Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Getting French at Club Med Charlevoix and Beyond

Across the Aisle Interviews, Trip Reports

It’s a holiday, so I figured it would be better to put this post live than to just leave you with nothing today, right? When we left off, we had picked up our sporty Kia Forte at the Montreal airport and headed out for a long, four-hour drive that has us paralleling the St Lawrence River the entire way. At the end of this yellow brick road was… Club Med Charlevoix.

My wife and I don’t do a lot of all-inclusives, but this was a family trip and my brother had a credit from a Club Med trip they canceled last year after getting COVID. We knew we wanted to go to this general area, so he pitched the idea of going to Club Med Charlevoix. We had no objections.

I’ve never been to a Club Med before, but I quickly learned that there is a cult-like thing going on there. There’s a whole Club Med language with people being separated into GM (guests), GOs (primary guest-facing employees), and GEs (more behind-the-scenes employees like bussers, housekeeping, etc). You know it’s weird when a company has a glossary available.

And then there’s the really strange “45” thing, which is not — despite what you may think — a pro-Trump organization. It’s something that celebrated the company’s 45th anniversary, and the logowear with 45 on it is everywhere. They even have 45-themed nights. This doesn’t sound too odd until you learn that the 45th anniversary was in 1995.

Since this was my brother’s credit, I didn’t do any of the arranging. That’s a good thing, because getting them on the phone is nearly impossible. The reservations line had interminably long waits when they went to book. That also made it challenging to get information about the different rooms, the property, etc. They don’t make phone numbers directly to the resort readily available, so you just have to call general reservations and wait in line.

With this intro, you probably assume that I hated this experience, but you would be wrong. This kind of feels like Turkish Airlines where the planning/pre-trip experience is downright terrible, but once you’re in the air, it’s great. I was surprised at just how much I liked Club Med. How’s that for a plot twist?

From Montreal we drove along the southern banks of the river until we reached Quebec City where we crossed to the north. After a quick stop for dinner, we hopped back on a smaller road that follows along the north/turning-west bank as the river gradually widens and mixes with the ocean.

The road started out as a divided highway but it soon turned into a two lane road with steep climbs over mountains and into valleys. The views were spectacular. Not 15 minutes before arriving, you turn off that main road and plunge down toward the water. A cruise ship was passing just as we descended, giving us quite a view.

The sleepy town of Petite-Rivière-Saint-François lies along the river, and then up ahead is the Club Med which only opened at the end of last year. It’s an imposing figure next to this sleepy town, and I can imagine that there was some displeasure with this place getting built.

The resort lies at the base of the Charlevoix ski resort with a sweeping view of the St Lawrence. You can access the ski area from the top of the mountain as well, but this would presumably give people a great opportunity to take a lift up, ski down, and then go sit in a hot tub. That wasn’t anything for us to worry about since it was summer, and snow was not even a thought in anyone’s minds.

When we arrived, we were taken into a private lounge to wait for someone to greet us. We had opted to stay in the Exclusive Collection which is a top end experience at Club Med that lets you get away from the masses. The GOs all live on property, so our main concierge came down despite our late arrival and put our wristbands on — that part I hated — before having us escorted to our rooms.

We were in a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom suite that had a mudroom — again, not something we needed in summer — along with a nice sitting area. The rooms look modern and somewhat minimalist. The setup was perfectly good. I somehow did not take a photo of the room, so here’s one that Club Med has on the website.

Photo via Club Med

Club Med is French, and that’s both good and bad. The good part is that there is a very important focus on food. And it was so good. The bad part is that some of the entertainment options just did not appeal to me. For example, they had some sort of show each night. We went down the first night and it was just GOs wearing costumes and doing bad lip synching to famous songs. At least, some were famous. The others were, I assume, famous in France. We did not go back.

It was also particularly frustrating that the Exclusive Collection rooms were built right on top of this show area, and the music could be felt thumping in the rooms as late as 1 in the morning.

But let’s get back to the food. It was just so, so good. There is one main buffet restaurant which feels like a cruise ship in that it has multiple stations with different types of food. Yes, there were the standard issue hamburgers and pizza (which were actually very good) along with plenty of croissants in the morning. But there was also intricately-prepared fish recipes, beef tartar, foie gras… the list goes on.

My mom is vegan, and they told her to tell that to one of the GOs at the door upon entering. That person went and brought out a sous chef to walk her around each station and tell her what she could eat. The menu was different every day, and I never had anything bad there. That includes dessert.

There is also a specialty restaurant which you can dine at with reservations whenever you want. We ate there one night, and it was interesting. You don’t order any food. They just bring out course after course family style and everyone can share. It was nice for one night, but the buffet was so good and provided so much variety that our divergent tastes preferred that route.

During the days, we would do a variety of things. The first day we walked into town and spent some time along the sea wall and in the park. (Yes, that’s my son wearing his bright red Delta hat that he absolutely loves.)

Another day we went into the “big” city of Baie-St-Paul where we ate lunch and drove around touring cheesemakers and butchers. Oh, and here’s a pro tip: if anyone offers you Eau de Vie de Petit Lait at one of these cheesemakers, be warned. At first it tastes like vodka, but then you realize there’s a hint of milk. That’s because it is made from whey that is normally thrown away. I was not a fan.

Another day we went up the mountain for a hike. There are plenty of guided hikes and mountain biking options. We took a fairly easy 5km stroll up at the top of the mountain after riding the gondolas up. The view wasn’t great since it was cloudy with sprinkles, but it was still some welcome exercise in a beautifully green part of the world.

Each night, I would generally find myself in the private lounge for Exclusive Collection members. That’s where the concierges were, but they also had light snacks at different parts of the day and a full bar. The liquor selection was pretty bad, and while it was included, it would have been nice to have the option to buy up to something better than Johnnie Walker Red. Most nights I’d have a couple of drams while reading a book. There was also a couple jacuzzis up top. Oh, and did I mention the view?

For the kids, they do have a kids club, but my son wasn’t interested. My daughter, however, loved it, especially when they went to the indoor pool for some quality swimming time. They also did some hiking with the kids, played sports, etc. It definitely exhausted her and her cousins by the end of the day.

After our four nights were done, I was ready to move on, but I was definitely pleasantly surprised about the Club Med experience. Oh that food….

We drove back into Quebec City and dropped the cars off. Then we did a 2 hour walking tour through the old town which made me realize if nothing else that we really should have spent more time there.

It’s a beautiful, old city, and I wish we had been able to explore more. But alas, it was not to be. We headed to the stately Gare du Palais and took a Via Rail ride to Montreal.

I’ll talk more about that and our time in Montreal next time.

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5 comments on “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Getting French at Club Med Charlevoix and Beyond

  1. I have stayed at different club med resorts more than half a dozen times, including with kids, as a part of a couple, and even alone.

    I have always enjoyed them very much. There are some quirks, and I still don’t know what the hell the deal is with all the 45 things. Why not 50 or 60?

    This is French company, but of the resorts I’ve been to cater well to English speakers as well. That said, some are much more focused on French speakers only. The ones on Martinique and Guadeloupe are like that. The ones in Mexico and other areas of the Caribbean are better if you don’t speak French.

    Most of the resorts really cater to families, and there are lots of great activities for them. Ironic since the company was originally set up for wild adult vacations. But I’ve also enjoyed myself as an adult without kids at them, as they do a good job of keeping it from being risky overrun by the kids.

  2. I liked my time in Quebec City a lot more than my time in Montreal. Quebec City is just so charming and the food was quite good.

  3. The view going into Baie St-Paul on Quebec 138 is indeed spectacular. I was dispatched to Baie St-Paul in October 2008 to get a truck that I drove to the Port of Newark, NJ. To get there I took AC YWG-YUL then YUL-YQB and a driver from the company I contracted with took me to Baie St-Paul. On the descent to YUL I saw a carpet of colours as the fall colours were at their peak.

  4. Quebec City is amazing. The food there is fantastic and the Fairmont hotel pictured there is great. We stayed on the top floor and ate at the restaurant Le Continental just across the street. The restaurant served many tableside dishes and flambeed entrees and desserts. The bar at the Fairmont is also great with tiki drinks. You should check it out for a few days.

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Cranky Flier