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Trip Report Fall foliage trip report: In and around Quebec City and Montreal

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My husband and I vacationed last month in Quebec City and Montreal. The trip was a mix of leaf peeping outside of the two cities and sightseeing in the cities. We were there during the first week of October and caught the peak of the fall foliage viewing period. We enjoyed days of complete sunshine and warmer than normal temperatures on the days we saw the foliage, so it was beautiful to walk around and take photos. On our last couple of days when we were in Montreal, we had rain, though. I was glad we were lucky to have the sunshine on our leaf peeping days.


Logistics
We flew into YUL on Air Canada. That was the first time we flew on AC and we were very pleased with them. The plane was clean, the staff was nice, and we were each entitled to one free checked suitcase. Our hotel that evening was at the Montreal Airport Marriott (see review in the Montreal hotels section later in my trip report).

The next morning we drove through the Eastern Townships and Mont Orford, on our way to Quebec City. We spent 3 nights in QC and made partial day trips to Jacques-Cartier National Park and Cap Tourmente. Then we drove back to Montreal and stayed there for a couple of more days before returning home. We had tentatively planned to go to La Mauricie National Park on the drive back to Montreal, but we felt the day would’ve been too long (based on the long day we already had driving through the Eastern Townships on the way to QC). Plus, we saw enough foliage already and there was rain in the forecast, so we skipped it.


Fall foliage areas:

These websites are good resources for tracking the foliage once the season starts:

Eastern Townships
http://www.easterntownships.org/news/1139/celebrate-fall-colors

Bonjour Quebec
http://www.bonjourquebec.com/us-en/automne0.html#onglet

I also kept an eye on the foliage reports in New England:
http://www.foliagenetwork.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=34:northeast-us&Itemid=68&layout=default


Mont Orford

National Park website:
http://www.sepaq.com/pq/mor/index.dot?language_id=1

Ski center website:
http://www.orford.com/summer_en/the_mountain/foliage_festival.php

There was a fall foliage festival going on when we got to the ski center. The parking lots were packed but we managed to find a spot quickly. There was music, a small autumn crafts bazaar, and tickets could be purchased for the gondola ride to the top of the mountain. If you didn’t want to ride the gondola, there were walking/hiking trails of
various difficulties. We took the easy trail and walked about half way up. The colors were so breathtaking and it seemed like I stopped every few feet just to take pictures of everything around me (and maybe to catch my breath from climbing uphill ;) ). On the way down, the views were just as spectacular seeing the foliage from a distance as far as the eye can see. It was as if the hillsides were on fire because they
were glowing bright orange and red. We were so lucky to be there on a sunny day!


Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier
http://www.sepaq.com/pq/jac/index.dot?language_id=1

The foliage on the drive from QC to Jacques-Cartier was already wonderful so I knew when we got inside the park, it would be even better. The foliage once again was at its peak and we were wowed with every turn of our heads. We took a couple of short hikes and saw some green (from what I’m guessing are pine trees) mixed in with the
yellows/oranges/reds from the maple trees, which was also very pretty. Along one of the trails we came across a squirrel that was busy nibbling on something. We were able to get about 3 feet away from it to take some close-up pictures and it didn’t care. It was too busy eating and didn’t run away from us.

The park is an easy drive from QC and we highly recommend it.


More to come ...

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    Continuing on with my report ...

    Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area
    http://www.sentiersquebec.com/en/

    Although the focus of Cap Tourmente was to see the snow geese, I must say that the foliage surrounding the area was VERY nice. We sat on a bench for a while just enjoying the beauty. We even spotted a waterfall on a hillside in the distance. Since it was a gorgeous, sunny day again, it would’ve been a tranquil spot to stay for a while, but the snow geese were calling ... loudly. You could hear them from quite a distance. The ranger at the Reserve's entrance informed us that there were 30,000 geese that day. The following week they were expecting the peak at 80,000. We walked to the observation deck and were delighted to see the birds. They were everywhere and it was amazing to see that many of them gathered together. Even though there were only 30,000 of them, it was fun to just sit there and observe them for a while. We brought our own binoculars but the viewpoint also has telescopes provided. I think there are binoculars for rent at the Interpretation Center, as well.


    QUEBEC CITY:

    Hotel
    Hotel Manoir Victoria
    http://www.manoir-victoria.com/english/

    Our hotel in QC was located inside the old walled city in the Upper Town. When you enter the hotel, a staircase is directly in front of you and you look up to see that the lobby is on the second floor. Unfortunately there's no elevator, so you have to carry your suitcases up or the staff will run over to help you. It wasn’t the greatest first impression but since the building itself is quite old, it's not that surprising that there's no elevator. There are elevators to the rooms, though.

    Our room was a bit on the small side and was dated, but it was clean. Service was very, very good. The staff was friendly and the employee who handled us when we checked in remembered our names – each time he saw us he greeted us by name. I was originally looking at booking a room at Hotel 71 which is in Lower Town, but I waited too long to make a reservation and the rooms got sold out. We're actually glad we stayed at the Hotel Manoir Victoria instead because we thought the location was more convenient to be in Upper Town than Lower Town. We liked walking around to shop and eat (lunch and snacks) in Upper Town better.


    Sights and Shopping

    We walked around both Upper and Lower Towns and saw the major tourist attractions such as the Chateau Frontenac and La Citadelle in Upper Town, and Quartier Petit Champlain in Lower Town. We didn't take the tour of the Citadel but we were able to go to the waiting area where the tours start and got a glimpse of the inside.
    http://www.lacitadelle.qc.ca/en.html

    We walked around the perimeter of the city walls and stopped at a viewpoint overlooking the St. Lawrence River. The foliage across the river looking towards Levis and Ile d’Orleans was very pretty. Everything in QC was picturesque.

    We didn't use the funicular to get from Lower to Upper Town (not even after our huge dinners on those chilly nights). The climb was not painful but it wasn't a breeze either. By the way, the Ecolobus stopped right in front of our hotel, so that's an option as well, for anyone who doesn't want to walk up/down hill between there and Lower Town.

    I wasn't impressed with any of the shops in the Petit Champlain Quarter, but it was nice just to walk around the cobblestone streets there and throughout the city in general.
    http://www.quartierpetitchamplain.com/en

    We did end up buying some souvenirs, though. One shop in particular that I liked in Upper Town was called La Boutique de Noel de Quebec. It's a Christmas shop that sells a wide variety of ornaments and other holiday items. I purchased a cute ornament that's an autumn leaf that had been preserved and had "Quebec" written on it. It made the perfect momento for our leaf peeping on this trip. The store was also decorated nicely on the outside. At night, many people walking by would stop to take pictures of its façade.
    http://www.boutiquedenoel.ca/en/index

    We came across another Christmas store close by but their prices were higher.


    Food

    Note: my trip reports are generally heavy on the food and shopping experiences since those are my big interests.


    Panache
    http://www.saint-antoine.com/en/dining.html

    This was the best dining experience during this trip. The restaurant is located inside the Auberge Saint-Antoine hotel and even though it's an upscale place, it still had such a warm and cozy atmosphere with its wooden beams and stone walls. There are only a handful of tables in the whole restaurant and in the middle of the room, there's a lovely fireplace. From the moment we walked in, it felt very intimate. We checked our coats at the door and after we were seated, the sommelier came by with the wine menu. We took some time to look through the dinner menu and he returned to make his recommendations based on what food we would be ordering. A bit after we placed our order with the waiter, we were served a complementary shrimp and lobster amuse bouche which was delicious. Our appetizers of foie gras (hubby) and cream of sweet potato, bell pepper, and chorizo soup (me) were also fabulous. For the main course, we had the duck confit for two. Desserts were creme brulee and a chocolate tarte. Again, everything was delicious. It seemed like things tasted better with each course.

    The only thing that was not so perfect was that the sommelier was a little slow to "refill" us during dinner. A couple of times my husband's glass was just about empty and it took a while before he came by to ask if my husband wanted another glass.

    Overall, we really, really liked the food, the service was generally good, and the ambience was wonderful. We would definitely recommend Panache and would return there the next time we would be in QC.

    Note: reservations are a must. We made ours four weeks in advance and there were only a few time slots remaining. Remember, they don't have that many tables, and once you're seated, you'll probably be there most of the night. We were dining there for several hours.


    Le Cafe du Monde
    http://www.lecafedumonde.com/

    I read mixed reviews about this restaurant, but it was our second favorite meal of the trip after Panache. The food quality was very good, but the atmosphere is completely different from Panache, so it would not be fair to compare them. Le Cafe du Monde is much more casual and louder. They're going for the French bistro feel. Like I said, the food was pretty good. A few noteworthy dishes were the cream of cauliflower soup (I think it was a special of the day), salmon carpaccio, and for dessert, the chocolate pot de creme was absolutely to die for!! It was so rich and creamy. I asked the waitress what brand of chocolate they used in it, but she didn't know, only that it was Belgian. Service was excellent. Our waitress was very nice, friendly, knowledgeable, and prompt.

    We would definitely eat there again and would recommend it if you're looking for a place that's not super fancy.


    Casse-Crepe Breton
    http://cassecrepebreton.com/

    We ate here twice: once just for dessert after dinner, and once for lunch. They have both sweet and savory crepes with a lot of choices for fillings. You can build your own crepe when you order. Sweet crepe fillings include chocolate, maple syrup, or different fruits like bananas, strawberries, or apples. Savory fillings include ham, bacon, cheese, green peppers or a variety of other vegetables. The portions are big and it's a decent value. The place isn't very big so there's always a line that goes out the door and it moves slowly. It's fun to watch the crepes being made while you wait for a table, though.


    Le Petit Chateau
    http://www.petitchateau.ca/

    We had lunch here and it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. It's located to the side of the Chateau Frontenac and has an outdoor terrace. The restaurant looked nice from the outside and but the food was just average. We both had sandwiches with a side salad and each of us had a dessert crepe. The crepes at Casse-Crepe Breton were better. We also drank some ice cider which was pretty good.


    Resto-Bistro Saint-James
    http://www.manoir-victoria.com/english/gastronomy.html#restobistrostjames

    Nothing noteworthy about this place. It's the hotel's restaurant so the food was average. No complaints about the service. We only ate here the night we arrived in QC since it was late and we were too tired to go anywhere else. The dessert menu looked unappetizing which is why we went next door to Casse-Crepe Breton for dessert.


    Up next, Montreal ...

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    MONTREAL:

    The drive back to Montreal from Quebec City was uneventful since we skipped going to La Mauricie, as I mentioned before. Our quick lunch/pit stop during our drive was at Tim Horton's. Their specialties are their donuts and coffee, but they also serve fresh, tasty sandwiches which are a great alternative to greasy American fast food chains. Although they have some U.S. locations, we had never eaten at one. They even served the food on real plates and we had silverware (not plastic utensils). We saw a lot of Subways on the road, too, but we wanted to try something Canadian. We definitely recommend this chain when you're on the go.
    http://www.timhortons.com/


    Hotels

    Montreal Airport Marriott
    http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/yulma-montreal-airport-marriott-hotel/

    As I mentioned at the beginning of my trip report, we stayed here on the night we arrived. The hotel is brand new. It is connected directly to the airport terminal and we found that to be extremely convenient. Since we arrived late, the main reason for reserving a room at this hotel was the location. We didn't have to exit/go outside the building – we just walked right up to the lobby to check into our room and went up the elevator to a very nice and very clean room. We quickly freshened up and went back down to have dinner at the hotel's restaurant. We weren't expecting the food to be great, but it turned out to be quite tasty. In the restaurant, you could hear some noise from the planes taking off, but from our room, we didn't notice any noise. The beds were very comfortable. Also, the staff was nice, friendly, and helpful. Even though we were only there for one night, we were very pleased.

    If you have an early or late flight and need to be at the airport without any hassles, we'd highly, highly recommend the Marriott. We wouldn't hesitate to stay here again if we're in the area.


    Holiday Inn Select Montreal Centre-Ville
    http://www.yul-downtown.hiselect.com/

    Our other hotel while in Montreal was selected also based on its location. We wanted to be close to Old Montreal and also have good access to the Metro so we could easily get to downtown and the Plateau. This hotel was perfect for its proximity to the Metro station. It was caddy corner from the Place-d'Armes station.
    The weather was a bit rainy by the time we got back to Montreal, so it was great to just walk out of the hotel and cross the street to get to the Metro. The room was dated and a bit worn, but overall it seemed clean. The hallway always smelled like frying oil and Chinese food, though, because of their Chinese restaurant in the lobby. Obviously we weren't expecting a luxurious room, so we thought it was fine and a decent value.


    Sights

    We visited the normal tourist places like Mont Royal, the Notre-Dame Basilica, Saint Joseph's Oratory, and Old Montreal.
    http://www.basiliquenddm.org/
    http://www.saint-joseph.org/
    http://www.vieux.montreal.qc.ca/eng/accueila.htm

    We took a short walk around the lake in Mont Royal park which was quite pretty. The trees were starting to show some fall colors. Since it was lightly raining, the viewpoints overlooking the city were not that great due to the clouds rolling in.

    The basilica and oratory were impressive sights, but as for Old Montreal, we liked touring around Quebec City better. QC was just more quaint.


    Montreal Botanical Garden
    http://www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/jardin/jardin.htm

    We spent a couple of hours at the Botanic Gardens. It wasn't the best day to go there since it was rainy and chilly but I wanted to see the Chinese lanterns display in the Chinese garden.
    http://www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/jardin/en/propos/lanternes.htm

    We spent a couple of hours in the greenhouses first and then made our way outside at dusk to the Chinese garden. Being inside the greenhouses kept us warm and dry from the rain and it was interesting to see the different plants from around the world. They were grouped together based on their native climates. We saw some strange but interesting species and a few very beautifully-colored plants, most of which were in the tropical climate greenhouse. One plant had leaves that looked like the outside of a watermelon and it was named appropriately the watermelon peperomia.

    As it got darker, we walked outside to the Chinese garden and saw the lanterns nicely glowing. One of the pagodas in the middle of the garden was perched high so we walked up to it and went inside to get a good vantage point for some panoramic photos of the garden, along with the Olympic Tower in the background.
    http://www.rio.gouv.qc.ca/pub/visiter/accueil.jsp?locale=en

    If it hadn't been raining, it would've been nice to be able to spend a bit more time at the Botanic Garden and see some of the other theme gardens, and overall it was a good place to visit.


    Shopping

    We also did some window shopping in the Plateau but I didn't find anything special, except for one food store called La Vieille Europe.
    http://www.montrealplus.ca/montreal/venues/la-vieille-europe

    They had a deli with specialty meats, cheeses, and other delicacies, as well as plenty of imported packaged products. In the back of the store they also had a giant coffee roaster so you could buy some beans and have them roasted on the spot.
    I was happy to find some French brand of cookies that I've only seen at home around Christmastime. This store was selling them for only half the price of what I'd have to pay at home so I bought several boxes of it.


    Just an observation regarding the Plateau: I'd read about it being the most French neighborhood in all of Montreal, but we heard plenty of English speakers from store/restaurant employees and passers-by.


    We used the Metro to get around Montreal, so even though I didn't intentionally plan on shopping in the Underground City, we saw parts of it. I did a tiny bit of window shopping but didn't buy anything or notice any outstanding stores.

    In downtown the big department stores like Holt Renfrew and Ogilvy were nice for clothes.
    http://www.holtrenfrew.com/holts/en/home/
    http://www.ogilvycanada.com/

    They pretty much carried the same designer labels that I could find at home in our shopping mall/department stores, but I did buy a nice sweater from Holt Renfrew (it was their own label).


    Chocolaterie Suisse
    http://chocolateriesuisse.com/

    I was ecstatic to stumble upon Chocolaterie Suisse. Their store window had a sign advertising their hot chocolate drink but I was curious to see if they sold chocolate so I decided to go in. To my delight, they sell chocolates by the piece as well as manufactured Swiss brand chocolate bars such as Cailler, Villars, and Felchlin. I bought a box of delicious chocolates and cleaned out their entire stock of Cailler chocolate bars. It's too bad I couldn't buy more Cailler. The owner said their next delivery was still a few days away ;(

    They also carried other Swiss-made items in the store like cuckoo clocks and watches.
    http://www.lapendulerie.ca/page2E.html


    Suite 88
    http://www.suite88.com/

    It was heavenly walking into Suite 88 Chocolatier because you could smell the scent of chocolate right when you open the door. It's not just a chocolate store, it's a lounge. There are comfy chairs and sofas that you can sink into and thoroughly enjoy your chocolates. They also sell waffles, hot chocolate, and gelato. I bought several boxes of chocolate for me and a few more boxes as gifts. When I opened my boxes later at home, I found out they insert a coupon for a free waffle or hot chocolate on your next visit. I was so disappointed I couldn't redeem my coupons. If I knew, I could've bought a few boxes one day, then gone back the next day for more and used my coupon then! ;) Aside from the coupon thing, the chocolates tasted very, very good.


    Fous Desserts
    http://www.fousdesserts.com

    I only bought a few pieces of chocolates here. Most of their selection was dark chocolate but I'm a milk chocolate fan. The ones I bought were quite delicious, though. I think they were just as good as the ones from Suite 88, but Suite 88 was more expensive. If they had more milk chocolate pieces, I probably would've bought more from them than from Suite 88. I also bought a bag of shortbread cookies sprinkled with fleur de sel which were excellent.


    More of Montreal to come ...

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    Food

    Schwartz's
    http://www.schwartzsdeli.com/

    We didn't understand what the buzz is all about regarding Schwartz's. We've seen raves about it on TV. We've read the gushing reviews. We've gotten recommendations from friends who have eaten there and loved it even though they normally don't like that type of meat. We went in there with that expectation – but neither of us was impressed. Not even remotely impressed. The smoked meat was average; maybe above average at best. In our book, it certainly is not worthy enough to be considered a landmark destination/must-do in Montreal.

    Other than the food itself, service was fine. Our waiter was friendly and the food came out of the kitchen quickly. By the way, we were there at noon and were the third ones in line. I had been worried prior to that, thinking the line would be very long. It didn't take long at all to get a table and even when we left, the line wasn't long.

    Overall, we would not go out of our way to go back to Schwartz's. Again, the sandwiches weren't bad, but they were not anything special.


    Restaurant Toque
    http://www.restaurant-toque.com/en/

    We were very disappointed with Toque. The restaurant's decor is modern and stylish so it looked very nice, but the service was not good. The food was good -- but not great. For the price we paid for our meal, it was not a good value. For what we paid, we expect the entire experience to be flawless but it was not.

    For starters, the host who seated us was not friendly and our waitress took forever before she showed up at our table. Our amuse bouche (sweet corn foam with sea salt) and appetizers (pancetta with pears and parmesan) were good, but from there it went downhill.

    For the main course, we ordered the rib eye steak for two, medium. Our steaks were brought to our table by some server who was different from our waitress. He put our plates down and ran away from our table so fast that I didn't have a chance to cut into my steak fast enough to let him know whether or not I was happy with how cooked it was. He should've waited for me to check, and otherwise, our waitress should've come by right away to check. My steak was still too red so I wanted it cooked a bit more, but it took forever for our waitress to come check on us.

    Finally she showed up so she took my steak back into the kitchen to have it cooked longer, and I told my husband to keep eating his piece and not wait for me so his piece wouldn't get cold. As he took a few more bites into his steak, he kept cutting away giant chunks of fat. He noticed that more than half his portion was just fat. I told him to complain to the waitress since that steak was expensive and it would be ridiculous for us to pay that much for a piece of mostly fat. So when she returned with my steak, he showed her his steak and she agreed to bring him another piece. I finally started eating my steak and he waited. The waitress came back and said he needed to choose a different dish because the chef said it would take too long for him to cook another steak. She suggested their salmon dish since it was the fastest thing to cook and my husband agreed to it. Eventually my husband's fish was served to him, while I was done eating my steak by then.

    When the chef (or whoever else in the kitchen) sliced the rib eye into the two portions, why didn't he notice all the fat on my husband's portion and give us a different one right away? Also, once the steaks were plated with all the side dishes and garnishings, someone in the kitchen should've noticed then, too – if not the chef, what about the person preparing the plates or the person bringing the plates to our table?

    Overall, the entire experience was not pleasant. We ate our main courses at different times and the service we expect from a restaurant like this was not at all the level of a top-notch establishment. We would NOT go back to eat there again, nor would we recommend Toque to anyone.


    Claude Postel
    http://www.claudepostel.com/

    We ate pastries here and they were ok. I ordered something that had too much marzipan in the filling for my liking. I had a bite of my husband's pastry and I wasn't that crazy about it either.


    Premiere Moisson
    http://www.premieremoisson.com/

    We snacked on some pastries here that were very good. I know this is a chain but I liked their pastries better than Claude Postel's. They also had a big selection of other foods like quiches, sandwiches, and breads.

    We'd definitely want to eat there again for a simple, affordable lunch or snack.



    Overall, we liked Quebec City more than Montreal, but we really enjoyed our vacation all-in-all. The foliage was unbelievable and we noticed that just about everyone we came in contact with was very friendly.

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    Re your comment on the "average to above average" quality of Schwartz's smoked meat, could you tell us the places you have had smoked meat that you would classify as better than above average?

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    I haven't had any that I could say were better than Schwartz's, but I have had a couple that were just about the same as Schwartz's and worse than Schwartz's. So when we went to Schwartz's, I expected a sandwich that was something so special that I'd be dreaming about returning to Montreal just to eat it again since no one else around could make it. That wasn't the case, as it was a meal that was forgettable.

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    Thanks for taking the time to share this terrific trip report, with lots of great information for restaurant-lovers!

    The Plateau and French. I wouldn't describe the Plateau as the most French-speaking neighbourhood of Montreal island. That title I'd more likely award to somewhere like Hochelaga-Maisonneuve or Pointe-aux Trembles (off-the-tourist-map places). The western fringes of the Plateau near Boulevard St. Laurent have always struck me as being more anglophone (a lot of McGill students socialize there, etc...). As you get further east, French becomes progressively more predominant in the Plateau. Living in the eastern part of the Plateau in the '90s, I turned when I would hear English; these days, even in the east of the Plateau, English is more common but not predominant.

    Schwartz's. Thanks for this opinion. I agree that it's not a "must-do in Montreal" for most visitors and am amazed in some ways it's gotten this title given all the great restaurants in this city.

    DANIEL

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