The first week of June 2009, we went on our “little trip” to Québec City and Charlevoix. It ended up being quite a lovely getaway, with great weather, delicious food, and more romance than a couple of 20 years can normally expect.
Road trip there
Boosted with GPS confidence, we decided to take a more meandering route toward Quebec City, and spent some time visiting the lovely Prince Edward County area. I had the Wine Atlas of Canada with us, and from its recommendations, selected a couple wineries to visit. The first was Closson Chase Winery, a small one that works with only two types of grapes: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. So we tried one of each. The Chardonnay was amazing, really; rich and complex and delicious. Nevertheless, when we learned it was $42 a bottle, we were hesitant to purchase. The Pinot Noir was easier, as it still needed aging, and therefore didn’t taste that wonderful yet. We weren’t willing to spending $38 on future possibilities.
Huff Estates was the next we tried. It’s probably the biggest in the area, and has a large store and a nice patio and all. And many different types of wine. We tried several. Nothing blew us away, but the rosé was very nice: almost a grapefruit taste to it, and very refreshing. And only $15 or so, so we got a couple bottles of that. I also liked the merlot, which was in a more rustic style, but not quite enough to spend $24 on it.
Our next stop of consequence was Ganonoque, where we considering staying for the night. But the one restaurant in the area that was listed in Where to Eat in Canada was closed, and posted signs warned that power was going to be cut the following day from 8am to 11am! Which sounded like a pain. And just generally, it didn’t seem that charming a city. So we decided to move on—to Cornwall. Which we had low expectations of, and it therefore exceeded.
We stayed at a Holiday Inn, deciding to splurge on a slightly more luxurious room, and took advantage of their pool and hot tub facilities after dinner. And dinner itself was very good. Going by Where to Eat in Canada, we ate a restaurant called Fusion Cafe. I had seafood linguine, Jean had lamb, and everything was very well prepared, with good service.
We continued our meanderings the next day, almost managing to bypass Montreal (the GPS messed us up a little at one point), and taking the more scenic shore route to Quebec City. As we traveled, we listened to Bill Bryson’s book Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe. It’s been out quite a while, but that meant it definitely took us back to our honeymoon trip to Europe, since he visited many of the same countries we did. And as with most of Bryson’s books, it had a lot of humour.
After a little resetting of the GPS (which was taking us out somewhere in the suburbs at first), it did get us to our hotel in the Old City. The room looked slightly dingy at first, but we ended up quite liking it. It was certainly central, in fact very clean (just its beige colour tone made it seem a bit dingy), and though small, made good use of space. The parking lot, though, was the very smallest we have ever encountered, including in Europe. Jean got the car into it OK (I wouldn’t have), but getting out would have been, well, very time-consuming had there not been a couple of helpful locals who guided us. Extremely narrow passageway.
We arrived there fairly late the first day, so didn’t do much beyond a little walking around and dinner out at Apsara, a Thai restaurant listed in (you guessed it) Where to Eat in Canada. It was an enjoyable and not too expensive meal.
The next day we visited the tourist bureau and confirmed that most of the museums were closed (as it was Monday). But we were able to visit the archeological site of the Fort St-Louis, for free. That was really interesting. I had no idea this big, historical building had been there, across the street from the Chateau Frontenac. (It had burnt down—I think in the 1930s—and was never rebuilt.)
But after that it was mostly art galleries. Jean had no trouble finding work he liked. I wasn’t always disagreeing with his choices, but I was more hesitant than he about the price tags, which tended to be around the $1800, $2000 mark—a bit of a jump from what we usually spend. So nothing was purchased this day, though we certainly admired the creativity of Quebec artists.
We had lunch at the Crémaillère, an old favourite, despite not being quite dressed for it. (They stuck us alone in an upstairs room.) The food was just delicious, though, from the soup to the crème brulée. I don’t why this place isn’t in Where to Eat in Canada! Then we headed out of Old Town to do a little shop in the main downtown area. I’ve blogged about some of the things bought, but it included a medieval-style dress, and this is when I first spotted Ride a Rock Horse. I didn’t buy it right away, as I mainly wanted the cover, and it wasn’t in the greatest shape, but I ended up back there the next day and got it then anyway.
This was our big dinner night; we went to the Saint Amour, which was right by our hotel. I did convince Jean to stick with the somewhat cheaper five-course Inspiration menu (gosh, I sound very cost-obsessed on this trip!), and everything was lovely, except the main-course fish, which was actually a little overcooked. The wine was small disappointment too, as the menu listed a 2005, but it was a 2007 they had in stock. He told us we could send it back if it tasted too young, and probably we should have—but that’s hard to do. But I quibble. It’s a beautiful room, with fantastic service, and in all but that one case, impeccable food.
The next day was museums, as I’d realized that in all our times here, we’d really visited very few. We went to the Musée de Civilisation in the morning. It had some very creative exhibits, incorporating video, audio, interactive elements along with artifacts. Most interesting was probably the Québec history items, but there was also a special exhibit on aliens that was worth the stop.
We had lunch at Aux Anciens Canadiens—the $19 lunch is a good deal. But talk about hardy! Soup, pheasant and baked beans, then maple syrup pie… Wow. It was pretty good homestyle food. We both figured our moms do just as good a job, though.
The afternoon was the Musée des Beaux Arts, where we mostly saw modern art pieces, for whatever reason. Not that we visited all galleries, as it’s fairly large. The feature was on US modern art, and there was another special on women artists, and we saw a couple more standing galleries. Didn’t feel we liked it quite as much as Montreal’s, Toronto’s, or Ottawa’s, but I guess those are the top ones in Canada.
After that big lunch, we didn’t want dinner until late. We decided to try our breakfast restaurant—that is, the place where we had the breakfast included with our hotel room, as they made pretty good breakfast. And we had a coupon for $10 off a bottle of wine. We had heard that morning that they were hosting a school group of 40—there seemed to be mountains of school groups visiting Québec at this time, by the way—but by the time we got there, the group was done. Jean just had lobster, which was so-so, and I had one of the three-course specials, which was actually very good. The main was cod, perfectly cooked and seasoned. That place was called the Feu Sacré.
Enroute to Charlevoix
We were enjoying the meandering drives, so we continued that on the way to the Charlevoix region. We stopped at cheese place we noticed enroute, buying some very fresh cheese curds there. And we stopped at the Musée de l’Abeille, as we knew from last time that they made amazing honey products. But we arrived at the same time that a school group was there, and oh my! I went to the washroom at one point, then came out and there were kids everywhere! Jean had managed to escape, but I was trapped. Nothing to do but wait for them to be herded out again. Which didn’t take that long, really. Then we bought honey, and chocolates, and continued on our way.
Jean noticed that there was a National Park on the way, so we decided to stop in there and go for a hike. (As was typical for this trip, it was a beautiful day.) We took a route that brought us in view of a heron’s nest. A telescope was set up such that you could easily spot the nest, but we couldn’t see the birds, though they had apparently hatched. Oh well. We then continued into the wooded part, and saw that the warning about bears wasn’t just rote—there was a lot of bear poop! But we didn’t spot any of those actual critters.
On the way out, Jean got some pictures of hummingbirds.
We stayed at the Auberge des Peupliers, which is up in la Malbaie. We liked the Auberge. For one, they have an excellent restaurant. We ate there the first night, having the seven-course dinner. Again, really excellent food. Jean had the duck, I had the quail. The included cheese course was a definite highlight, with every single one being just fantastic. Another was the Cote du Rhone red we had—wow. A private reserve, no point in noting what it actually was, but it tasted amazing. (Finally making us forget that Chardonnay.) We had breakfast there a couple times as well, and that was a feast. Fresh muffins, your item (crepes or eggs) with two sides (bacon or ham or cheese or baked beans…), fresh juice and coffee…
We had selected the cheapest room, and it’s an older place, so no great shakes there, though it was a good bed with big puffy pillows. But they did have a hot tub and sauna area we could reserve just for the two of us, so that made for a couple nice evening enders. But the one downside was its location in La Malbaie, which doesn’t otherwise have that much to offer, if you aren’t into casinos. We spent the other two days just driving back down to the Baie St Paul area, which interested us more.
So on that… Our first day’s drive we decided to focus on items on the way to Baie St Paul. That included stops at many artists galleries in Les Eboulements. We found that many focused on Charlevoix scenes, which we kind of got bored with. But there were a couple more adventurous artists, included one who had a 3D style, including paintings that could go in the corner. Very interesting to look at.
We had lunch in little St Joseph sur la Rive, visited the quite interesting Papieterie there—works of art created with and on fine paper, basically—and took the ferry over to Iles aux Coudres again. We were a little less rushed than last time we had been there, so were able to visit the mill, the cidery, some art shops, and take a little hike.
We did have dinner in Baie St Paul. The restaurant we had wanted to go to didn’t appear to be operating, so we just selected Au 55, and it was great. We had the table d’hote, had to stick to wine by the glass (as Jean was driving), and had a really nice meal. I believe I was in a vegetable mood this day, and actually had a ratatouille type of thing (though it wasn’t exactly ratatouille).
The next day was devoted to Baie St Paul itself, and started with many gallery visits. And here, the artists were much more varied, and very talented, and Jean found plenty he liked. And OK, I found some I liked, too. And occasionally they were even the same pieces. But we continued to have price tag issues.
After lunch at Cafe des Artistes, we focused on more food! We had chocolate-covered soft ice cream. Not that Dairy Queen stuff—real chocolate, 70% cocoa, thick coating. It was delicious, but so messy! I’m not sorry I tried it, but probably won’t have it again!
Then we drove to the Ecomusée du fromage, where you could purchase a little sampler plate of their cheeses. We did, and found the one that we really liked was made with la Canadienne, an original but now rare breed of cow.
Next: More cheese, this time at Maurice Dufour cheese shop. We already knew that we liked their blue cheese (my favourite blue cheese from anyone) and their classic migneron, but we also tried new ones they’d developed, like this really creamy goat cheese, and quit enjoyed those too. So we picked up a bunch. (And we also found out their restaurant was closed for good, after the chef’s departure.)
Then we visited our foie gras farm. We went on the tour again, finding out the changes in the three years since we’d last been, and noting that, once again, these ducks seemed pretty happy. (The owner is quite charming, as well.) We bought duck products in many varieties.
I now felt we needed to walk (and yes, it was nice again), so we took to part of this trail that actually runs the length of the Charlevoix. Though pretty well indicated, we somehow managed to go slightly off-route, but not enough to get really lost. It’s quite a good trail, at least the bit we did of it.
We selected a place called l’Orange Bistro for our last Charlevoix dinner, eating out on the patio. It was kind of fun watching the street scenes. I had the duck special. Jean had osso bucco. We were both happy with that. We did wine by the glass again. They had an interesting approach to that here—opening three bottles of each colour, various price ranges, that you could select from that day.
The road back home
We did a bit of meandering on the way back home, also. We had determined to stop at yet another cheese shop—the one that makes the Sauvagine, one of our favourite Quebec cheeses. The GPS helped us find it, and we located a number of cheeses we liked, including the Cendré de lune.
We meandered a bit less afterward, hoping to not be home too late on the Sunday. Still, we decided to dine in Ottawa. We went to Mama Teresa’s on Somerset for another patio dinner in the sun. Jean had osso bucco again, the special this day, while I went with an appetizer platter to start (recommended), and gnochi with tomato sauce for main. Quite fine.
Then it was back on the road. When we decided we wanted to stop, there actually weren’t that many hotels about. (We were off the main highway to make the drive more pleasant.) But we did find this little motel. A bit dodgy, maybe, but OK for one night.
Not too much to report about the rest of the way. We took the 407 through Toronto, which was much more pleasant than the 401 on the way in had been. (Just got the bill, though.) And we got halfway through the audible book The Song Is You. Guess we need another trip to find out how it ends.