I arrive in Québec City to road construction and halting traffic on an overcast and rain-dappled Wednesday afternoon. My curious eyes catch the many typical low-rise, short walk-ups, covered with silver painted tin mansard roofs, slightly dilapidated and in need of repair. The same, silver-coated and cross-topped Church steeples seem to beckon me to my own personal Québec City salvation. This is, after all, home to the continent`s first parish Church, it`s first Museum, first Anglican Cathedral, first French -speaking University and North America’s oldest Hospital.
At first glance, no romantic, French glamour to be seen nor the obvious sprucing up that La Ville undertook for their 400th anniversary in 2008. But soon a warm and welcoming magic emerges and embraces me as we pull up to our Relais and Chateaux listed Auberge Saint-Antoine, situated an ancient stone’s throw from le Vieux Port in Québec’s Old Lower Town and my excitement grows in anticipation of the next 5 days.
The Old Lower Town has many interesting museums, galleries and cafés that cater mostly to tourists. The Musée de la Civilisation thrills you even before you enter the wonderful mix of contemporary and historic buildings with modern architecture. The Musée is a big, generous and technically wonderful place with a lot to see so concentrate on one or two exhibitions unless you are planning on making it a full day.
If you try not to focus too much on the typical Art Galleries showcasing the ticky-tacky, over-painted seasonal scenes of the City and some pricey restaurants and cafés along du Petit Champlain, then you will have a splendid, if not tourist-laden morning’s amble through the Lower Town.
My first morning out, I was immediately confronted by the Queen Elizabeth 2, depositing her cargo of international cruisers onto the dock of the Old Port. With cameras clicking and language appropriate guides hustling tourists onward toward the Funicular and the Chateau Frontenac, those same loud guides touting it “‘the most photographed hotel in the world.”
Further north and off the beaten track and you will find some wonderful antique stores, laden with some unique finds along le Rue Saint-Paul. While there, take a quick jaunt over to the Marché du Vieux Port
where you will find everything from local sausages to in-season apples and fresh produce, nuts, cheeses and of course real maple syrup.
Dinner tonight is at the Auberge Saint-Antoine`s Panache, arguably, I have been told, “one of Québec`s best restaurants.” Some say it’s a memorable worthwhile experience for the price (which is hefty), others say Panache is overhyped. Perhaps it was a slow night but I agree: overhyped and overpriced.
While there and adding to the city’s prestige, North America’s professional road cycling season ends with a bang for the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec 2010 attracting some of the most renowned cyclists in the world.
I also get to savour a wonderful tasting menu by Chef Yves Lebrun at his fantastic Relais and Chateaux Restaurant Initiale. If you have the opportunity to indulge in Chef Lebrun’s low-key yet elegant food, spoil yourself and enjoy.
My last dining experience was on the Saturday evening, after a full day of sun and walking in the Upper Town. The exquisite Le Saint-Amour truly is one of the finest restaurants in La Ville, serving their renowned foie-gras with such grace, charm and style that if you can afford it and are able to manage their rather large Wine Tome, then make a reservation: Simon and staff will not disappoint.
Easy enough to get to, from Toronto you can travel there in a few hours by plane, train or automobile. Québec City is a wonderful, epicurean and culturally rich spot that will make you fall in love and transport you to a place that will enchant you.
Voyage bien, mes amis.