Artisan inspiration just outside Quebec City's front door. As you drive down the long hill into Baie-Saint-Paul(St.Paul Bay), the breathtaking view makes it obvious why so many people have succumbed to the charms of Charlevoix. Along the scenic roads, each turn of the wheel reveals another spectacular view of the St.Lawrence River. Expansive tree-covered hills blanketed by dense boreal forest, fogged covered mountain tops, and winding roads set the tone for a relaxing weekend far from the bustle of Quebec City. This is Charlevoix County, a postcard-perfect pastoral district where outdoor activities are abundant. There are two national parks within this region, along coastline that follows the St.Lawrence River, and the topography was originally created by 15 billion ton meteorite 350 million years ago. Embedded just below the epidermis of this rural landscape (declared a UNESCO World Biosphere in 1988)is a creative pulse revealing itself through the production of artisan food, beer, landscape and abstract painting, and history. This region is the birthplace of Quebec's world-renown Cirque du Soleil, so there must be something about it that inspires the avant-garde. Twenty-five years ago, a group of giant acrobats and buskers roamed this land on stilts while calling themselves L'eveil du Geant. Now, under the guidance of founder Guy Laliberté (recently shot into space as one of the world's first space tourists), the company has evolved into Cirque du Soleil, an eccentric technologically enhanced spectacular circus performance that has become one of Canada's most famous exports. Currently, there are 25 different shows running around the world, including permanent ones in Las Vegas-and, of course, Montreal and Quebec city. And Guy hasn't forgotten his company's roots. In August of 2009, the company celebrated its begennings with a one- night almost-impromptu festival in Charlevoix's Baie-Saint-Paul, and during that time the world's only exhibition of Cirque du Soleil costumes graced the gallleries of Musee d'art Contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul. (Yes, the town has a contemporary art gallery. Admission is $6). Every year the gallery hosts an international art symposium and most of the facility's permanent collection originates from this event. Baie-Saint-Paul The creative spirit continues in the town of St.Paul Bay, long after the circus has left for bigger digs. Paiting studios and boutiques full of locally made jewellery and pottery-and even chocolate-line the small town's one main street. St.Paul Bay, with its vibran shopping district, country inns, microbrewery and countless quality restaurants, including Restaurant Le Saint-Pub Microbrasserie-which brews its own beer to go along with a menu of kangaroo, pheasant, rabbit and wild boar(and, yes, chicken and beef)- and Chez Bouquet Eco-Bistro, an excellent contemporary Italian trans-fat free bistro. It's often a day trip for many venturing only an hour's drive outside of Quebec City, but spend a bit more time, a day or two, exploring the region one half-hour drive from St. Paul Bay and you'll discover gourmet inns and restaurants, a Fairmount Hotel with casino, and a must-see tribute to bootlegging history. But first, Baie-Saint-Paul where the main street is crammed with original art-mostly paintings-and many within a sensible price range(between $600 and $1,000)that complement budget and home decor colours and styles. Be sure to stop at Galerie d'Art Iris to view a good cross section of original region art; this is the best known gallery in the area, and their two other locations in Quebec City and the Fairmount in La Malbaie. If you keep an eye out along the highway into the village you will often find local artists stationed at scenic look-out points and shorelines, set up with casel, paint, and a few completed canvasses to seil(sans gallery fee). This is a relaxing weekend vacation spot, where country inns(most without elevators though)provide rocking chairs on white wraparound porches and restaurants have street-front terraces. Whiling away time is the objective, and everything is naturally slow going. Sit down for an afternoon or evening break at the Le Saint-Pub Microbrasserie and be sure to order a simple flight of beers from this micro-brewery voted 52 in the top 100 microbreweries in North America by ratebeer.com. Owner Fred Tremblay discovered the 15 varieties brewed seasonally at the restaurant to be so popular , he bet the farm(developing a type of dark milk stout called Mad Cow) and invested in a larger production facility.