Saint-Raymond-de-Portneuf: The Authentic Quebec Experience

Featured image by Philippe Jobin courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

Located fifty kilometres away from Quebec City, Saint-Raymond is the new outdoor recreation mecca in the Capitale-Nationale region.

The quaint town, home to roughly 10,000 souls, is surrounded by countless lakes, rivers, picturesque farmland, rolling hills and lush mixed forests where wildlife thrives. It boasts a long tradition of forestry, hunting, fishing and cottage culture.

Far enough from the city to benefit from many local amenities and not feel like a commuter town, yet close enough for thousands of recreationists to visit each weekend, the town is literally booming with a young and fresh energy. The vibe found there is reminiscent of the one found in the small hip mountain towns of Western Canada.

With the development of an award-winning sustainable tourism development model over the last fifteen years combined with a thorough downtown revitalization initiative, Saint-Raymond looks and feels better than ever.

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This place, so dear to my heart Photo credit: Pascal Cothet

 

Born and raised in the Portneuf region and descending from two local families of settlers, I have known Saint-Raymond forever and spent some of my best childhood moments there. I have always taken great pleasure in going back to visit my many relatives. This year’s visit was extra special as I got to take my husband and daughter for a two-week incursion into the awesomeness of this little town and its surrounding beauty. Wearing new sets of lenses – a blogger, traveller and mother always on the lookout for inspiration – I got to re-discover this beloved land and share the experience with my little family.

st-leonard. Photo credit Pascal Cothet
Because the area looks pretty good in the fall as well.  Photo credit Pascal Cothet

I’d like to share the highlights of our stay and give some tips to anyone lucky enough to be planning a trip to Quebec and willing to experience this unique area’s authentic culture and way of life.

 

Lac Sept-Iles (Lake of Seven Islands) – For Lakelife and Relaxation #QuebecStyle

Along with my mother and sister, we rented a lovely cottage right on the water in this piece of heaven that screams “vacations” and “good times.” Cute cottages and manicured landscapes (also some very luxurious mansions!) surround this lake located a mere 10-minutes drive from town. The narrow winding 11km lake road, dotted with hand-painted address numbers and welcome signs and wrapped up in a dense canopy of ancient maple trees is worth exploring on two wheels or on a morning jog.

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Feeding the ducks, one of our daily activities

 

 

 

Connecting to the main lake is a natural haven, Lac aux Chiens (Dogs Lake). Part of the preserved land adjacent to the Station Touristique de Duchesnay, this protected area is ideal for a quiet paddle, a swim, and a picnic. Binoculars are in order as it’s quite frequent to observe a family of beavers at work, a hungry moose or some of the numerous bird species.  A good trail also wraps around this lake, which serves as the perfect destination for a trail run or family hike.

 

 

 

 

Lac Sept-Iles is popular amongst boaters, wakeboarders and waterskiers and can be busy on hot summer days. But by picking our stay later in August, and thanks to the cooler, wetter temperatures, we basically had the lake to ourselves.

Many cottages are available for rent for every budget and group size and usually include the use of kayaks, canoes, windsurf or paddle boats. The Camp Portneuf  also offers cottage rentals, serves as a watersport base, holds a summer camp and day camps for kids age 4-14 and even offers family camps.

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Camp Portneuf – Photo courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond
Camp Portneuf
Camp Portneuf – Photo Courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

 

The Vallée du Bras du Nord (North Arm Valley) – Outdoor Adventures for Everyone

 

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A valley where wilderness and agriculture happily coexist. Photo credit Pascal Cothet

 

The “Vallée Bras-du-Nord” or North-Arm Valley is certainly the major draw for many visitors traveling to Saint-Raymond, and with good reason. What used to be a hidden gem where locals would go backcountry camping and canoeing on the North-Arm of the Sainte-Anne river, is now an epic larger-than-nature outdoor resort. A full week wouldn’t be enough to check out all there is to do!

The topography of the place is perfectly suited to hiking, paddling and mountain biking, and a tremendous amount of work has gone into perfecting the trail network over the years.

The “En Marche” project, a youth workforce rehabilitation initiative, employs a dozen local youth each year who are dealing with personal challenges such as dropout, addictions, and violence, to build and maintain the trails.

This initiative, along with the social enterprise management model that applies best practices in local governance in relation to land use, funding, and development, truly contributes to making the resort even more remarkable.

 

 

 

 

Home to the best mountain biking trails in the vicinity of Québec City, riders can find a wide variety of itineraries for beginners and experts alike, a full-service rental shop, amazing vistas, slick rock, tacky dirt and wooden features of all sorts. The trail network, which serves as the course for the infamous annual “Raid du Bras du Nord” – the premier MTB event in Québec –  has now been extended to the local ski hill and the edges of town, as the local rider base keeps growing and so does the demand from out-of-town.

During our stay, my husband, sister and I got to ride La Neilson Nord and la Neilson Sud , a fun 25 km black-diamond flow trail loop dotted with some very techy sections, berms and skinnies, and runs along the namesake river and its stunning rapids and waterfalls. La Neilson Est provides a newly-added 10km extension, but unfortunately, we ran out of time to ride the full loop.  I must also say that with very little riding under my belt this summer, I already felt quite humbled by the challenge presented by the two trails.

The Valley is also an incredible hiking destination. It boasts state-of-the-art mountain huts dispersed along the scenic and rewarding multi-day hiking routes that can be completed year-round (with snowshoes in winter). Easy day hikes, a larger than nature guided via ferrata course, guided canyoning outings down the spectacular waterfalls and single or multi-day paddling are also amongst the activities offered in the Vallée.

In the winter, fat-bikers and backcountry skiers now have a new and ever developing playground to explore.

With a full array of accommodation options right on site including yurts, campsites, and fully equipped cottages, and a Welcome Centre open year-round, the Vallée is a destination worth spending time in to enjoy the wonders in every season.

 

riding la Neilson- vallée bras du nord
slick rocks and fast moving waters. Photo credit Hervé Durand
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Anne appreciating the craftsmanship on the trail
waterfalls and mountain biking
Idyllic backdrop. Photo credit Hervé Durand.

 

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Flowy goodness riding the trails of Vallée Bras du Nord. Photo credit Olivier Lachance, courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

 

La Vallée Secrète – For Your Little Gnomes

A dwarf here and a gnome there. Proudly wearing the green dwarf’s hat, your little ones aged two and up get to embark on a fantastic scavenger hunt. Through the woods, they will follow a path and discover the world of wood fairies and other creatures. Equipped with keys, a map, and a magnifying glass, they move along an age-appropriate course. The goal is to find treasure boxes tied to trees, open them up with the right key, answer the questions and unleash the secret code. Kids must use their logic and observation skills to move along, complete the course and be granted access to the dwarf’s musical show.

 

 

An award-winning family attraction, the Secret Valley is a great way to spend a half-day with and for the little ones. Located only a 20-minute drive from Saint-Raymond’s downtown, the park is popular with day camps and school groups. It boasts a covered picnic area, kid-sized washrooms, and a gift shop. It also hosts turn-key birthday parties. www.valleesecrete.com

 

Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Cycling Path – For the Two-Wheel Travellers

Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf @Philippe Jobin
Vélopiste Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf. Photo credit Philippe Jobin, courtesy of Ville de Saint-Raymond

Linking Québec City with Rivière-à-Pierre, the 75 km-long cycling path takes cyclists along rapidly moving rivers, calm lakes, colourful forests and quaint towns. With a very gentle incline, this rail trail offers a fun and meditative way to discover Québec’s authentic countryside, while burning the calories from the decadent food eaten along the trip. Quebec’s Route Verte network is often stated as a best practice case study for cyclo-tourism for the quality of the network, the signage, the services offered along the way and the ability to easily travel across the province on two wheels. The Jacques-Cartier Portneuf Trail is part of the Route Verte #6.

 

Roquemont Craft Brewery – For the Thirsty Explorers

When we first walked into the Restaurant and Brewpub, we were struck by the smell of hop and smoky ribs.  Our little group sat down and ordered a pint of la Singletrack, la Bois Rond, as well as a few other locally brewed cold pints, and appreciated the refined and complex tastes, a testament to the master brewer’s savoir-faire.

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Craft beer for the mountain bikers at heart. Photo credit Pascal Cothet

The menu holds a dozen brews including some seasonal features. On a Friday night, the place was lively and full. With a few of my childhood friends visiting that night, we couldn’t help but comment on how hip the place had become.

The Roquemont is also known to feature pub food with a twist, like house-made sausages and boudin noir (black pudding), a signature poutine with game meat and beer gravy, and divine tartars. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sample the food menu this time.

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Boudin Noir and other delicacies – Photo credit Pascal Cothet
Pascal Cothet - Le Roquemont
A sleek-looking timber frame facade- Photo credit Pascal Cothet

In the parking lot, SUV’s of all sorts boast bike racks well equipped with the latest mountain bikes. Next door, Frenette Bicyclette has set up shop right at the trailhead closest to town and provides a full retail, repair and rental shop.

The Roquemont is also an affordable place to stay and offers 40 newly renovated rooms and all sorts of stay and play packages, which makes the hotel the perfect base-camp for weekend warriors.

Capitalizing on good vibes, good beer, good food and live music, the new management of the Roquemont definitely seems to have found the recipe for success. www.roquemont.com

 

Cheese & French Fries – Saint-Raymond’s Culinary Delights

Saint-Raymond’s very special cheese has already been the subject of its own full blogpost, and I could go on and on about how wonderful it is.

This year I felt so honoured to take my daughter to my grandparents’ old house to check out Alexis de Portneuf‘s boutique store. It was quite unique to see my mom showing my daughter where her bedroom was growing up in the home.

A stone’s throw away from the Jacques-Cartier/Portneuf Rail trail, it is the ideal location to grab some cheese, fresh bread, cold cuts and a craft ice cream cone to make up the best picnic. This place is also perfect for grabbing some edible and non-edible souvenirs from your trip.

The best tip for cheese lovers, the store has a selection of cheeses on special for $1, $2 and $3 daily…Heaven!

 

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My grandparents’ house is now the boutique store
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Sandwiches and cheese boards to go, yes please!
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Vive la crème glacée!

 

Obviously, my post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the other food institution in Saint-Raymond, the infamous Ti-Oui Snack Bar. This place has been around for at least three decades and serves Québec’s absolute best poutine. With loads of squeaky fresh cheddar curds, served over fresh hand-cut fries and a secret recipe gravy (BBQ is my favorite type), a trip to the Portneuf region isn’t complete without a stop at Ti-Oui’s.

While I am cognizant that what made our stay in the Saint-Raymond area so exceptional is the family connections we have in this place and the quality time we spent with our friends, uncles, aunts, parents, and cousins. But as a world traveler, I know for a fact that this area has a lot to offer the explorer in search of an authentic off the beaten path Quebec experience.

I would recommend to anyone considering a trip to this region to hurry up, as it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a preferred travel destination with all the hassles that come with it!

For more information visit: www.saintraymond.ca

I would be happy to provide more trip planning tips to anyone, just fire me a quick email!

Salut, là!

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The Best Cheese Fondue Recipe

…and it’s Backcountry-Friendly!

 

At least five different people have asked me for my cheese fondue recipe this past month. Last winter alone, we must have hosted at least 5 or 6 fondue dinners at the request of our friends who have all wanted to reproduce the feast at home…Each time I have happily explained the recipe how-to verbally, or in a text message, or scribbled the instructions on a post-it…until I reminded myself: “eh, don’t you have a blog about skiing, climbing, adventure travel AND food?!”

 

So, I have decided to share my recipe for this traditional alpine dish we all love so much, but also, to tell you a bit about how and why it became so special to us, in addition to being so darn rich, smooth and delicious.

 

Those of you who have read my first food-related blog will recall that I have a pretty special relationship with cheese.

 

Maybe my deep interest for everything cheese has something to do with why I became so close with my dear friend Rachel Martin from La Grave, Hautes-Alpes, France.

 

Rachel owns the most incredible cheese shop right in the Village. She is one of the first individuals I met when we moved to La Grave in 2004, but also the one who has been so kind and caring to me that she became like my second mom.

 

Not only does she hold this very special place in my heart, she also taught me how to make real cheese fondue.

 

In Rachel’s shop, you find the finest looking display of cheeses and charcuteries one can find in the whole Alps. From Gruyère to Abondance, Comté, and Beaufort, from Tomme de Savoie, truffle cheese to Jura’s very own Mont-d’Or and the best goat cheese around, from boar saucisson and speck ham that melts in your mouth, there is more than one’s eyes and belly can take in.

 

If you happen to spend some time in La Grave one day, which should obviously be on every skier’s or mountaineer’s wish-list, La Fromagerie de Montagne must not be missed.

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Rachel’s Fromagerie de Montagne under one of the most majestic mountains on Earth, La Meije (3983m). Photo courtesy of Ben de La Grave, our dear friend and Rachel’s son http://www.bendlg.com

 

At Rachel’s I would pop by for tea every second day if not every day during the six years we lived there. She would send me home with a bag full of most amazing cheeses each time, which is worth a little fortune by-the-way. At the time, being a dirtbag student with not much to put on our table, Rachel’s cheeses and cured meats made us feel like millionaires.

 

She also throws the best dinner parties out there. I recall squeezing in her great big living room with 20 or 25 other fine folks for voluptuous meals, usually a cheese specialty of some kind, and eating and drinking and listening to the latest indie music hits (Rachel also has amazing musical tastes) until late at night…

 

You will now have guessed that I hold my cheese fondue recipe from her. I obviously had to find an adaptation somehow, to Kimberley’s ingredients supply (between Crème Cheese Shop and Overwaitea you can actually find all you need at a fairly decent price).

 

I am pretty satisfied with the result and I hope you will too. Once you try, I promise you will never go back to packaged fondue ever again. Here we go…

 

For The Best Cheese Fondue, you will need:

200 grams of cheese per adult. 3 types of cheese minimum. Grated.
Gruyère, Emmenthal or Comté, and the local touch, some Kootenay Meadow Alpindon
1/2 bottle of dry white wine (the best is Vin de Savoie but it’s hard to find around here so Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio will do. For the record, I have tried it with Champagne once when we were out of wine and it tastes great too!)
4 cloves of garlic
fresh ground pepper, to taste
a pinch of ground nutmeg
a pinch of baking soda

 

For the bread:
1 large loaf of white or whole wheat sourdough (a day old is best)

 

Instructions:

Cut the bread into 2″ cubes ahead of time and set aside for an hour or two so it’s a bit dry. Alternatively, you can also place it in the over on a baking sheet at low temp for a few minutes.

Cut one of a garlic clove in half and rub the pot with it.
Add 250ml of white wine and turn the stove on a medium-low temperature.
Add half of the grated cheese and stir gently while it melts.
Alternate between wine and cheese so the texture is liquidy enough.
Add the rest of the garlic (chopped), the freshly ground pepper, nutmeg, and baking soda.
Keep stirring until the texture is a smooth as possible.

 

Transfer to the burner. Dip a chunk of bread and savour!

 

I like to serve my fondue with some small Mailles pickles (cornichons extra-fins) and a bit salad with slices of apple, walnuts, and a Dijon-based vinaigrette.

 

For the backcountry lovers, cheese fondue is a fun dish to serve on a hut trip. You can just grate the cheese ahead and store it in Ziploc bags, the pepper, the nutmeg and baking soda already mixed in another bag and garlic on the side. Bring wine in a tetra pack box and heat it over a camping stove. It is such a comforting and high-calorie dish, it will fuel you up for the next day for sure. It is, of course, great for sharing too.

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A backcountry fondue shared with family on a snowy autumn hike to the Jumbo Pass Hut for my daughter’s second birthday

 

I hope you will enjoy this fondue as much as my family and friends do. Every time we have it we create more great memories and still recall with so much joy the amazing time we’ve had and we will still have over fondue, here in the Kootenays or at Rachel’s house.

 

Cheese it up!

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Cheese fondue is the ideal party dish on a cold winter night

Your Wheel of Canadian Brie, My Family Story

For my first food-related post, the topic that naturally came to mind was to tell how and why my passion for food came to life and grew over the years.

…Don’t run away just yet. I am not going to tell you too much about myself growing up and learning to cook with my mom and that kinda stuff…

I thought instead I would dig a little deeper in my family’s history and tell you all about how it relates to this wheel of Canadian made Brie, this creamy blue or tangy and fresh-tasting goat cheese you love so much and regularly buy at your local grocery store or order in a fancy dish at the restaurant.

Alexis. Perhaps this name sounds familiar. The “Alexis de Portneuf” brand takes up quite some space at many grocery stores across Canada in the fine cheese section, alongside many other brands of Canadian made and imported fine cheeses.

However, way before the cheese brand, there was the character, Alexis Cayer, who has existed…for real. He was my ancestor; my great-great grand-father on my mother’s side.

The story of my family is directly tied to the story of the land. The land surrounding the current location of Quebec City was traditionally occupied by the Huron-Wendat First Nation. Almost 200 years ago, the first settler of European origin to pay interest at the land located 50 km north of the City,  on the plain of the St.Anne river about 75 km upstream from its junction with the St.Lawrence, at the foothills of the Laurentian mountains, was Alexis Cayer. He became one of the founding fathers of Saint-Raymond de Portneuf, a former forestry and agriculture town currently leading major diversification efforts and on its way to become an outdoor recreation mecca. On a mission to log, farm and establish a settlement on the land given by the Crown to brave and hard-working young men, Alexis made Saint-Raymond his home.

Alexis’ legacy was his knowledge and passion for the land and his strong family values, which were passed down to his children and grand-children who became landscapers, builders and farmers, and finally, cheese makers.

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The Cayer Farm and Mill and a healthy cattle of Holsteins

Henri was my grand-father. He was smart and hardworking. However, he didn’t really enjoy vegetable farming and the hard labour in the fields that he had to do as a child to support his parents on their farm. He certainly had a different vision for himself. At 19 years old, he got his first contract as a forestry foreman and he was managing 40 guys. What was the most interesting part to him was to arrange transport of the lumber from far and remote logging sites.

Henri was also a real entrepreneur. A few years later, he took over the distribution of the dairy products from his parents’ farms. He thought the milk and dairy distribution around town offered better opportunities than vegetable farming and weekly market sales. On his parent’s land, he put up little building with large fridges to stock the milk as well as bottling equipment. “La Laiterie Chez Nous” was founded.

The first morning he went on his milk run, he took 18 bottles with him but sadly brought 12 back home at the end of his shift. The following fall, he was selling 300 bottles a day and had extended his milk run significantly. Soon enough, his own cows were not producing enough milk to supply his clients so Henri started acquiring more cattle and expanding the stables. Buying cows, growing the cattle and reselling them was also a lucrative activity for him. In addition, he invested lots of time, research and effort into breeding milk cows. Over the years, Henri was awarded multiple times for the excellence of his cattle-raising.

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La Laiterie Chez Nous in 1954. Some of the delivery was still made with horse-drawn wagon. Cayer Family archives

In 1951, Henri expanded his dairy production even more and started purchasing pasteurization equipment, a bottling plant and a fleet of delivery vehicles to expand the milk distribution route to the neighboring communities and even all the way to the outskirt of Quebec City. His production consisted of bottled milk, cream, butter…and ice cream!

Vintage bottle caps. Source: laiteriesduquebec.com

In 1969, Henri had some more grand ideas and took off for France to explore the opportunity of making fine cheeses right at his Saint-Raymond dairy farm and to learn all about the ancient French tradition in cheesemaking. He knew the milk producers in Quebec had significant surpluses but strangely enough, we were importing tons of fine cheeses from France. From then, Henri was convinced that fine cheesemaking in Quebec had a promising future and he started investing seriously into it.

In Montpellier, Henri met Mr. Roger Capdepon, who soon after immigrated to Canada and started making cheese with grand-pa…Henri was kind and caring and family meant a lot to him. Therefore, Mr. Capdepon soon was considered as a family member. Brie, camembert, blue cheese were produced at the little factory of the rang St.Jacques. Their team also specialized in goat cheese making and soon took over the largest chunk of the provincial market.

In 1976, the dairy production counted 70 employees. Denis, my uncle was the general manager, René, my uncle and godfather, the accountant and my great-aunt Eva was the head of the research lab. Research partnerships were also established with Université Laval. Together, they all worked hard to create new products and promote fine cheeses to an ever-growing market throughout the entire province of Quebec. When he took over the business in the late 70’s upon Henri’s retirement, my uncle Denis and his team expanded the distribution of more products to further away markets, with more investments in marketing and better production efficiencies.

Almost every member of our family has been involved with the Fromagerie at a certain point in time.  I myself have manned exhibit booths as a teenager at some fairs, shows, festivals and farmers markets and I remember it being a lot of fun to promote and sell the products I knew so well, to learn more about the making processes and spend time with my elderly cousins.

Partners and employees were also considered family by my grand-father and, growing up, I remember my grand-parents hosting huge reunions and gatherings. There were always people randomly dropping by at their house, who would be greeted with good home cooking, fine cheeses and wine. My grand-father also use to like his gin…

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Employees and family members all mingled at social gatherings hosted by my grand-parents in 1958 .Cayer Family archives

 

In the early 2000’s, the Fromagerie was sold to Saputo. Although Saputo is a big corporation, they have always honoured the family tradition and artisanal character of the cheeses, which are still produced in Saint-Raymond in the same factory. My aunt Reine stayed on for a few years in her role of Director of Operations to ensure a smooth transition. If you happen to be passing by, there still is a cute little cheese store in my grand-parents’ house, with lots of family photos on the walls and many family artifacts displayed.

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Pasteurization equipment displayed at a local exhibition in the 1950’s

 

Back in the days, it was pretty unusual to have brie, goat and blue cheese on the table anywhere in Quebec, and even more so in Western Canada…Back then it was mostly the reign of good old cheddar. My grand-father certainly has transmitted us the taste for good quality food, his love for the land and nature and his family values. He also contributed in building our most recent Canadian pride for artisanal food and local savoir-faire and contributed to a certain extent to the refinement of the Canadians’ taste for fine foods.

I can’t quite say that I am related to a wheel of Brie…nor that cheese runs through my veins…well, not quite…but almost!