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Trip Report Trip report/Burlington, VT to Quebec City to Charlevoix

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WHO WE WERE: I had a milestone birthday this month and wanted to celebrate it in an exotic, foreign place. However since DH couldn't travel with me I opted to stay on the continent. Quebec City was the perfect destination and a good friend the perfect companion.

LOGISTICS: I fly out of Greensboro or Charlotte. When I started pricing air to Quebec City or Montreal the fares were very high ($650 and up). A friend suggested I consider flying into Burlington, VT. Fares were in the low $200's, so that's the airport we chose. It is a very easy airport to negotiate and we had no difficulties getting our rental car and heading north. Border crossing was very quick, under five minutes and no wait. The drive is relatively easy but slow. It took almost five hours to reach Quebec City. We drove through downtown Quebec City to reach our hotel (about a half hour with all the stoplights) but it gave us a bit of orientation. When we went to Ile d'Orleans and Charlevoix it was a very easy drive out of the city.

Quebec has created several route options which focus on wine, crafts, food, or scenery. We chose the river view route up to Charlevoix, the food route back, and the Eastern townships route to Burlington.

WHERE WE STAYED:
Quebec City: I had a relatively limited choice as I wanted a room with two beds in the historic district. Post visit I can say that being "in" the historical district is not particularly important. There are a number of good choices quite close to the district.
I booked a junior suite at the Hotel Champlain. It was most enthusiastically recommended by the local experts on Trip Advisor and the reception person with whom I dealt, Rosann, was exceptionally welcoming and nice. I have posted a review on TA. The location is good for access to events, shopping and dining. Breakfast is included in the rate. Parking is additional and it is very tricky. The room was very large, clean and comfortable. Quebec City has a number of really charming and lovely properties, but this isn't one. It is very serviceable and a square three star. Recommended for families, not romance.

In Charlevoix we stayed at the Fairmont Richleiu. The grounds are splendid, but the service level is not at Fairmont standards. I have posted a review on TA. Not a good value, tour it, but don't stay here.

In Burlington we stayed at the Residence Inn (actually located in Williston about a five minute drive from the airport). We had a loft suite which was enormous and very comfortable (full review on TA). Great choice. We ended up staying an unexpected extra night (thank you, USAIR) and no rooms with two beds were available at the Residence Inn so we stayed at the Fairfield Inn. It was fine (full review on TA) but not in a league with the Residence Inn.

WHERE WE ATE:
St. Albans, VT- Cosmic Cafe As we headed up 89 towards the Canadian border we saw an exit for St. Albans and decided to take a chance. Canadian forum experts had warned me we might have to wait quite a while for a restaurant once we crossed the border. What a great choice. This is a funky little cafe with a great bakery and a super sandwich selection located right on the main street of St. Alban's. Perfect!

Quebec City-
first night- We had not made reservations because we weren't sure how the day would go and that proved to be a real problem. None of the highly recommended choices were able to accommodate us and we ended up in D'Orsay in Upper Town. Very ordinary food and exceptionally high prices. Not recommended.

second day-We had a reservation at La Parliamentaire, the restaurant which serves the Quebec legislature. Oh my goodness, what a treat. I had an outstanding asian shrimp dish. The food and service were excellent and we had a great view. The dining room is a beautiful space and worth a visit. I highly recommend it.

dinner-we were headed to the fireworks finale so we decided to get a to go dinner from Paillard. What a super option this is. The food is fresh and very good, prices are reasonable and the service is fast. Our only problem...the fireworks had been cancelled. Although our hotel had booked the event for us and were aware of the cancellation they had neglected to let us know. So we found a pretty park bench and ate our very good sandwiches from Paillard. Highly recommended for snacks, sandwiches and take away.

third day-We booked tea at the Fairmont for our main meal as we were headed to the Cirque du Soleil that night. The room is spectacular and the view wonderful. I enjoyed the quiet and elegant atmosphere. Dress is very casual, which given the rainy day was a blessing. I have a lot of trouble looking elegant on my best travel day but when it rains, it turns hopeless. The tea choices were very good. I had a vanilla orchid blend which I loved. Several of the sandwiches were excellent, my favorite was a shrimp mousse. The scones and cookies were better than the truffles. It is expensive, but in line with other teas I have enjoyed eleswhere. Recommended.

La Malbaie: We arrived in time for a late lunch at La Pinssoniere. What a fabulous place to enjoy lunch. We ate outdoors on a gorgeous deck surrounded by flowers and herbs with an exceptional view of the St. Lawrence. We were not in a rush and enjoyed just being there. My friend loved her meal (onion soup, fresh salad and a roasted guniea), I was not so thrilled with mine (a fresh doree or dory, not sure) but that was more an issue of my taste rather than preparation. I tried something new and just wasn't taken with it. However the housemade ice creams and sorbets more than compensated for any disappointment in the fish. Service is extremely slow. For most of the meal there were three servers and we were the only patrons so the slowness is very hard to explain. Little things like unrefreshed water made it a less than perfect lunch, but the scenic view really was so wonderful and we weren't in a rush, so I still give it five stars.

Afternoon break at the Fairmont Richelieu
We stopped for a Bloody Mary in the bar. Very poor service, the drinks were served with no stirrer and no celery in plain tumblers. When we asked for stirrers a steel spoon illsuited to the glass was dropped (yes, dropped) on the table. Taste was very bland and lacked the pizazz for which a Bloody Mary is known. The check was left on the table and the server never returned. Not recommended.

Dinner: My friend wanted to go to the casino so we had dinner at the hotel. It was also a disappointment, very average food, unengaged service and fairly high price for food value. Not recommended.

Breakfast: We decided to head to La Malbaie for breakfast and so glad we did. We went to Pains d'exclamation, 398 rue St. Etienne. We had delicious pastries, perfect fruit platters, a little yogurt and cereal and excellent coffee. Highly recommended, in fact worth a detour to get there.

Lunch: Unremarkable place along the road where my friend finally tried poutine and I settled for a grilled cheese. I am a vegetarian and it can be a bit of a challenge to feed me in some places, this was one. Hamburgers and variations thereon were the mainstay of the menu. Not worthy of mention.

Burlington, VT
Dinner at Church and Main was terrific. They took us without reservations and I am so glad. We had a delicious meal and a perfect prosecco to accompany it. Highly recommended.

Lunch: Three Tomatoes
This was a very good place for lunch. I had an excellent roasted beet dish and a very good salad. Service, prices and food make this a first rate choice. I wanted to try August First but they are closed on Sundays, so that's for the next visit. Highly recommended.

Embarrassing Admission:
I made several trips into Lake Champlain Chocolates to enjoy their housemade icecreams. Considering I spent less than 36 hours in town it is remarkable how many flavors I managed to try. Let me just say this review is based on extensive experience. Highly recommended.

WHAT WE DID:

Quebec City:
We had reservations for the international fireworks competition (cancelled), La Parliamentaire restaurant (!!!, see above) and Cirque du Soleil. Although the Cirque show is free, there is reserved seating for $15 per person. This is a great show and wonderfully staged outdoors, but I was grateful for the seat. We had to be there very early and after a long day of walking and standing, the stool felt very comfortable indeed. Highly recommended.

We appreciated the cooler temperatures but there was also a lot of rain on our trip. We decided to just go along as the weather and mood dictated and I believe that is the right approach. Quebec City is a walker's city, but not without its challenges. A lot of uphills!!! Sacrifice style for comfort when choosing your shoes.

We walked through both lower and upper city, took the stairs, not the funicular, and stopped anywhere the view caught our eyes. We toured the Plains of Abraham and walked along the Citadel. We visited several churches (particularly wonderful was the Notre Dame) and Parliament. Mainly we just ambled along breathing in the experience of this wonderful city. The architecture is fascinating and we took a lot of photos of roofs.

We did some shopping along Rue St. Jean, but to tell the truth, I was disappointed at the lack of locally made products. I can buy a good deal of what I saw at home and that didn't interest me. I would have loved to take home some maple syrup, but as a carryon only traveler that wasn't an option. My favorite shop was a locally made crafts shop on Rue St. Jean which featured some gorgeous scarves, jackets and coats. I seem to have lost the business card for it but will post the name and number if I locate it. We also stopped at several street fairs.

We spent most of one day on the Ile d' Orleans. It is a lovely very bucolic place with some gorgeous views of the city. Recommended.


CHARLEVOIX
irecommend suggested we add this to our itinerary and I am so grateful for that advice. What a delightful two days we spent. This is a beautiful region and we enjoyed a very leisurely drive up and back. We stopped at a number of food stands (I am a fool for fresh raspberries and blueberries). One interesting stop was at St. Joseph to visit a paper maker (recommended in the Fodors guide). I did find some beautiful handmade papers to give as gifts. Otherwise what I bought, I ate. Sorry, no souvenirs this trip!


BURLINGTON
We enjoyed our day in Burlington just walking around touring the University, stopping by a big waterfront festival and walking on Church St. I have already mentioned that a good deal of my time was spent circling in and out of Lake Champlain chocolates for ice cream, but we also managed to enjoy the active sidewalk performances and street scene in Burlington.
We went to Shelburne Farms but did not do a tour as we thought our time was limited (later USAIR surprised us with an extra overnight but that's another...and relatively unpleasant story), but we thought it was a must for the next visit.

LESSONS LEARNED

Flying in and out of Burlington saved us roughly $800 in air fare. Rental car was about $400 and gas around $100 parking about $50. We needed the car anyway, so I think that was a good decision. Besides Burlington is a very fun little town and worth a stop!

Lower town or upper town: I liked lower better. Fewer crowds, great views, and plenty of options for restaurants or shops.

Hotel choice in Quebec City:
I think I would have much preferred Hotel 71 or Germain Dominion both in lower town. For me a hotel is never just a place to sleep. I like a good degree of comfort and charm. the atmosphere of the hotel is important. The Champlain lacked charm and there was none of the warmth from the staff which I had expected based on my experiences with Rosann at booking. I will admit I was a little disappointed they did not acknowledge that it was a special birthday trip. Not upgrade acknowledgement, since I had booked their top offering, but at least a greeting.

Godesstogo described Quebec City as a no agenda destination. It is a place to take rests, have a coffee or wine, think about your next stop and really relax and enjoy where you are. I would add that there is excellent biking available and on my next visit, I will take advantage of that.

A special merci beaucoup to all the Fodorites who so kindly assisted me in making my travel plans. The people on the Canada forum are always so helpful and it is much appreciated.

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