Riding the Charlevoix: Part II –House of the Bootlegger

By Ken Aiken - the Gear Guy on

With the St. Lawrence River 1,000 feet below and Mount Èboulements rising behind me it stretches the imagination that this was ground zero of the cataclysmic meteorite impact that formed the vast crater of the Charlevoix. It seems both strange and understandable why this region wasn’t identified as being an impact crater until 1965. Toss a stone into thick mud and then imagine that mud freezing as the depression rebounds from the impact. That’s what happened here 340 million years ago.
Scoff if you want, but there a force called “earth energy” and regardless of whether you believe in dowsing or the reason certain ancient cultures built lithic structures such as Stonehenge it does visibly effect vegetation and the behavior of animals such as whitetail deer. This meteorite fractured the bedrock of this region for a depth of at least three miles and thousands of “micro quakes” are recorded each year. Why have so many creative people settled in this crater? Why has this creativity tended to be focused on art and food? These are the kind of questions I ponder while motorcycling, trying to see deeper than the scenic views that constantly unfold as I move down the highway.
Colorful signs line the River Route advertising the studios (altiers) of painters who have been drawn to the epicenter of the crater. One of them is Humberto Pinochet, artist extraordinare and fellow rider. I pull over in front of his studio, but the big Harley-Davidson isn’t there so I continue down the River Road to St. Irénée.
Other than at opposite sides of the crater at Baie-St-Paul and La Malbaie, this is the only place where Route 362 actually runs along the bank of the river. The views while riding down to the beach are stunning and the long descent exhilarating.
The village of St. Irénée is known for the beach that forms during low tide and Le Domaine Forget, the internationally famous retreat for professional musicians. Lying on a beach just isn’t my style, but I’ll return here in a couple of day to catch a performance in the acoustically flawless concert hall.
Leaving the flat straightaway along the beach I enter into the village. This requires being in second gear and absolutely heeding the warning sign posted for 25 kilometers/hour. Deep drainage ditches replace shoulders as the pavement narrows and climbs a steep grade with a very tight corner. To make it more interesting, line of sight becomes shortened and this is the center of the village with driveways and small businesses. It’s fantastic, but requires absolute attention and extreme caution to negotiate safely. It’s one of the reasons you’ll rarely find a truck on this road. I don’t speed up until after passing the roundabout.
Tonight I’m staying at Le Manoir Richelieu, a grand hotel from the early 20th century that situated on the cliffs of Pointe-au-Pic. The highway narrows and passes by an expansive golf course with a million-dollar view. This is part of the hotel property and is the only course that has actually tempted me to take up the sport of try to get a small white ball into a hole several hundred yards distant. It’s also the site of the Charlevoix Observatory, an educational partnership between the hotel and local high school (CEGP) that allows visitors an opportunity to explore the solar system and “nearby” galaxies. The road descends and I turn at the blinking traffic light. There’s no problem finding the place because the Charlevoix Casino is located on the hotel grounds.
Biker-friendly (they actually promote motorcycle tourism) Fairmont’s Le Manoir Richelieu offers five-star luxury at a price that competes with regular lodging chains in the U.S. and is less expensive than the majority of Montreal hotels. Besides, the view of the river is stupendous and bikes have their own secure inside parking spaces complete with a washing station.
After dumping my gear and a quick change I meet up with my riding buddy, François. It’s Friday night and we’re headed to the House of the Bootlegger. I was once called Club du Monts (Mountain Club) and it was a real speakeasy during prohibition.
The house is filled with secret doors, narrow passages, and other methods of confusing, deterring, and slowing down visiting officials. The owner was never busted: proof that this unique interior layout was successful. The downstairs is maintained as a museum and guests are given a tour before supper. Upstairs in the expansive attic exposed Mansard beams crisscross a space that’s almost impossible to describe. Imagine a hunting lodge where every nook, cranny, and wall are filled with funky collectibles and hip art and you’ll only begin to get an idea. There’s only one seating each evening and you’ll end up sitting with people you’ve never met before. This is party central where there’s plenty of food, wine, and the bartender is busy. After the plates have been cleared the live band amps up the place and it doesn’t shut down until the proprietress decides the party is over. This was one of Elvis Preseley’s favorite places, and it’s also one of mine.
The morning sun wakes me and I stumble down to the expansive patio to command an outside table for breakfast. The hotel has five restaurants, but the buffet in Le Bellerive is so extensive that placing a menu order seems redundant. I have the line chef prepare an omelet while I pile another plate high with crispy bacon, fruit, pastries, and cheese. Attentive staff keeps my coffee cup filled as I begin my day with another nearly legendary meal.
I originally came to the Charlevoix Region based on vague hearsay and my frustration over not finding any information about two special motorcycle roads. One of these was Route 362, La Route du Fleuve (The River Route) and the other La Route des Montagnes (The Mountain Route). Today I’m taking the later into the heart of the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and into the Upper Gorge of the Malbaie River. (Parc National des Hautes-Gorges de la Rivière-Malbaie). To be continued as Part III.

To read some of Ken’s other adventures log onto www.touringroads.wordpress.com and to view some videos and other stories about the Charlevoix Region www.charlevoixquebec.wordpress.com

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