29 FEB 2012: It’s always refreshing to come across innovators whose big ideas actually came to life. Think big, dream big.

That’s what a bunch of entrepreneurs and regions have done across Quebec. Recently many of their reps visited Toronto as part of the annual Quebec Day geared to the incentive travel and meetings industry to explain what’s cool and what’s new.

Susan Prophet, the director of meetings conventions and incentive travel from Destination Québec/Tourisme Québec, the ever gracious host, and 99 Quebec partners gathered inside the Canadian Room at the Fairmont Royal York to share the latest news with roughly 250 guests.

The nibbles were divine. You can picture buffet food stations themed on Old Montreal, Kébec with its Quebecois tourtière or maple baked beans, and the St. Lawrence Seaway for its local cheeses and seafood samplers.

Now for some crowd pleasers:

Trains ... and Cruising

Daniel Gauthier, co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, with the help of the federal and provincial governments, has rolled out the Train of Le Massif de Charlevoix between La Malbaie and Quebec City. The route transports passengers on a 3.5 hour ride on board vintage refurbished trains from Chicago. The interiors glisten in white, and the culinary wonders take on new meaning, since Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu's Executive Chef Jean-Michel Breton is creating local agri-sensations on board.

Another train --part of Gauthier’s grand master plan -- is to provide an easy commute between Baie St Paul and Le Massif, to what insider’s have described as “an easy step on and step off experience.” This rail shuttle will feature a state-of-the-art train. Expect service to start in June 2012.

The Eastern Townships is pleased with a new gastronomic cruise excursion aboard Escapades Memphrémagog’s new cruise boat which started service last summer. The cruise starts in Magog and takes groups on a whirlwind tour of magnificent Lake Memphremagog.

Croisieres AML, Quebec’s longstanding local cruise company, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2012. Expect more surprises to be rolled out in the coming months in preparation for the cruise company’s summer season. Long time crowd pleasers have been the five-course dinner cruises either in Quebec City or Montreal. Picture your clients dining on filet mignon and lobster, all the while watching fabulous views of Quebec’s skyline. In Montreal, depending on the evening, guests could watch a star studded fireworks show or see favourite thespian bad boy Robert Lepage’s Image Mill multimedia show.

Hotel Check-in

Hard to sum up the magnificent properties that Quebec has in its roster. There are the bold, chic ones, the quaint affordable ones and then some undiscovered ones.

In the Laurentians, for instance, this region is one of those dreamy places where you get the best of both worlds --modern amenities and pure unadulterated nature. That’s what one private company has decided to do with Estérel Suites Spa & Lac. Nestled by Lake Dupuis, this 96-room property underwent an extensive renovation and reopened its doors in December 2010.

The Estérel boasts luxe interiors in dark woods, sumptuous lighting in the dining area with unobstructed views of nature.

“In the winter it (Lake Dupuis) turns into a skating rink, and in the summer it’s the beautiful backdrop with nature. It’s very different for the Laurentians,” gushes Hélène Prud'homme, a representative from the Tourisme Laurentides office, who added an additional 100 suites are expected to be completed this December.

In Quebec City, the Hotel Manoir Victoria, one of the city’s earliest hotels alongside the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac “it’s a four minute walk to the Chateau Frontenac and is in the heart of Old Quebec,” says Nick Joly, director of sales. The property constructed in the late 1800s has always been a hotel but 20 plus years ago, the current owners purchased this 156-room venue and have put some TLC into it since then. The latest renovations are the lobby, the meeting rooms and as Nick notes, a culinary opening.

Around the Charlevoix, Baie St Paul has been the much talked about town due to the upcoming opening of Hotel La Ferme. This eco hotel emphasizes five themes depicting the local area and uses sustainable features, something the owner Daniel Gauthier, has a huge soft spot for. The opening date is June 2012.

In Sherbrooke, this regional capital of the Eastern Townships, is gearing up for the 2013 Canada Games when huge crowds are expected. The Grand Times Hotel Sherbrooke is the newest property for this township. Located on the shores of Lac des Nations, the 120-room downtown hotel, a new build, is described as ‘New York style.’

Gastro Odyssey

I have yet to find a bad meal in Quebec. Even the rotisserie St. Hubert, Quebec’s equivalent to Swiss Chalet, serves up yummy roasted chicken served with its secret BBQ sauce (I’d love to get my hands on the recipe.)

The Laurentides knows agro tourism lovers enjoy finger licking food that is locally harvested so the regional tourism office came up with a fabulous new route called the Chemin de Terroir a couple of years ago (cheminduterroir.com). Imagine 35 culinary attractions that dish aged cheeses, offer wine samplings, and cater to sugar shack lovers along a 265km stretch across the lower Laurentians.

“The nice thing is there are agri storefronts so people can purchase these local products,” smiles Hélène, rep extraordinaire for Tourisme Laurentides.

In Quebec City, a new bistro aptly named Chez Boulay Bistro is in high gear preparing for its official opening on April 1, laughs Nick for April Fool’s.

“We have Executive Chef Jean-Luc Boulay from the well-renowned restaurant Le Saint-Amour,” Nick boasts and says the other new chef joining their restaurant is none other than Arnaud Marchand. Locals will recognize him from the popular TV show “Les Chefs,” the Quebec version of “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Pot Pourri

Around the Eastern Townships, lavender farms are a breath of fresh air. So is a new initiative from the region called La Feminine.

Inspired by a popular Paris competition known as La Parisienne this new female-only 6km event is scheduled May 20.

Participants can walk or run and proceeds from hotel bookings will go to a local charity supporting new mothers with prenatal and post natal care says Julie Desmarais, sales and marketing coordinator for Tourisme Cantons-de-l’Est.

“We started this event last year with about 300 walkers,” says Julie who is expecting approximately 1,000 women to descend on the streets around Magog.

May, adds Julie, will also be Printemps Rosé (Spring Rosé) month. Watch for various packages for spas, gastronomy and other regional products with of course pink themes across the township during May 10-June 10, 2012.

Call it a calling - but when Pierre Faucher, a former planner who worked for a multinational, looked at his own industry, he thought he too could build an attraction, plan events and entice the masses.

So he switched gears, left the corporate rat race, bought a chunk of land near his hometown and laboured for 12 long years on building wooden framed structures “I built with my own hands,” he says humbly.

For 30 plus years, crowds have been arriving to taste the sweetness of maple syrup at his Sucrerie de la Montagne. The Sugar Shack of sugar shacks has been lauded by New York Times, and the National Geographic Traveler.

Faucher is ready to brief you on all the upcoming events scheduled for his busiest months: March and April. Now if you think this winter (or lack thereof) has affected his maple syrup production think again. He expects to make 400 gallons of the sweet sticky stuff this year. “It’ll be an average crop.”

In late 2012, watch for his newest product, a maple syrup infused cologne which he feels could inevitably go head to head with some French perfumeries. And why not? The inspiration came from an accidental meeting when a perfume maker from the French Riviera visited his establishment, and overheard Faucher describe the technique behind maple syrup production which involves lots of aromatic vapour seeping into the air.

Another eureka moment occurred. “Pierre this is something we must do together, you can make perfume out of this,” she declared. He went to Grasse recently, checked out the factory and now the two have become partners in this sweet tale.

If this latest venture is anything like his beloved sugar shack he built, these petites bouteilles could become another crowd pleaser. Proceeds from the sales he says will go toward Alzheimer's research.

Bon courage!

To help get your Quebec group trip planning started visit www.bonjourquebec.com/ca-en/tourismeaffaires0.html

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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