for fishermen, hunters, and whalers, an inspiring hub for craftsmen,
writers and poets, and a tourist destination flourishing with inns.
The picturesque terrain, straddling 6000 square kilometers of the
Canadian Shield from the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers to the
Laurentian Mountains, tempted the Ontario and Richelieu Navigation
Company to build Le Manoir Richelieu in 1899 on the crest of Pointe-au-Pic
cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. An elite clientele returned
annually to Charlevoix's invigorating climate until a fire ravaged
the hotel in 1928.
Architect John Archibald hastily rebuilt the hotel in the style
of a Normandy chateau. Over the years, it passed through several
hands. The latest owners, a consortium of Canadian Pacific Hotels,
Loto-Quebec and the Fonds de Solidarite de la FTQ, envisioned a
bright future for Charlevoix, particularly after its pristine wilderness
was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational
Scientific and Cultural Organization. This designation recognized
Charlevoix's unique geological features and ecosystems, its diverse
fauna and flora, including an internationally important wetland
and population of six species of threatened whales, and the fact
that Charlevoix fosters sustainable development and promotes research
and education on conservation and cultural issues.
Today, after a $140 million refurbishment, Le Manoir Richelieu
is a magnificent, all-season resort fashioned in the intrinsic tradition
of Canadian Pacific Hotel's Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City
and Alberta's Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise.
The hotel itself is a study in authentic French Canadian design,
true to the architectural integrity of the 1920s, reflecting the
quintessential rusticity and understated luxe prevalent in manors
of the era.
|Casino de Charlevoix,
which looks like
a turreted castle of medieval fairy tales,
was recently tripled in size.
"The place was badly abused," said Alexandra Champalimaud, the
Canadian-born interior designer whose New-York based company conceived
and completed the project after extensively researching the hotel's
history. "Except for a few objets d'art, a couple of Krieghoffs,
and portraits of James Murray and Christopher Columbus, the best
things had disappeared. We aimed to create a sense of things past
that are comfortable in the present and that reflect the local environment."
Indeed, in this structure of grand scale and proportions, vast
windows extend interior spaces past scenic hills and bays to the
horizon, inviting the sunlight and the sea. Historic and local sentiment
pervades everywhere: on walls swathed in gleaming wood or embossed
fabrics; in meticulously reproduced Jacobean and Tudor furniture,
and accents crafted by local wrought-iron mongers; and in the abundance
of "countrified" flowers and plants plucked from local gardens.
The public rooms reflect the unpretentious mode of the era. The
broad lobby has sumptuous settees clustered around blazing fireplaces.
The handsome cigar room feels decidedly clubby. The tea salon has
a soft, feminine air. The wicker-filled sunroom has telescopes for
tracking whales by day and stars by night. The country manor flair
continues upstairs, in hallways carpeted in the burnished hues of
autumn; in bedrooms outfitted with period reproductions; and in
"Entrée Gold" suites boasting private telescopes, not to mention
private lounges and concierge service.
The resort's Normandy allusion even extends to the adjacent Casino
de Charlevoix. The Casino, which looks like a turreted castle of
medieval fairytales, was recently tripled in size. Funnily enough,
considering Quebec's language laws, the slot machines flash English
signs and dealers give gaming instruction in English.
If success is measured by inducements to linger, we were reluctant
to leave. First off, we found the meals consistently appetizing,
full of regional products, flavorful cheeses and perky miniature
vegetables, tender lamb and venison, quail stuffed with foie gras,
and tantalizing desserts.
The resort, set on 86 acres ablaze with brilliant fall foliage,
offers so many activities, we never managed, on our long weekend,
to try the indoor and outdoor pools, or the tennis courts. Or to
go horseback riding, mountain-biking, white-water rafting, whale
watching (where people raved about seeing "dozens of whales"). Or
to joint a jaunt to the local artists' studios and galleries, or
the boat cruise to the Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Riviere-Malbaie to see
the highest rock cliffs in eastern Canada. Not that we minded, we
were too busy hiking through beautiful forests, golfing, and later,
recovering in the spa.
|Le Manoir Richelieu's
devilish golf course
has fairways that roll down toward the sea.
It's a good thing we had extra balls, not to mention plenty of
patience, for this par-71, 6225-yard course, designed by Herbert
Strong and inaugurated by former U.S. President William Howard Taft.
What it lacks in length, it makes up for in devilish surprises and
stunning vistas from every tee. Named by Golf Digest as one of the
"10 Most Beautiful Courses in Canada", this course demanded target
shots. Miss-hits on the hilly fairways - fraught with doglegs, prevailing
breezes, and blind approaches to many greens - made balls roll towards
the river. The fast greens, which lie like undulating potato chips
on high mounds, defied our balls to stay put. Never mind. The play
was exhilarating. Our golfers' egos were swiftly soothed with deep
massages in the spa.
If my predictions count, Le Manoir Richelieu will put Charlevoix
on the international map of meccas for the millennium. A good thing
the region is protected under UNESCO's watchful eye.
Le Manoir Richelieu is an all-season resort.
Call Le Manoir Richelieu for current rates and special packages
including golf, skiing and adventure excursions.
Le Manoir Richelieu reservations: 1-800-441-1414 / 418-665-3703
Charlevoix Tourism: 1-800-667-2276 Internet: www.tourisme-charlevoix.com
Quebec Tourism: 1-800-363-7777
Skiing: In winter, Le Manoir Richelieu offers snowmobiling, cross-country
skiing, dogsledding, snowshoeing, skating, ice-fishing, and a shuttle
to the down-hill ski slopes of Mont Grands-Fonds (suitable for all
levels of skiers) and Le Massif (famed for the highest vertical
drop in Quebec, at 770-metres).
For 1999-2000 season, the greater Quebec City region offers a multi-ski
pass, called "Carte Blanche", which allows skiers and snowboarders
access to the slopes of Stoneham, Mont-Sainte-Anne, and Le Massif
for $45 per day. A shuttle will transport skiers to the slopes for
a slight charge.
For details call: 1-888-FUN-2-SKI.