Savor the flavor of France without an expensive flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Quebec City, about a day’s drive north of Boston, is a relaxed getaway with lots to do and, as an epicurean delight, hard to beat.
The pleasures of Quebec City
On a high promontory where the wide St Lawrence begins to narrow, Quebec is one of the oldest cities in North America, celebrating its 400th anniversary in 2008. It is, in fact, the only walled city in North America with defensive walls, started by the French to keep out the British and finished by the Brits to keep out the Americans. Today the doors are open and Americans are warmly welcomed. There are a wealth of attractions in this city, such as the Musee de Beaux Arts, the Museum of Civilization, the impregnable granite stone walls and fortifications, and the famed Plains of Abraham (named for a sailor turned farmer, not the biblical prophet). But the real reason for going to Quebec is to savor the architecture and the flavor of its French culture.
Old and new merge in Quebec City.
While much has changed in the city since Samuel de Champlain set up shop here in 1608, the city retains the charm that it has become famous for. French is the dominant language but visitors here will have no trouble getting around. There are really three Quebecs, the modern city just outside the walls of the old city, the old, mostly nineteenth century inside the walled city atop the bluff and the vieux-port, the oldest place of settlement on the narrow shelf of land at the foot of the bluff. Check into a cozy hotel, auberge or B&B, a good choice is the recently renovated four star Hotel Manoir Victoria. It’s location puts it within easy walking distance of everything.
After enjoying the magnificent view from the plaza in front of the Chateau Frontenac (where Churchill and Roosevelt met during WWII) follow the ramparts to the east and to Cotes de la Montaigne, a street that wends its way down to the old settlement. A stair to the right creates a view that feels like an opening into the distant past. Take the stair down into the warren of shops along narrow streets. In addition to the usual tourist things, there are a number of fine galleries, jewelers and craft shops, restaurants and even a superb chocolatier at La Fudgerie on the Boulevard Louis XIV.
The flavors of Quebec
And since food is a major part of French culture, Quebec is a place to indulge one’s self. For a top experience in fine dining go to Panache, located in a stunningly renovated 17th century warehouse. Or, try some of the popular restaurants along Grand Allee, such as the Auberge Louis Hebert, highly popular with locals. Another choice for wonderful local fare is Chez Boulay where the talented chef not only seeks out the best of local produce but highlights the boreal essence of the province.
Seek out other food experiences
While in the Old Port at the foot of the hill be sure to spend time in the Marche Vieux-Port, the thriving and enticing Farmer’s market of Quebec. It brings in not only the finest of locally produced fruits and vegetables (which in the fall are overwhelming in quantity and quality) but fine locally produced products made with them. Be sure to try some of the many Quebec cheeses, including one of ours favorites, a Pied au Vent from the Madeleine Isles. For a thoroughly enjoyable experience book into cooking lessons with Ateliers et Saveurs Quebec where expert professionals chefs will let you in on the secrets of preparing fine dishes. Available lessons are one hour tasting menu (about $20) to a three hour complete dinner (about $75).
In the old city at the top of the hill seek out the Rue Saint-Jean where there are a number of interesting stores and, at number 699, the J.A. Moisan gourmet food store. This place is a chock-full treasure house of edible goodies from around the world but in particular from around the province. Plan some serious time browsing in this store. Their shelves, for example, contain more than 300 of the best offerings of Quebec’s many micro-brewers, an entire case of cheeses from Quebec, wonderful freshly made pates, and irresistible flaky pastries.
Getting to Quebec
It couldn’t be simpler, but count on it taking time, the trip is about 400 miles, give or take a few. Plan to leave on a Friday night and overnight at the Bear Mountain Lodge in Bethlehem, or at the Horse & Hound Inn in Franconia New Hampshire. Another good choice is the Rabbit Hill Inn in Lower Waterford, Vermont. All of these inns are comfortable, friendly and within easy reach of I-93 or I-91. From Boston take I-93 north as far as it goes. It merges with I-91 at St Johnsbury, Vermont with a seamless merge (be sure to go north). At the Canadian border (remember to bring your passport) the road designation changes to Route 55 and at Drummondville take the exit for the Canadian interprovincial highway, Route 20 east. Approaching Quebec watch for signs to the Pierre Laporte Bridge and Route 73. On the north side of the river (the mighty St Lawrence) look for the exit for the Boulevard Laurier (east) into the heart of the old city.