Golf rules at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu
By Ted McIntyre
The par-5 third hole of the St-Laurent course at The Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu is a little like that slice of cheese that baits a mouse—spellbindingly alluring…and then the mouse dies.
Cut into a slope that tumbles left-to-right off an escarpment, and sliding downward all the way to a green protected by a nest of bunkers on the right, with a shaggy creek lying in wait for any mis-hit second shots, it’s a cruel temptress indeed.
It’s also a potential heart attack if you don’t enjoy mountain climbing, as there are no carts allowed on the fairway—understandable, if somewhat inconvenient, given the severity of the slope. And yet I still happily teed it up at that dazzling perch on three occasions, only to have the trap randomly snap down on me each time.
But even if you never solve the puzzle, the intoxicating siren’s call of the St-Laurent nine will keep you coming back for more—so arresting are the views across the municipality of La Malbaie in the Charlevoix region, an hour and 45-minute drive northeast of Quebec City.
Even before you’ve stuck a peg in the ground at the 27-hole layout, though, you’ve already developed an appreciation for the eye-popping topography, thanks to 1.5-km ascent from the cart-staging area of the Fairmont to the clubhouse. There you will find one of the most scenic driving ranges anywhere—plunging a hundred feet or so down toward the St. Lawrence River—as well as the signature par-5 first hole on the St-Laurent nine, with its own jaw-dropping panoramas of the adjacent river.
A little more than a decade ago, the club poured some $14 million into a major upgrade of the existing 18 holes—designed by English architect Herbert Strong and inaugurated on June 18, 1925 by former U.S. President William H. Taft—as well as the addition of nine new holes, courtesy architect Darrell Huxham.
While all three nines have their own unique character—from the plunging tee shot on No. 5 of the Tadoussac nine, just steps away from the tiny Charlevoix Observatory, to the pristine conditioning of the less punitive Richelieu nine—each of the 27 holes have one thing in common: All things being equal, putts will break enthusiastically toward the river, while, conversely, rolling like bowling balls toward the mountain. So, when it’s not in view, take the time to figure out where the St. Lawrence is at all times before you dare draw your putter back.
And consider bringing your own clubs, because you realistically can’t practice anything beyond a six-iron due to the restricted length of the driving range—and you really need to test the accuracy of your rental fairway woods, given how tight the course is in spots. Further, there’s no L-wedge in the rental bags, a club that would serve many well on the Fairmont’s firm putting surfaces.
And take note in the bunkers, as tiny rocks tend to emerge from the subsoil as the season progresses—possibly remnants of the meteor that crashed into the region 342 million years ago, blasting out a crater 54 kms wide that helped define much of the area’s dramatic landscape.
For all of the splendour of the grass, though, the most arresting view of all might well belong to the Fairmont hotel itself. The original Le Manoir Richelieu, a striking wooden edifice, was built in 1899 and featured 250 luxurious rooms atop the Pointe-au-Pic cliff, overlooking the river. But in 1928, while employees were closing the hotel for the winter, a fire erupted, destroying the property. Remarkably, the entire hotel was rebuilt a year later—this time designed in the style of a French stone castle.
While the daunting structure, which boasts 405 rooms and four restaurants, underwent a $140 million renovation in 1998, there’s still no onsite nightclub to be had. But you can always go sleepless at the adjacent Casino de Charlevoix, which is connected to the Fairmont by an underground tunnel.
Or you could burn off a little energy hiking the scenic tree-lined trails above the cliff. It seems cruel that there’s no access to the water below, although with a set of train tracks skirting the shoreline, it’s probably prudent to prevent guests from wandering down the slope.
There are a few shortcomings—the business centre is tiny by luxury hotel standards, the concierge was hard to be found at times, and having the family pool next to the adult pool is hardly optimal. But they’re offset by a number upscale touches, include kid-sized robes for the little ones, personal wake-up calls and a light-sensitive switch in the bathroom that automatically turns on the nightlight after the sun goes down.
And then there’s the food—that rapturous, mouth-watering, five-star, eye-candy cuisine of Executive Chef Patrick Turcot that makes most meals experiential, whether it’s Hercule cheese with truffle oil, trout with birch syrup, strawberry and basil terrine or an assortment or organic meats.
With few exceptions, the ingredients are sourced locally—something that guests can explore themselves on a day trip along Charlevoix’s celebrated Flavour Trail—a 143-km gastronomic stretch from Petite-Rivière-Saint-François in the south to La Malbaie in the north, where you can do everything from sampling alongside the producers themselves, to sitting down to an evening of fine dining.
There are dozens of stops along the route, including the La Maison d’Affinage Maurice Dufour in Baie-Saint-Paul, 40 minutes due south, with its iconic red barn and superior cheese collection. (It felt uncomfortably voyeuristic watching 20 sheep being milked en masse just feet away.)
If you’re going to leave the confines of the Fairmont for any reason, it should be to visit Baie-Ste-Paul. There’s a buzz in the air of this artsy little tourist town. At its heart lies the MicroBrasserie Charlevoix craft brewery and its Le Saint-Pub, What can you say about a beer flight menu that ranges from four potent Belgium-style brews to two concoctions of “Mad Cow,” one being a Milk Stout?
A safer but just as savoury a stop might be the Cidrerie Vergers Pedneault across the street, which offers up a bounty of some of the finest ciders I’ve ever tasted.
But if you wants to try something completely different, how about a tomato wine? In 1938, Omer Miche concocted a tomato-based elixir whose recipe remained a secret for generations. Today, his great-grandson, Pascal, president of Domaine de la Vallée du Bras, pays tribute to his Belgian ancestor with Omerto, the world’s first aperitif tomato wine for retail.
A clear distillation of heirloom tomatoes—it is not fermented on the skins—this aperitif packs a wallop, with natural sugars in the fruit contributing to an 18% alcohol content. It will be, admittedly, an acquired taste for many, although they swear it’s taking off in Asia.
Somehow our tour failed to include the Chocolaterie Cynthia, which, I’m told, serves 12 types of hot chocolate in the winter and infuses their 72% cacao with the region’s fresh fruits, maple, beer, cheeses, etc.
Not than I’m bitter about that or anything (May God smite them with two wonky ankles and an entire round of third holes on the St-Laurent course.)
Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu: Fairmont.com/richelieu-charlevoix/
Charlevoix Tourism: Tourisme-charlevoix.com/en
Flavour Trail: Routedesaveurs.com
Air Canada: Aircanada.com