Cruising Across Canada: Paradise near Quebec

The Asian Age.  | Meenakshi S

Life, Travel

Quebec City is so different from Montreal. The vibes are completely different. I took a walking tour as the city is really small.

The Chateau Frontenac seen from Lower Town. This is indeed the best view of the hotel.

Quebec City is so different from Montreal. The vibes are completely different. I took a walking tour as the city is really small. I had a super sweet guide and 15 other people on the walk. A two and half hour walk through Old Quebec pretty much tells you everything about the entire history of the country — on how it was discovered and then how the British came, wars that were fought, etc. It is a crash course on Canadian history.

Quebec City is an UNESCO world heritage treasure site. Chateau Frontenac is the most photographed hotel in the world. It was never a Chateau and was always a hotel, imposing and grand and  Quebec City's grand icon. For over a century the hotel has been perched on the Cape Diamond overlooking the Dufferin Terrace and the St. Lawrence River. I went inside to see the opulent, renovated lobby which has historical artefacts dating back at least 400 years displayed in specially designed cases.

A good meal here can easily set you back a couple of hundred dollars, but it is definitely worth it  Old Québec offers a food tour which is very popular, but being a vegetarian it is really of no use to me. My cab driver suggested it and apparently it is a must do for meat eaters.

The Citadel and Plains of Abraham are other popular sites. Founded in 1663, Séminaire de Québec is the oldest educational institution in Canada. Of French architecture, it is now a private school. You see a mix of French, English and Scottish architecture in the city. Bricks were brought from England to build some of the houses. Art Deco style buildings are also seen, somehow it all fuses together in this quaint city and doesn't seem mishmash.

I loved the Lower Town or the Basse-Ville. In Place Royale in the Lower Town is the cradle of French Canadian civilisation. Quebec City was founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain after having opened the very first trading post here. The small square is full of history and there used to be a fort here as well. A huge mural recounts the heritage of Quebec City, paying homage to some historic figures and recounts the story of this beautiful city.

Petit Champlain is a super sweet street, lovely stores, eateries, colourful shutters and planter boxes bursting with flowers. There is so much to discover in a street which seems to have been stuck in time. It is an invitation to travel back in time to the founding of Québec over 400 years ago.

The Old Québec city does not feel like North America, it is more like Europe. The two storey buildings with the gabled roofs, chimneys etc. make it hard to believe that you are not in France.  One whole day is sufficient for anyone to take in the city at leisure and unhurriedly. I left the next morning eager to be on my way and to my next stop, Île d'Orléans or The Island of Orleans.

Île d'Orléans is on the St. Lawrence river, only about 20 mins from Quebec City, but I had two other places to see before I went on the island to enjoy it. The first stop was about 35 kms from Quebec City — Sainte-Anne-deBeaupré Basilique. It's a church renowned for curing of the sick and disabled.

You can see many crutches and walking sticks left behind by people who have been cured. The church itself is humongous, high vaulted ceilings with mosaic and stained glasses.

My second stop was Montmorency Falls, I had passed it on the way to the Basilique. It's beautiful, but nothing compared to the Niagara, if you've seen it. It's higher than the Niagara though. I walked right to the bottom and got drenched with the spray from the falls. Adrenaline junkies can zipline across and experience the power of nature.

A bridge takes you on the Île d'Orléans quickly and everything is transformed. The only mode of transport is car, you can see an occasional tourist bus but there is no public transport. The island is simply delightful. There is a road that circumvents the island and it would take a hour but I took like 3 hours, stopping at wineries and chocolateries. All along the drive are beautiful views of the river and there is nowhere along the drive where you cannot see the water.

Ice wine and apple cider are famous on the island. The Chocolaterie de l'Île d'Orléans produces high-quality chocolates with ingredients imported from Belgium and France. Lots of goodies like apple butter, cheese, pear and raspberry butter and maple syrup to take home. It is a paradise for fresh produce and products. You can see apple trees everywhere laden with red juicy apples. The island is host to historic homes and churches as well and some of the best strawberries you will ever eat, delicious bakeries and drop-dead scenery. A day on the island will never be misspent!

There is also a micro brewery which makes a maple syrup beer. It's delicious. A must try! Local produce is sold along the road in little barns and kiosks —pumpkins and butternut squashes are everywhere. The Vignobles Saint-Pétronille is easily the best winery. With  the radio blabbering in French I drive around the island, blissfully. Lunch was a hearty legume soup and no surprise — French fries.

The island is dotted with quaint B&B s. Most people make day trips, but I would recommend staying on the island. Everything closes early, supper is over at 8 pm and all restaurants shut. This is one of those places that lingers in your soul long after you have left those beautiful views that leave you breathless.

I found a rather quaint minuscule Blue Cabin to stay the night and it was nothing but perfect. Daniel my host was a writer living on the island for 27 years now. He's turned his garden shed into a small let-out on Airbnb. I felt like I was living a fairy tale, sleeping in the cabin.

(Meenakshi S is a travel and car enthusiast who did a road trip from Coimbatore to London in 2017)