With soft snowflakes drifting down on the cobblestone streets and the castle-like Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac set high above the dark harbor lit by the gleaming lights of the ferries as they make the early night crossings, Vieux Quebec, the historic portion of Quebec City, with its 17th and 18th century buildings, looks like a scene from a fairy tale.
We follow the winding streets which are crowded despite the frigid weather. Canadians know how to dress for the cold, and the snow, while heavy, is almost immediately cleared from the sidewalks and the streets. And for those who don’t want to walk, there are the eco-buses—electric buses that run about every ten minutes and are free. Dinner is at the cozy Le Conchon Dingue, a cozy warren of rooms near the quay where we feast on seafood pot pie loaded with crab, lobster, shrimp, salmon and sliced potatoes in a cream sauce, chicken Normandy and a killer double chocolate four layer cake with thick vanilla cream.
Using our hotel, Hôtel Loews Le Concorde on Cours du Général-De Montcalm with its magnificent views of Vieux Quebec and the St. Lawrence Seaway as a base over the next few days, we will visit such delights as Le Mache Vieux Port, which translates to The Old Port Market, a big sprawling indoor market next to the magnificent Chateau-style railroad station where a myriad of vendors including artisanal cheese makers, winemakers, farmers, bakers and candy makers sell their wares. Quebec is such a foodie paradise that one vendor offers a variety of eggs such as quail and pheasant and butchers stalls sell foie gras and game pies.
Hunting is big in the Quebec province and menus abound with venison from both elk and deer as well as wild boar. At one stall I watched a man make nougat by hand and at another I took a sip of de la Pomme Neige or ice cider. Like ice wine, which is made from grapes picked after the first night when temperatures get into their teens, ice cider comes from apples that remain on the trees and are picked after the weather turns extremely cold. After the frozen apples are harvested, the juice is pressed from the fruit and then fermented where its sweetness levels reach about 12%. I buy a bottle; it is another thing to slip into my suitcase along with the locally made cheeses and candies.
Sorry to leave the city, we head northwest, stopping at Montmorency Falls to take a gondola to the top of the 275-foot high roaring waters and then on to Mont Saint-Sauveur International, a ski resort in the Laurentian Mountains. After getting our skis and passes, the first order of business is to try the Alpine Coaster, where we each get to control a car that slides in a series of step descents and circular curves on a track cut through rugged mountain terrain.
Dinner that night at our hotel, the four-star Hotel Manoir Saint-Sauveur, located right in the heart of the village, is in L’Ambiance, their wonderful dining room where menu selections include wild game such as red deer, fresh-caught fish from Canadian waters such as scallops, salmon and lobster and the local wines and cheeses.
The Laurentians are less than two hours from Montreal, and for New Year’s Eve in Montreal, Quebec we decide to dine in the city’s Vieux Montreal (historic old Montreal) district of the city. So, with the snow falling, we board the easy-to-navigate Montreal Metro, the underground train, and travel from the Hilton Montréal Bonaventure, where we are staying (known for its year-round outdoor swimming pool) on De la Gauchetière, to the original city, parts of which date back to the 1600s.
Stopping for a moment to gaze at the Basilique Notre-Dame, considered one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. A jubilee beginning December 8, 2013 runs until to December 28, 2014, commemorates the 350th anniversary of the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral which was built on September 15, 1664 by Bishop François de Laval.
Then we make our way along streets that could just as easily be Paris as the New World, to the quay where all is festively lit for the holidays. With the backdrop of such architectural icons as Montreal City Hall, a classic example of the Second Empire style popular under the reign of Napoleon III and soft snowflakes falling down I am amazed. I hate winter with a passion, grumbling about the weather from November to March each year. But here in this beautiful snow globe of history, I am so overwhelmed by all around me, the cold doesn’t seem a bother at all.
For dinner, we eat at what instantly becomes one of my most favorite restaurants, the two story Modavie Bistro Bar on St. Paul Street West where we listen to the jazz trio while sipping wine and dining on roasted beet salad with feta and mint, mussels with Pernod and fries and quail in raisin sauce.
After dinner, we head to the Grande Allée's, once the neighborhood of choice for the upper class in the 19th century and now a place to ring in the New Year with fireworks and even a Ferris Wheel. Stores are open for the tens of thousands of people who come and terraces are heating for comfort while listening to an assortment of musicians--singers, violinists, DJs.
Over the next few days, we’ll travel back to St. Paul, the main street of the historic district, to visit the stores and restaurants, each a delight, with their ancient stone walls and dedication to using locally produced foods.
“You must come back,” a woman who I meet at Reubens on Sainte-Catherine Street West just up the street from our hotel and known for their smoked meats, tells me. “It’s even prettier here in the summer and fall.”
For more information about Quebec City and region, 418-641-6578;
www.quebecregion.com. For Quebec Province, 1-777-BONJOUR; www.bonjourquebec.com. For Montreal, 1-777-BONJOUR; www.tourisme-montreal.org