La Ferme, Baie St. Paul, Quebec
Every day I receive press releases about the next glitzy resort opening, set to make its splashy debut in some corner of the globe. Many of these upscale properties charge in excess of $1,000 a night, your entrance fee to a world of exclusivity. Forget the local community. You’ll be hidden behind gates and fences, where maybe, if you’re lucky, your server that night comes from somewhere inside that country. Sustainability, the buzzword of the 90s and 00s, seems to have been replaced, as of late, by excessive opulence. Then I laid eyes on Hotel La Ferme in Quebec’s Charlevoix region and I can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that someone gets it. They have finally built a resort worthy of the new millennium.
When Daniel Gauthier’s wooden barn, the largest structure in Canada, burned to the ground accidentally during a Quebec holiday in 2007, he began to reimagine the property he wanted to create in Baie-Saint-Paul. He ended up housing the 145 rooms and lofts in five separate pavilions reminiscent of farm buildings from yesteryear. The simple wooden exterior of the buildings hides a whimsical and contemporary European décor, where rolling barn doors might open to the bathroom or the family suite might come with comfortable bunk beds for each child. Yet, Gauthier’s next move is what won me over. He added 12 rooms, each with four beds, as his own version of a hostel. Gauthier knows that the nearby ski area, Le Massif
, attracts a large crowd of young skiers. He wanted to offer them a great place to stay for only $49 per bed.
There is no separation between Hotel La Ferme and the community. In fact, Gauthier made a mandate that food and craftsmanship should be produced within a 50-kilometer radius of Baie-Saint-Paul, if possible. So that salmon and emu meat was raised locally, the cheeses and bread a Charlevoix specialty, the red beer was brewed just down the road. The wooden trays and “do not disturb” signs in the rooms are manufactured by a group of local artisans who had the misfortune of not graduating high school. On Sundays, from mid-June to mid-October, the hotel invites 20 local farmers to showcase their fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and breads in a market just outside the lobby.
Yes, there’s a spa with six treatment rooms, a room for yoga, a bar and lounge around a fireplace in the main building, and a café that makes arguably the best café au lait I’ve had this side of the Atlantic. But again, Gauthier, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil, chose to be innovative. He has returned to his performing roots by offering a banquet space that can double as a theater, screening room, or dance hall. Since Hotel La Ferme’s opening last June, they have featured many Quebecois performers, including cabaret singers, theater troupes, and DJs.
I love it when a local son or daughter becomes successful and gives back to the community. But in the case of Daniel Gauthier, he did so with class, style, and forward thinking. I’m hoping his ideas catch on with other hoteliers.
Steve Jermanok As a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, adventure travel expert at Budget Travel, and regular contributor on outdoor recreation for Outside, Men’s Journal, Health, and Sierra, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1,000 articles on the outdoors.He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. His latest book is Go Now! Put Your Life on Pause and See the World. He’s currently an adventure travel expert at Away.com and blogs daily at Active Travels.