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A Perfect Vacation in a Quaint French Enclave in North America:
a Haven for Lovers of Food, Scenery, History and Cheeses
Combined with spectacular scenery, historical sites, stays in local inns and B & Bs, a vacation to Quebec City highlighted by cheese tastings, regional cuisines and by all the events planned for the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Quebec, can be one of life’s unique and memorable surprises.
By Simone Zarmati Diament
When French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived to Acadia, New France, and founded Quebec in 1608, the French colony which was to become the capital of the province of Quebec in Canada, was only a trade outpost down the rapids on the St. Lawrence River. http://www.CircuitSaint-Laurent.com/
A handful of French colons and their cows lived on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence Seaway, where Quebec City's Old Town -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- stands today as the only city north of Mexico with its original city walls.
As the story of the world goes, throughout the following years the number of colons grew and so did trade and so did, exponentially, the cattle count via natural multiplication as much as from exports of Black Jerseys from Bretagne and Normandie in France, whose descendants can be seen placidly grazing the rich grass of the plains of Quebec.
Cows and their milk became a source of income to 17th century Acadians who started making cheeses, much like those produced in the different regions in France whence they themselves originated, and selling them to New Englanders and to ships sailing to Europe.
So prized were the cheeses and the income they generated that the first school of cheese in the North American continent was founded in Quebec in 1881, by cheesemaker Edouard André Bernard at Saint Denis de Kamouraska,. In 1893, the Saint Hyacinthe Cheese School followed and that same year the largest cheese in the world – 33 feet wide, 6.5 feet tall and weighing 6 tons -- dubbed the “Elephant Cheese” was made there for the Chicago World Fair where it sank the exhibition floor
In 1995, the Guinness Book of World Records claims another largest cheese in the world made in Canada weighing 26 tons. Bleu Bénédictin a Canadian Blue Cheese made by Benedictine monks at Saint-Benoît-du-Lac outbid the French Roquefort at an International Cheese Tasting and the prize for Best Cheese in The World went to a Canadian Cheddar in 1986
Today, on the eve of the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Quebec City http://www.myquebec2008.com, you can feast on local delicacies: foie gras, maple syrup, wines and pâtés which you can also sample at the Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec, and the cheese industry is striving.
There are close to 300 varieties of high quality artisanal cheeses being produced in cheeseries all over the province that you can visit on the "Route Gourmande des Fromages Fins du Quebec," a circuit geared to helping cheese aficionados discover from the traditional cheddar and Trappist cheeses and the award-winning Le Migneron de Charlevoix, Pied-de-Vent and Lechevalier Mailloux to varieties made with raw cow's, goat's or sheep's milk comparable in style and taste to France's illustrious fromages au lait cru. The map of the Route Gourmande des Fromages Fins du Quebec is available at Quebec tourist centres or at http://www.purelydairy.org.
There is a palpable “joie de vivre” all year-round, exuding from the brightly lit snow-covered streets during the winter months and the lush green shady streets during the joyful and vibrant spring and summer. To explore the irresistible charms of this definitely French speaking romantic enclave in the American Continent which has made the transition from the capital of a rural state to a vibrant and dynamic city, the best thing to do is to start walking in Quebec City. While public transportation is fairly cheap, eliminates the need for cabs or cars
You can take walk around the ramparts like the locals do or take a funicular down to the Petit Champlain shopping district from the plaza facing the imposing Chateau Frontenac.
Just as it was in the 17th Century, this picturesque city with its Gallic old charm is strategically located, commanding the St. Lawrence River from a height, for which it became a coveted military outpost. Intermittently Capital of the French Empire and of the British Empire: historic vagaries which have left their unmistakable marks in the life and architecture of the city, it retains all the quaint touches of Victorian Britain while maintaining its French flair.
Quebec City is the only walled city in North America, charming with medieval castles and forts, narrow cobble stone streets, horse drawn carriages and a vibrant cultural life.
History mingles with great food -- try Aux Anciens Canadiens, a restaurant in the oldest standing house in Quebec since 1775, that serves home-style Quebecois specialties in small rooms filled with the reassuring crackle of maple logs burning in the hearth, or stop at a bakery for crusty loaves of French bread, fresh pastry or for coffee and a croissant at a sidewalk café if you don’t want to sit down for a French, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, German, Indian, Swiss meal
Culinary tourism has become a major consideration for travelers planning their holidays around winter sports, ski, summer boating and fishing, water sports at any of the lakes, streams and rivers, sightseeing, hiking and bicycling.
Street life is exciting, with young people in cafes and nightclubs, music, and cultural activities are at every corner as well as in Museums, re-engineered churches and shops.
Few cities offer a blend of tradition and progress like Quebec. While everyone speaks perfect English, the official language is French.
There is a desire to preserve traditional values while keeping up with 21st century reality to the point of being avant garde. Modern Quebecois have found the most creative solutions to urban problems. There are 32 churches in Quebec, many of them no longer in use. Some of them are “desanctified” and put to educational use like L’Ecole du Cirque, the School of Circus which teach recreational as well as professionals classes to over 1,000 students (many of those then are employed by Cirque du Soleil). “We are a model for recuperation of the churches,” explained Dominique Lavois, Director of l’Ecole du Cirque.
To solve the graffiti problems afflicting every town nowadays, they created a Graffiti Zone and Murals that enables aspiring artists to spray or paint buildings façades. Another one of the many creative solutions is the pigeon hotel to control the pigeons’ population growth. Across from the Parliament Quebec built solar-heated bird houses, concrete structures with pigeon holes, plenty of water and birth-control laced food all year round
Not far from the Parliament and "Old Quebec," the Chateau Laurier hotel where I stayed is conveniently located just outside the city walls on Grande Allee, next to the scenic Plaines of Abraham. Its comfortable rooms all look on one scenic view or another and it maintains an old charm tradition which would be hard to find in a modern hotel chain
Grande Allee, where all the beautiful people go to at night, is the longest street in Quebec and is filled with cafes and restaurants which spill unto the sidewalks in summer. Victorian architecture lines this grand street in a perfect blend of old and new, of British and French flair. Cartier Avenue marks the limits of a neighborhood hopping with the new and fashionable.
From there you can walk to the Lower Town, where once the common folks lived, to the newly renovated Old Port which is coming back to life along with art galleries, boutique hotels – check out of Hotel Dominion : one of Conde Nast Best Hotels in the World, or the Auberge St. Antoine next to the Musée de la Civilization -- fashion shops, fine restaurants and little bistros in old buildings salvaged from years of lethargy and oblivion.
To understand the economic boom in the past 10 years ($380 million invested in TV stations, schools, stores and high tech industry) walk through the bustling Nouvo St. Roch District filled with artists, boutiques, galleries and condos to the Place Royale dating back to 1686, and to the Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec.
Combined with spectacular scenery, historical sites, stays in local inns and B & Bs, a vacation to Quebec City highlighted by cheese tastings, regional cuisines and by all the events planned for the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Quebec, can only be one of life’s memorable surprises for the entire family.
Hôtel Château Laurier Québec
1220, place George-V Ouest
(418) 522-8108 or 1 800 463-4453
Conveniently located at the gateway to Old Québec, this newly renovated hotel is next to Grande Allée, just a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill, the Québec City Convention Centre, the Plains of Abraham, and everything that makes Québec City a World Heritage treasure! www.vieuxquebec.com/laurier
Aux Anciens Canadiens ? (418) 692-1627. The oldest house in Québec (1675) has been transformed into a restaurant. Five dining rooms, decorated with antiques and collectors' items. Authentic Québec cuisine featuring regional produce. Professional and courteous service. On the night we were dining there, virtuoso violinist Patrice Painchaud played folk tunes as well as classical music.
Largo Resto Club (418) 529-3111 in the «Nouvo St-Roch» district. Largo is a new restaurant catering to lovers of Mediterranean cuisine.
Café Cosmos, Grande Allee, where tout Quebec meets for Sunday Brunch and where you can have hip sandwiches and salads with large bowls of hot Café au Lait.
l’Échaudé ? (418) 692-1299. L'Échaudé is the cornerstone of fine dining in the Old Port. Laid-back ambience, efficient hospitable service and an inviting wine list blend perfectly with the hearty bistro cooking. Visitors can dine where smart locals like to eat.
Les Ancêtres ? (418) 828-2718. on the Island of Orleans
A restaurant located in a 300-year-old family home with a glass-enclosed dining room and spectacular terrace. Panoramic view of the Laurentians and Montmorency Falls, as well as some of the most beautiful sunsets in Québec City.
There, Madame Mireille Clavet whose family has lived in that house for close to 200 years, prepares afternoon tea with homemade cookies and cakes and traditional Quebecois and modern cuisine, fish, game and grilled meats
Le Cochon Dingue on Petit Champlain, the oldest shopping district in Canada. It is a typical brasserie and a chain in different locations in Quebec
Shopping blitz on the bustling rue Saint-Joseph (Nouvo St-Roch area) or in Petit-Champlain, the oldest commercial district in North America.
Le Marché du Vieux-Port de Quebec where food producers showcase regional delicacies: cheeses, foie gras, pates and confits, maple syrup, ice wine and fruit wine, while local artisans display all manner of handicrafts in a cheerful ambiance. (418) 692-2517
Half day trip to the Island of Orleans
Galerie Boutique Ste-Pétronille ? (418) 828-2869, on the Island of Orleans Established in 1981 near the St. Lawrence River, in the exceptional setting of Île d'Orléans, this gallery-boutique is the permanent location for the contemporary works of Louise Lasnier, professional artist. You will find selected art objects: jewels, bronze, works on paper, paintings, sculptures, gifts and souvenirs. Open year-round.
Bar Boudoir, a Charming Retro-Jazz club with live band and vocalist.
l’École de cirque de Québec (418) 525-0101. Located in the old, l’École de cirque de Québec is specialized in the teaching of circus arts. Through its initiation “Allons au Cirque” workshops, the school welcomes every year many children, tourists and corporative groups who want to live a unique experience in a magnificent décor.