Photography: Maxime Valsan
In the quiet of a new morning, the sun casts the first rays of light on the maple trees that stand on the mountainous ridge before it begins a delicate dance on the surface of the river stretching to the horizon. As the dew decides whether it’s time to retreat from the forest floor, a crow calls in the distance. It’s quiet, yet alive with sound. This is how the day starts in the Charlevoix region, a ruggedly untamed and serene area on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River east of Quebec City.
As you take it all in with a deep relaxing breath, you turn your attention from the untamed landscape for a moment and walk to the kitchen to brew your coffee. Within moments, the rich smell of a dark Colombian roast fills the air. You return your attention to the view and step out onto the wooden deck as you stretch your arms out as far as they can reach, arching your back ever so slightly. It’s a familiar move, practiced morning after morning, but somehow on this day it feels more fitting, more complete, more essential. You smile as you realize how the thoughts of the world you were running to keep up with just the day before release their grip on your psyche, and with it the tension that has kept the muscles in your neck taut. The rush and worry of yesterday’s world are a million miles away. They have no dominion here, for you are in the dome. Let the weekend begin.
This experience – the wedding of the calming atmosphere of nature with the pampering luxury of a five-star hotel all in a unique space – is what the owners of Dômes Charlevoix aimed to create when they launched their venture last fall.
Inspired by geodesic domes worldwide and given a distinctive upgrade, Dômes Charlevoix sets out to turn the traditional tourist notion of travelling to a destination and looking for accommodations on its head.
“The space becomes the destination,” says Guillaume Genest, one of the three owners, with Simon Allard and Simon Veilleux, of this new niche experiential tourism company. The pleasure of living in it is the vacation.
Unlike any conventional cabin or lodge, these geodesic domes – an untraditional living space devoid of the familiar constraints of vertical walls and right angles – have been designed with high-end interiors to provide a unique experience. Built in a pristine setting along one of the widest stretches of the river, the domes’ location is an integral part of the package that allows guests to unplug and pause.
And they are proving to be very popular. Since launching last fall, Dômes Charlevoix has hit full occupancy. Its three domes, each designed to accommodate between two and four individuals, are built high on a ridge to maximize the view of the river, while not being visible one from the other. They are booked year-round for short-term stays by people from across Canada and around the globe, with each season offering its own distinctive experience.
The demand is so fierce, Genest and his partners have started construction on two additional domes. Both will be ready to receive guests this autumn.
Form, ambience, isolation, luxury: These are the words that Olivier Bourgeois uses to describe the ingredients that contribute to the domes’ unique characteristics. He is the lead architect at Bourgeois Lechasseur Architectes, the firm tasked with designing the luxurious interiors and exterior decks equipped with hot tubs that allow for an intimate, relaxing and indulgent way to commune with the surroundings.
“The form is very special,” Bourgeois says. “We are not used to living in a circular space like an igloo. It creates a cozy space.”
Nothing in the domes touches the membranes that cover the aluminum skeletons of the structures, adding to the cocoon-like characteristic of the spheres. The fully equipped kitchens, bathrooms and sleeping areas are concentrated in a central cube space. The beds are given full exposure to the view outside.
The experience of staying in a dome is more intense in winter, Bourgeois says, as the snow and cold add to the sense of isolation, while the comfort provided by heated floors and small wood stoves adds to the coziness.
And in keeping with the high-end hotel approach, each dome is equipped with WiFi so that guests can stream music while they relax.
As Genest puts it, the domes may be nestled in iconic Quebec woods, but they are definitely not the coureurs-de-bois cabins of old. •