By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri KrasovThere are a few places on Earth where you want to return time and again. One of them is Quebec region in Canada, where they speak, eat, and drink French, but greet visitors (even those who ne parle pas Francais) with purely American hospitality. Quebec specialties, like foie gras, maple syrup, and ice wine, are not the only agricultural marvels here, so it’s especially enticing to visit in the Fall, when local farmers celebrate their harvest time.Flying from the West Coast, my husband and I arrived, as usual, late at night, and settled at Hotel PUR (http://www.hotelpur.com/) on rue de la Couronne, corner of Saint-Joseph, overlooking the neo-Gothic Saint-Roch Church. True to its name, a sparkling-clean new hotel, modernly designed in urban retreat style, with floor-to-ceiling windows and comfy smartly-planned rooms, is located between the old town and the surrounding revitalized neighborhood, filled with designer boutiques, organic bakeries, ethnic shops, and fashionable restaurants. All we needed for the night, though, was some undisturbed sleep, and our quiet room and luxurious bedding with a pillow-top mattress, the softest linens, and plush down comforter provided just that. A full-service morning breakfast at the hotel’s sleek Table restaurant (duck rillette with your omelette, Madame?) set us up for the day.
Proud of their gastronomic ingenuity, Quebec City residents enjoy a number of unique establishments, like a SAQ Classique wine shop (http://www.saq.com/) in the basement of Chateau de Frontenac, featuring produits du Quebec, like maple syrup liquor, honey wine, and ice cider; the oldest in North America grocery store, Maison Jean-Alfred Moisan (http://www.jamoisan.com/), founded in 1871; a chocolate museum-shop Choco-Musee Erico (http://www.chocomusee.com/) and, beyond the city limits, on the beautiful Cote-de-Beaupre, honey museum-shop, Musee de l’Abeille (http://www.musee-abeille.com/).
We made our way to the star agritourism destination, Ile d’Orleans, via a bridge, built in 1935 to the dismay of the islanders, fond of their secluded lifestyle and not seeking company of the city dwellers at the time. Despite a constant stream of cars now heading to the popular island of earthy treasures, its residents retain their quiet existence amid golden fields of hay, grazing sheep, and fluttering butterflies. The only loud sounds allowed here are those of chirping birds and crushing waves of Saint-Laurent River.
We sat down on an open terrace at Cassis Monna & Filles (http://www.cassismonna.com/), a specialty wine shop and restaurants that produces its own black currant wines, liqueur, jams, and preserves, and also serves delicious lunches. Be it a duck pate sandwich or a lamb terrine, vitamin C-loaded black currant berries would be present in sodas, salads, dips, dressings, and even beer.
Our next stop was at Cidrerie Bilodeau (http://www.cidreriebilodeau.qc.ca/) where owners Micheline and Benoit produce sweet ice cider, made from snow-covered apples frozen over winter right on the tree branches. Then we visited Fromages de l’Isle d’Orleans (http://www.fromagesdelisle.com/) where Jocelyn Labbe, Diane Marcoux, and their two daughters are faithfully recreating a 1635 cheese recipe, making two kinds of this local delicacy – spreadable and fried.
Then it was time to visit a real stone cellar of Isle de Bacchus winery (http://www.isledebacchus.com/) and try some Le Kir de L’Ile – white wine with black currant syrup, and multiple gold-medal winner Vin de Glace Jardin de Givre.
To round up a day of culinary adventures, we dined on elk, deer, and caribou meat, prepared on an open fire table-top at Sagamite Restaurant Terrasse (http://www.sagamite.com/). The restaurant, serving wild game in a warm and hospitable setting, is a part of a four-star Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations, overlooking the Akiawenrahk River, and decorated with native artists’ works, antlers and wolf- and bear skins. The entire establishment is operated by Tourism Wendake (http://www.tourismewendake.com/) whose goal is to preserve and share the rich history and legacy of Huron-Wendat nation, inhabiting the territory for 450 years now, and counting about 1600 people living in the community of Wendake today.
After indulging in Quebec’s luscious agriculture, it was time for us to take care of extra calories, so our next day adventure started in an enormous (670 square km) Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier (http://www.parcsquebec.com/) named after a French explorer, discoverer of Canada. Out of a great number of outdoor activities, fit for explorers of any age and level, my dear husband not surprisingly picked white water rafting – something he’s been doing all his life – before he met me that is.I didn’t feel like wearing a wet suit and a life jacket on a warm sunny day, and paddling like crazy to safely pass shallow this time of year rapids, but I had to tag along with a group of much more experienced rafters, kind enough to let me in. We had a wonderful guide, Rene, and the V-shaped valley of the river was so stunningly beautiful, and beaver huts were so curiously built along the shores where blue herons were standing still waiting for their prey. Gradually I warmed up to the idea of active adventures, and started enjoying the ride.A visit to the nearby Scandinavian-style Le Nordique Spa et Détente (http://www.lenordique.com/) included an open-air hot tub over the Saint Laurence River, steam and sauna facilities in cute wooden houses, and plenty of relaxation in the resting areas. Needles to say, in order to get to any of these facilities, visitors have to take stairs, as the spa is located on a steep hillside. But that’s what keeps those Québécois fit and trim, and youthful at any age!Historically and architecturally rich, clean, and safe, Quebec is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and considered to be perfect for young families. It’s also one of the best cities for physical fitness. No matter how much duck liver, cheese and bacon is being consumed by its residents, not to mention chocolate and maple butter, steep cobblestone streets and numerous stairs keep Quebec dwellers in shape.
On the day of our departure, at the bursting at seams Quebec City market, Marche du Vieux-Port, I overheard a tourist from Minnesota telling her companions, “These strawberries, they don’t look real.” I bit my tongue, not to blurt out loud, “No, honey, these strawberries are real, those you buy in Safeway are not.” More information on Quebec tourism at: http://www.quebecregion.com/.
Drink, Eat, and Stay Fit: Back to Quebec
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