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Introducing Charlevoix

Hold up a blade of Charlevoix grass and you'll see it bend in the breeze of contentment that wafts through the region's flowery farmlands. For 200 years, this pastoral strip of rolling hills has been a summer retreat for the wealthy and privileged. Rtes 138 and 362 are the main activity in towns nestled comfortably between the St Lawrence and parks such as the taiga-covered Parc des Grand Jardins, named by the English after its resemblance to their country gardens.

Unesco has classified the entire area a World Biosphere Reserve, which has resulted in worthwhile restrictions on the types of permitted developments, as well as a palpable sense of pride among residents. There's also a lot to be proud of in towns such as the almost impossibly relaxing Baie St Paul. The ateliers (artists studios), galleries and boutiques lining its few streets hark back to the artists who, in the late 19th century, gravitated to Charlevoix to paint landscapes as a nationalistic exercise.

Charlevoix is also known as a center for the culinary arts and was at the forefront of the organic food movement in Canada 10 years ago. The Route des Saveurs (Route of Flavors) takes in 16 farms and eateries, including the home of Éboulmontaise lamb and one of Québec's best restaurants. Local menus generally read like inventories of Charlevoix produce.

The area totals 6000 sq km yet is home to just 30,000 people. Glacier-carved crevices, cliffs and jagged rock faces overlook a unique geographical feature: the immense valley formed by a prehistoric meteor. A space rock weighing 15 billion tons, with a diameter of about 2km, smashed into the earth here at 36,000km/h some 350 million years ago, leaving a crater measuring 56km in diameter. The point of impact was the present-day Mont des Éboulements, halfway between Baie St Paul and La Malbaie, some 10km inland.

A driving route to consider taking is the 'River Drive' (Rte 362) one way and then returning through ear-popping hills on the 'Mountain Drive' (Rte 138) inland.