Today I am going to interrupt the holiday focused posts and take a quick detour to Québec City. I am a very lucky lady, my husband is wonderfully romantic. When we first met over 5 years ago, he jokingly told me that in Italy, they have “romance classes” for young boys in school along with art, math, sciences, history and languages. It was meant in jest, but if you know Roberto, you would believe that he attended those classes as a young man growing up in Rome.
So my lovely, romantic husband whisked me away on a surprise trip to Vieux-Québec (Old Quebec) City to celebrate my birthday, this past weekend. Living in rural, Northern Vermont, the closest city to us is Burlington. But Burlington is the smallest large city of any state in the USA. So for us to get a taste of the city life, we generally head to Montréal, which is the closest large city to us, closer than New York City or Boston. That said we are not really city people but we love French-speaking Canada because it is very European. The streets are full of cafés, bistros, and shops displaying beautiful handmade items, either made locally,or imported from Europe. I didn’t pick up a single item the whole weekend that was made in China. Even the utensils at the restaurants were from France and the dishes from England.
Another aspect that we so enjoy about visiting Québec Province is that breakfasts are usually included with the room… and you actually want to eat it. When I stay at hotels in the US, I always have to bring my own food for breakfast. Being gluten-intolerant, and not eating sugar, HFCS, food dyes, etc there is very little at the continental breakfast that I can eat. But in Québec there is incredible variety. During our trip, the hotel we stayed at offered a breakfast buffet with our room. We got to chose from a variety of amazing choices each day: Fresh fruit smoothies, 3 types of fresh cooked eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans, potatoes, crepes, yogurt w/ fresh berry coulis and maple sugar, muesli, oatmeal, fresh fruit (including figs), hard boiled eggs, smoked salmon, rillettes, cretons, local cheeses and of course about 20 different varieties of croissants, breakfast pastries, brioche and breads. I ate until my heart’s content every morning, and Roberto was happy to have real, European style breads to chose from – a real luxury for him. I particularly enjoyed the whole fillets of smoked salmon, the quality which is far superior to anything I can get in my local area. As well as the rillettes and local cheeses!
We enjoyed a lot of delicious food in many quaint establishments in Vieux-Québec, including Cassoulet avec lapin (rabbit), Bourguignon de caribou sauvage (wild caribou stew in a wine and blueberry cream sauce), various Pate (wild meat pies) quebecoise, and yes, I did splurge on a crepe, and a croissant filled with pastry cream and apricots washed down with a perfect Café au lait.
We made up for all the eating with taking several long walks, and hikes around the city on Friday and Saturday. Vieux-Québec is a walled city with a fort, and during this time of year, the Citadelle is pretty deserted. The Citadelle is surrounded by The Plains of Abraham, a park and green space that runs parallel to the Saint Lawrence River. Historically it was grazing land from about the late1500′s to the mid 1600′s and was the place of the last battle between the French and the English in 1759. This place was a wonderfully quiet and magical place to take a walk on Saturday morning. There were a few other brave tourists, and some locals, snowshoeing and Telemark skiing, but for long stretches there was no one but us. It snowed all of Friday night with huge, fluffy flakes and on the Plains of Abraham the snow was at least a foot deep. I am really glad that Roberto told me to bring my winter boots! This hike was one of my favorite parts of the trip! I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it for lack of proper footwear.
Vieux-Québec has an interesting layout with an upper and lower city. There is a Funiculaire or Funicular that links the two parts of the city, and has been in use since 1879. Or you can use the stairs, which on a freezing cold day, definitely counts as an intense hike. The Funicular freaked me out, so we did the stairs or climbed our way up steep winding sidewalks to get between the upper and lower city. This also ensured our ability to eat our way through Québec guilt free.
Vieux-Québec is an unparalleled destination for those seeking a European experience in North America without having the expense of overseas travel. The skyline is dominated by The Château Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world. It sits on a bluff overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, and looks every bit like a medieval castle bedecked with turrets, flags and sparkling lights. Truly a sight to behold, and certainly the architectural cornerstone of Vieux-Québec. It doesn’t stop there though, all the streets are lined with ancient stone buildings, many part of the original capital city of New France.
During the holiday season, there are a variety of holiday markets, including the German Christmas Market where we enjoyed spiced wine, traditional bratwurst with sauerkraut and roasted chestnuts. We also visited a large public market at the Old Port where we bought rillettes, cured salami, smoked fishes and fresh pasta and tasted traditional meat pies only made during the holiday season.
This is a great time of year to visit Quebec. One of the servers at the crêperie we went to told us that the mayor of Quebec wants to make Quebec THE city of Christmas. It has my vote. With its streets looking like something out of a magical Christmas village, all the beautiful holiday decorations and all the special events and holiday experiences to be had. It is a perfect destination to get you into the magical spirit of the season. Even Bon Appetit agrees!