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Trip Report Nine days in Montreal, Quebec, and the Charlevoix

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DH and I left from Chicago Midway on Friday morning, September 9, headed to Montreal on Porter Air, a first for us. In the initial trip planning stages I was getting discouraged because a non-stop from Chicago to Montreal was hovering around $800 RT for each of us; I remember the days when one could fly to Paris or Rome for that! I was almost tempted to fly to Buffalo (RT $200ish) and just drive to Montreal when I happened upon Porter while searching on Kayak (I think). They were advertising a 30% off fare sale, and many Fodorites highly recommended it, so I decided to give it a try. On whole, we were very pleased. Comfortable seats, pleasant crew, one free checked bag. I especially appreciated Gate Porter, where you can stow your slightly over-sized carry-ons (the ones you pretend will fit easily in the overhead compartments) without actually checking them, and then they're just waiting for you as you come down the stairs. And, of course, they serve food -- not exactly full meals, but like yogurt and blueberry muffins for breakfast; turkey and chevre on a whole grain roll and pasta salad for lunch. And a little chocolate. They also serve a variety of beverages, including a reasonably good Cabernet and Chardonnay -- and the pours are very generous. One woman across the aisle asked for the red and when she saw the tumbler she actually said, "Are you serious?" The only drawback, for us, was the unavailability of a nonstop to Montreal; all flights go through Toronto. But the passenger lounge in Toronto is comfortable and well-equipped with WiFi, a "business centre" with wired computers, newspapers, and a wide variety of complimentary beverages and snacks. One cautionary note -- the fares advertised in big print (whether 30% off or 50% off or not) are somewhat misleading, as they don't include the relatively hefty add-ons and surcharges and taxes. But even at that, the fares were substantially cheaper than those I could find on American or United, etc. So, I'm in the "I Like Porter" camp.

The trip to Montreal was relatively uneventful -- well, one adventurous thing did happen at Midway. We were going through security and DH and I got separated; he was about three people behind me. I made it through OK (well, I had to get patted down for some reason, but then they just waved me thorough). So I’m at the far end, putting on my shoes and slipping my laptop back into its case, and I look back for DH ... don’t see him. I look in another line – don’t see him. I scan the early morning crowd (which isn't all that large) -- don't see him. Hmmmm. I finally went to one of the TSA agents and said that apparently I had lost my husband ... did they ever take people aside into a separate room or anything? No, he says, your husband would just be here in open view (waves towards the far end). Maybe he just already went on to the gate? Well, seemed unlikely, but I walk down to the gate to see, but nope, no one there. I try calling DH, but his phone is turned off. So I walk back towards security, trying to decide what I do in the case of a missing husband -- do I needed to ask someone to look for him? – when I see him walking toward me, shrugging on his jacket. "What happened to you?" Apparently they didn’t like the power bars that he had in his backpack (must have had a memo that morning about foil-wrapped explosives or something), so they pulled him off to the side in a separate line, took everything out of the backpack, swabbed the inside of it, and then told him not to touch anything – no problem there. Finally they decided that they were just power bars and that soy protein wasn't particularly dangerous, so they put it all back and let him go. And even though he carried at least some of those for the rest of the trip, no one else paid the slightest attention to them.

DH and I like to travel as though we're locals as we think we get to know places better when we venture beyond the museums and tourist attractions, so when possible we rent apartments or condos, take public transportation, and shop in local groceries and stores. Following this usual plan, I had rented a condo in the Plateau, just two blocks from Parc Lafontaine. So after landing at PE Trudeau in Montreal (we had gone through customs in Toronto) we headed over to the relatively new 747 express bus with the intention of taking it to its first stop, the Lionel-Groulx metro station. The bus fare is 8$, but if you purchase a one- or three-day "occasionnelle" tourist pass at the airport (they sell them at the currency exchange in international arrivals, which conveniently happens to be right inside the door from which the 747 departs), that pass can be used for the bus fare. The three-day pass is 16$ and give you unlimited use on trains and buses for three days, so it's a real deal.

We took the bus to Lionel-Groulx, and then used the fare pass to take the orange line to the Mont-Royal metro station. The day was beautiful, so it was then an easy walk of a few blocks to the condo, which was really lovely, with a full kitchen and an enclosed patio with a little bubbling fountain and a variety of plantings. After settling in a bit, it was off to explore and buy a few essentials for the next few days of our stay in Montreal.
We started with Parc Lafontaine, and found it charming and relaxing. Apparently lots of folks decided to take advantage of the sunny Friday afternoon, and the park was filled with people strolling, lounging, walking dogs, playing guitars, reading, snacking, and enjoying the fountain -- as did we. We took a circuitous route, making our way over to Avenue Papineau, and then up to Avenue du Mont-Royal. We stopped at a grocery and picked up some basics (milk, juice, cereal, fruit) and then strolled along Mont-Royal "window licking," as the French say. I was surprised to see that a lot of restaurants had shutters that can be opened to the weather; never would have thought it was that warm in Montreal. You see it in New Orleans and the Caribbean, but Montreal? We stopped somewhere and picked up a couple of individual quiches for dinner – one was chevre and spinach, one was bacon and onion – and a chocolate royale for dessert. Picked up a bottle of wine at an SAQ, and a baguette at the boulangerie down the block from the condo. We ate dinner out on our patio listening to the fountain babble – relaxing and pleasant after a long day of travel.

Saturday was a picture-perfect day – sunny, crisp, and it warmed up to about 23 (70s F). Don’t get many days like this, so we enjoyed the outdoors as much as possible! We had breakfast in our flat, and then took off to Marche Jean Talon, the farmers market in Little Italy. We took the metro to the Jean Talon stop, and then walked the three or four blocks to a huge farmer’s market just bursting with fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread, meats, fish, cider, shellfish… I took about 50 photos – oh look! Peppers. And strawberries. And garlic. And flowers. And tomatoes. Blueberries, raspberries, grapes, nectarines … Brussels sprouts still on the stalk. Clementines and sunflowers. Olive oil. It was sunny and colorful and really lively. We got a cup of coffee and a Turkish date pastry to eat in the little food court, and then roamed up and down the aisles, aisle after aisle of beans (haricots verts), sweet corn (mais sucre), potatoes (pommes de terre). We shopped for dinner and we got a nice piece of salmon marinating in a dill sauce – they put it in an aluminum foil container so I could bake it right in that and not really have to cook. Then we got some green beans and some new potatoes to go with it. We also got a bottle of hard cider -- all local from Quebec.

We fit right in on metro with our grocery bags. There was one older woman with two crates of tomatoes on a small dolly that she was trying to get down into the station; some nice young man ended up carrying the whole kit and caboodle down the two flights of stairs for her – we figured that this was her day to can tomatoes, or to make soup or chili or whatever they make with a boatload of tomatoes in Quebec. We had to come back to the condo to put away the fish, and we stopped at the boulangerie down the block to pick up some more bread and an apricot cream tart for dessert. And we stopped at Starbucks to get some ground coffee; the coffee at Jean Talon was delicious, but it was also 38$ CAD for 2 kilo – more than I needed all the way around.

So, after shopping and stowing all of our dinner goods, we went out exploring.
We walked over to Avenue St. Denis, one of the main streets in this Plateau, and walked perhaps a mile, looking over the neighborhood. Lots of shops, restaurants, theaters, art stores … quite a mix! We spent a few minutes looking at the fountain in St. Louis Square, which is surrounded by colorful Victorian homes with Mansard roofs. Then we hopped over to the metro and (using our handy three-day pass) went down to Vieux Montreal, the old port.

We had hoped for a sandwich at a Olive and Gourmando, which is highly regarded both on this Forum in by the standard guide books. But a lot of people apparently have read the same recommendations, and the line was out the door so we shall never know if the hype is correct or not. We got some perfectly nice sandwiches at a shop down the street (maybe wasn’t smoked trout with chevre and herbs, but they were fine) and then went to the river. They day was beautiful, so we decided to take a boat trip down the St. Laurent … we got there a little early for boarding so we could be sure to get a seat on the top deck out in the sun. That was a lot of fun, and when we got back we did some ore exploring around the Old Port. There’s a clock tower (Tour de l'Horloge) which honors sailors, and we also visited the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, built in 1771 and topped with a statue of the Virgin facing the St. Lawrence with her arms spread wide, welcoming all sailors to the safety of home. Then we headed toward the Basilica de Notre Dame, which, as a neo-gothic cathedral, is just gorgeous inside. We stayed for mass, which was all in French … so DH, um, reflected for most of the service. Afterwards we spent a bit of time looking at the side chapels and took a closer look at the main altar -- until they shut off the lights and told everyone to please leave, as they needed to get ready for the evening light show. I had read varying opinion of the light show thing -- some like it, some find it cheesy. We just left, so we shall never know.

After all the walking and churches we both were ready for a break, so we came home to our salmon, green beans, potatoes and cider dinner, which was pretty darned good! Sometimes not having a full pantry with plenty of staples, herbs, sauces, etc. makes for interesting meals … and surprisingly good ones, sometimes, This was one of those times, and we topped it off with our coffee and apricot tart for dessert.

Tomorrow, the mountain! (more to come...)

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    Great report; already sounds like you've gotten to experience some of my favourite aspects of living in this city! It always makes me happy when people from elsewhere see what life is like here for the first time. And you've approached your visit here in a way that I would... living it seems very much like a Montrealer. Great stuff!

    Best wishes, Daniel(someone who lives in a condo a half block away from Parc Lafontaine)

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    Our last day in Montreal was just great. Still beautiful weather – we could not have been luckier with the crisp sunshine for the past three days. And just warm enough to make it pleasant in the sun, and not too cold in the shade.

    We went out for breakfast Sunday morning to the St. Viateur Bagel Café, which is one long block up to Mt. Royal and a short block over (1127 Avenue du Mont-Royal Est). I’d read about Montreal’s “best bagels in the world,” and the two basic competing bagel makers – Fairmont and St. Viateur. I’ve had my share of fresh H&H Bagels in NYC, and this would be a real contest. I understand that each has its supporters, and I had hoped to try both but it wasn’t to be. The café is not the main shop – that’s over on Rue St. Vaiteur (imagine that) – but this location has little tables and makes sandwiches, breakfasts, and serves coffee and other drinks. DH and I each got the “deluxe” ham and egg bagel sandwich, which was a toasted sesame seed bagel with a small “omelet” and grilled ham, along with lettuce and tomato. Along side was a beautiful bowl of fruit – cut melon, grapes, strawberries, pineapple – which was almost better than the bagel (which was very good by the way), and they were showing a Pink Panther cartoon on the wall screen -- so we had a happy start to the day!

    After breakfast we made the short walk back to the condo to pick up DH’s infamous backpack (complete with the remaining power bars) to carry a picnic lunch (chevre, grainy crackers, Genoa salami, grapes) to eat on “Le mountain” in Parc du Mont Royal. The plan was to climb to the top, then come back down and eat our lunch on the lawn near the Tam Tams. Which is what we did – sort of. We had thought to ride the bus to the park to save us the initial 20 minute walk or so since we’d be walking and climbing a lot, and we were starting out with slightly tired feet after the last two days of walking anyway. So we caught the 97 bus (had to make a dash the last block but made it!) and happily rode along for a few blocks, to the Mont-Royal metro station -- when the driver stopped and told everyone to get off! In rapid French, of course, so I didn’t catch it all … so I went up and asked the driver to repeat and she said that there was a big cycling race and that the streets were closed, so she couldn‘t go any farther. So, we’d have to walk – could try a taxi, but since the streets were closed, that wouldn’t work too well, either. Well, no great worries, we’d just walk the rest, so we got out and joined the light crowds on the sidewalk.

    On the walk over to the park we took the opportunity to explore Blvd. Saint-Laurent (“The Main”). It was Sunday morning and pretty quiet, except for a gaggle of folks on the sidewalk outside of Schwartz’s, which I thought was odd. Yes, I knew that it was very popular, but how many people are really interested in “smoked meat” at 10 AM? (On our return trip it became obvious that this was a walking tour group and they weren’t eating at all.) We had a good time looking at the retailers and vintage shops’ windows and the wide variety of ethnic food stores and restaurants until we decided to head on over to conquer the mountain.

    But we got a surprise when we got there – not only were the roads closed, but there were booths set up for a number of media outlets (along with all of their satellite trucks and recording equipment) and cameras, music, lots of people and general hubbub. We discovered that it wasn’t just a “cycling race,” but that it was the The Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal (which had been in Quebec earlier that week). The website says: “It’s back with a bang for its second season! Now part of the UCI WorldTour, which organizes the world's top road bicycle races, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal blazed a trail last year for a very high-calibre sporting event. With many of the world's top riders competing in teams from the Tour de France, the 2011 race is sure to be just as exciting.” We happened to get there shortly before 11 AM, as they were all grouped up ready for the start. The announcer was doing his opening remarks and asked for a moment of silence in memory of those who had suffered from the tragedy of 9/11 (a nice gesture, I thought) and then the starting guns sounded and the crowd of competitors were off! They returned to the starting gate every 15-20 minutes for each lap and we stuck around for the first half hour or so, so we could see them coming past – was quite exciting even though we do not follow the sport and know little about it.

    We then proceeded with our trek up Mont Royal – at “only” 700ish feet, it was more of a mountain than we expected! Was a bit of a workout, but there are a number of ways to get to the top – gentle paths that go round and round, or steeper, more direct paths, and stairs in several places (LOTS of stairs!) There is a cross at the top (and a communications tower) – and the whole park was filled with joggers, bicyclers, families out for strolls, kids on rollerblades. It was a most beautiful day, so the park was crowded. It took us about 90 minutes to get to the top (using a variety of paths and stairs, and going on interesting detours) and about 3/4 of the way up there is a large “chalet” with an overlook of the whole city and the St. Laurent in the background. Great photo opportunity.

    We made our way back down to the main entrance, near the Sir George-Etienne Cartier monument – and the Tam Tams. We finally had our picnic lunch while listening to the Tam Tams. Now, these Tam Tams are more than just a group of folks beating on hand drums (“tam tams” in French). It’s quite the production, with perhaps 25 drummers sitting in a loose circle with a variety of drums (big, little, professional) and they create quite a beat. This, of course, draws a crowd, and people are inclined to enter the middle of the circle and dance. From what I've read and seen on YouTube, the group that day was smaller than usual -- perhaps because of the cycling grand prix. And indeed, every 15 minutes or so the cyclists would lap and the whole big crowd of them would ride by, with people ringing their cow bells and encouraging them on. To make matters even more interesting, there was a game (football?) going on in the stadium next to the park, with bands playing and people cheering. A lively afternoon!

    We had to finally leave so we would have time to walk back home (since all roads were closed because of the race) in time to get ready to go to dinner. We had reservations at Au Pied du Cochon (536 Avenue Duluth Est), an award-winning French Canadian restaurant that has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel show and other places. It turned out to be a really small place, loud and with tables close enough to allow easy conversations with your fellow diners about the food. DH got tuna (the fish of the day) which he enjoyed very much, and I got the “pork sampler” which turned out to be a cast iron bowl filled with mashed potatoes, mushrooms, onions, and, well, a sampler of pork products: a small pork chop, some roasted pork shoulder, a pork sausage and some pork blood sausage … basically a generous bowl of meat and potatoes. (Cautionary note: if you don't like meat, don't even consider eating here.) Thankfully the portions weren’t as large as some I saw pass the table (the ribs were HUGE) and we stayed away from the foie gras, which is a specialty but not our favorite. So we didn’t exactly waddle home, but were glad that we had walked perhaps five miles earlier in the day to prepare us for this meal! It was certainly a unique restaurant experience for us. Not some place that I’d dine at every day, or even once a month probably (if we lived in Montreal), but certainly glad that we went. Now, just have to get up the intestinal fortitude to try the poutine!

    Monday morning we leave for Quebec. That will be another adventure (more to come…)

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    Monday was a day of transition, making our way to Quebec (or, Quebec City as we Americans call it -- that took me a while to figure that out). We got up early and took our last metro ride downtown to the Bonaventure station to pick up our rental car for the rest of the trip. We drove back to the condo in the Plateau (thank you Google Maps!), passing by some sort of demonstration at McGill University -- a couple of dozen picketers with "grievances." (I just love this sort of stuff -- getting immersed in local politics and issues; opens your eyes to other parts of the world first hand!) We then drove out of Montreal and up towards Quebec. We took a combination of highway 40 and the little, local river road option, 138, also called the Chemin du Roi, or the King’s Highway. I read somewhere that 138 is the oldest highway in Quebec, but I'm always suspicious of those claims (more about that later). They (138 and 40) parallel each other, so it's easy to switch back and forth between scenic (138) and faster but boring (40). We had some great views of the St. Laurent and stopped to see a 17th century windmill (or, Moulin du vent) in Grondines. We found it – but there were no blades! I know that there are 15 or 20 windmills along the way, and most have lost their blades over the years, but it was still odd to see!

    We stopped at a roadside park to eat lunch overlooking the seaway, and it was brisk! But the weather improved as the afternoon wore on, and after wading through several sections of road construction ("travaux" -- more about that later, too) we made our way to our studio on Saint-Pierre, in the lower section ("basse-ville") of Vieux Quebec. I decided to go with the flow and stay in the "touristy" area of Old Quebec; we only have two days here and it seemed smart to be close to the sites we'd want to see. Actually getting to the studio was a bit of a challenge; the streets are very narrow and the street signs are on the side of the buildings (much as they are in Europe), so it took a while to find the street, and then most of the streets are one way, and they were doing road construction… But after some back and forth and short temper from DH, we found it. It’s up two flights of narrow stairs, which spiral at the top. Small, but charming; DH remarked on how odd it seemed to have satellite TV and WiFi Internet in a 17th century building (again, more on that later), but there it is. It was a charming studio with all of the amenities -- and the rent included a parking pass to a lot a block away -- a real plus!

    We went to the farmer’s market at the old port first thing, to shop for dinner. Not nearly as large or extravagant and Marche Jean Talon in Montreal, but nice. Ended up with some Mediterranean pasta salad and fougasse (an olive oil French bread) topped with sun dried tomatoes and cheese, sort of like a pizza, but not quite. Then we found a patisserie and got a couple of sweets to have with coffee for dessert. We also made our way to a "modern" grocery and got the usual milk and juice and fruit for our stay in Quebec.

    After dinner we took the funicular (2$ CAD per ride) up to the upper town ("haute-ville") and the Hotel Frontenac, which was originally built in 1897-1898 as a Canadian Pacific Railway Hotel. The Canadian Pacific built grand hotels at various “tourist destinations” in the late 1890s to attract wealthy tourists to destinations arrived at by train, and the Fairmont chain in Canada has purchased them all and turned them into luxury hotels (not that they weren’t luxurious when first built). We visited some last fall when were on the other side of Canada in Banff and Lake Louise and Vancouver and Jasper, and while this hotel is certainly grand (with a huge copper-roofed tower), it is just a big hotel inside – albeit with gold elevator doors. We spent some time walking the "Terrasse Dufferin," a large boardwalk that connects the Hotel with the Citadel and offers great views of the St. Laurent. We then ventured inside the hotel and found a convention of Canadian sleep specialists getting ready to go into their gala dinner so the lobby was packed. We walked around a bit and then went to their bar (the “Laurent” of course) and had a drink with all of the snooty "rich" people … that was a fun end to a long day!

    The weatherman predicted rain for Tuesday, but it was reasonably sunny in the morning, so we left the umbrellas at home. (You may suspect that this has negative ramifications later.) After breakfast we left the Saint-Pierre studio to do some exploring on our own, before the walking tour we had scheduled for 10 AM. We walked up to haute-ville via the Cote de la Montagne and strolled up one street and down the next, looking at the shop windows and restaurant menus posted on the door posts before anything much was happening.

    Shortly before 10 we headed toward the Information Center to join our Tours Voir Quebec "Grand Tour," which was a two-hour tour of Old Quebec, offered in both English and French. Our guide was personable and informative; we heard a lot of the history, which let us better understand the evolution of Quebec, and Canada in general. We heard during the tour that much of “old” Quebec was destroyed in battles in the 19th century, and that almost all of the structures in basse-ville (the lower town) were actually built in the 1980s and 1990s – following period plans and drawings, but still only 30 years ago. I had been all excited because we had visited the “oldest church in Quebec” the day before – but, NOT. And, apparently we were not staying in a 17th century building, either. Ah, well.

    It began to cloud up about half way through the tour, but we continued on, and the rain started just about the time we got to the Anglican cathedral. The guide ran back to the tourist office (not too far – nothing is too far in Vieux Quebec) and brought back an armful of umbrellas. Which was good, since our umbrellas were in our luggage in the closets in the studio… It was a well-done tour, and by the time it was done at noon we felt as though we had a good grounding of the history and development of Quebec – and, somewhat, the early stages in the United States. We gave the umbrellas back, and since it was sunny again, we didn’t go get ours from the luggage in the closets in the studio, which weren’t far away (nothing is far away…) You may guess that this was a mistake.

    Then we made our way to lunch; we chose a sandwich/soup/salad place called Paillard (much like Panera Bread or Corner Bakery here in the States -- 1097, rue St. Jean) and had a couple of tasty sandwiches. Then we decided to tour the Citadel, the walled fortification at the highest point in Quebec, on Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond) and which today houses the Royal 22e Régiment, the only French-speaking regiment in the Canadian forces. So we walked to the opposite corner of the old town area (not very far away…) and booked the 2:00 tour. While we were waiting to begin, it started to cloud over … and just about five minutes into the introductions the skies just opened. So we high-tailed it into one of the display buildings (a converted ammunition magazine) and spent as much time as we could there – until the next tour came along and booted us out. We then were given the opportunity to go to the very tip of the fortification and catch a magnificent view of the St. Laurent – in the driving rain. But, in for a penny, in for a pound, so we trooped up and looked and got soaked. Then on to the next stop – some more displays in the old jail building – and finally a trek (through the rain) back to the visitor’s center. They were doing a brisk business in rain ponchos and umbrellas at the gift shop – sold us a couple of ponchos! Of course, by then we were both just soaked, so the ponchos kind of held in the dampness mostly, but they did make us feel some better that we weren’t getting even wetter in the continuing rain.

    We made our way through town, stopping at Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral which the tour guide had not included. Inside we were greeted with a dramatic gold canopy over the altar and the usual ornate carvings, windows, statuary, etc. (I guess I’ve been in one too many basilica to be overly impressed any longer…) Then we went across to the Hotel Frontenac for a tour (yes, we were a sight, but they were happy to take our tour fees of 9.50$ CAD per person). I said previously that the hotel wasn’t all that ornate inside, but it has an interesting history, and the guides do it in period costume, so that makes it all the more fun. We had a lovely young lady named Marguerite who, as she told us, was 118 years old, having been at the hotel since it’s opening in 1893. She told some lively stories and took us into a guest room, and into some of the public spaces, and a room being readied for a wedding reception. We heard about some of the famous people who had stayed at the hotel, and one thing that I was unaware of was that the hotel had hosted the “First Quebec Conference” in 1943, with Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Mackenzie King, the Prime Minister of Canada, along with Eisenhower and the other Chiefs of Staff discussing the end game for World War II, including plans for D-Day. This conference was secret – was code named “Quadrant” – and when folks saw that the hotel was closed off to the public and lots of security were manning the entrances, etc., a lot of rumors started: that the Pope was looking for a new site for the Vatican; that they were looking for a new site for a hospital for Canadians wounded in the war; that they were establishing a safe escape for various European and American “royalty” … Quite fun!

    After the hotel tour we decided on a light dinner at Casse-Crepe Breton (1136 rue St. Jean -- almost across the street from Paillard) – can’t leave Quebec without eating a crepe. We had jambon et suisse et champignon (ham, swiss cheese and mushroom) with a small side salad and were quite full when we were done. We have yet to eat the “national dish” of Quebec – poutine – which is French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy (really). Still trying to gather the intestinal fortitude for that.

    On to the Charlevoix tomorrow (more to come...)

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    This is a wonderful trip report for two of my favourite cities.

    I do have one minor quibble--it was CP Hotels which bought the Fairmont chain, not vice-versa. It subsequently renamed itself Fairmont Hotels and Resorts before being spun off by Canadian Pacific Railways. I think the old railway hotels are real gems and Fairmont is maintaining the their tradition.

    I anxiously await the next installment on the Charlevoix!

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    After breakfast in our studio and packed up to leave for the Charlevoix, which is northeast of Quebec along the St. Laurent. But, there was one more place that I wanted to visit before we left – Epicerie J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocer in North America (est. 1871) (but then, we had visited the oldest church in North America a couple of days ago and that turned out to be build in 1982 or something, so I’m not all that convinced about ‘oldest’ any longer…) So we found a parking spot (which turned to be one reserved for those with government stickers, but we didn’t notice and thank you Lord Jesus the government didn’t notice for the 45 minutes we were parked there, either) and hiked outside of the walls of the old city along rue St. Jean to the grocer. Turned out to be a charming place, complete with tin ceiling and a true wine cellar and a post office window and barrels of products. We toured the store (I with more interest than DH) and ended up buying some “raspberry butter” certified from L’ile d’Orleans (more on that later), some small cakes for dinner, and a carrying bag with the logo of the store on it (much like the bags from Whole Foods, except this is black – and made in Quebec!) We made our way back to the car (which is when I noticed the “no parking except with sticker” sign – but, oh well).

    After waving goodbye to Quebec, we made our way about 15 km up the road to Montmorency Falls – major attraction as they are 30 meters taller than Niagara Falls (but not nearly as wide). Follow the signs to "Manoir Montmorency" (which takes you to a parking lot at the top of the falls) instead of to "Parc de la Chute-Montmorency" (which takes you to a lot at the bottom of the falls). Parking at either is 10$ per car, but from the lower lot one either walks up a gazillion stairs to the top of the falls or pays for the gondola ride up (and again back down). Falls are impressive, and they have provided a number of lookouts for photos, and even a suspension bridge that crosses the falls where you can not only get photos, but you can get wet, too.

    After spending about 30 minutes fall-watching we drove directly east and crossed the long bridge over to L’Ile d’Orleans, a large (25 km long and 15 km wide) island in the middle of the river, known for its produce, shoppes, inns, and general bucolic-ness. The raspberry butter we bought earlier at J.A. Moisan had been made on the island, and many producers sell fruit and other products – cheese, bread, maple syrup -- at the Quebec Old Port Farmer’s Market (Marche du Port). A circuit around the perimeter of the island is something like 58 km, but one road bisects the island, so you can drive only halfway around – which we did. We did stop at a winery (whose vineyards were directly across from the waterfalls – quite a view!), a chocolate shop, and a fruit stand. At one point we passed a large field of strawberries filled with migrant workers picking – strawberries are obviously later in Quebec than in Indiana!

    Our next stop was the Basilica of Ste. Anne-de-Beaupre. Ste. Anne is the patron saint of Quebec, and is known for her healings. The current church has only been there since the early 20th century (previous one was destroyed by – guess – a tragic fire) and this is the 6th one on the site. Over one million pilgrims visit the Basilica each year, and it is an impressive church. As someone noted, not like St. Peter’s in Rome or Notre Dame in Paris, but pretty good for small-town Quebec! My favorite part was the array of mosaic murals on the ceilings, with scenes from Ste. Anne’s life – she’s born, she gets married, she gives birth to Mary, she hears of Jesus’ birth… and they have printed prayers: “Oh blessed Ste. Anne, ask your grandson, Jesus Christ…” They also have an outside array of life-sized statues for the stations of the cross that dot a hillside across the street from the Basilica, and they even have an adjacent inn (L’Auberge de Basilica) complete with restaurant and daily masses for pilgrims.

    Ste. Anne-de-Beaupre is only about 35 minutes from Quebec, but we had left town over four hours earlier – time to move on north! We made our way as quickly as we could (there’s LOTS of road construction) and finally made it to our cottage in Les Eboulements about 4:30. It had fantastic views of the expanse of the St. Laurent and L’Isle-aux-Coudres – much smaller than the I’Ile d’Orleans, but similar in that it also has bucolic-ness all over the place. We had a fireplace inside, and a fire pit outside, and the owner apparently keeps chickens as she gave us some fresh brown eggs –omelets for dinner one night!

    Since we had several hours of daylight left, we decided to continue the drive along the St. Laurent northest of Les Eboulements (the “river road”) to see as much as we could see – rain predicted for the next day. So after unpacking we went to a nearby lookout and had incredible views of great expanses of water, as we did as we drove up to La Malbaie, about 30 km northeast. Road pretty much followed the shore, but went up and down and up (and down) again, affording different perspectives.

    The next morning we thought that we had been really smart to take that late afternoon drive along the shore, as there was a steady rain all day long; fog rolled in and gray skies met gray water and you couldn’t see much of anything from our cottage’s perch on the banks of the St. Laurent. So we set out on a trip to Le Manoir Richelieu, a Fairmont hotel in La Malbaie; yes, we drive to La Malbaie yesterday, but we just drove through without stopping to see anything, teken in by the fantastic views. This time we could concentrate on the towns and architecture and things other than dramatic scenery, which was completely hidden in the mists. Le Manoir Richelieu was built at the end of the 19th century and the original hotel was destroyed -- by fire, of course -- and rebuilt in 1929 in a style not unlike the Frontenac; it has turrets and a copper roof and is all stone and dramatic views. There is also a golf course and the Charlevoix Casino on the property. We had coffee and warm croissants by the windows, so the morning wasn’t entirely wasted!

    Since it was still raining, we headed back south to take the free ferry over to L'Isle-aux-Coudres. We got to the ferry landing just as it was leaving (it leaves the mainland every hour on the half hour; returns from the island every hour on the hour) so we had about 50 minutes to kill. We decided to visit Papeterie-Saint-Gilles in St. Joseph-de-la-Rive, "devoted to the fine art of handmade paper." They had a short video (in English or French) that showed the six steps of paper making, and you could watch through the windows as the artisans made the slurry and screened sheets and then pressed the wet “pages” between pieces of felt. And of course you could buy a wide variety of products – all handmade. Pretty cool.

    Time to catch the ferry, so we got into line and made the 20-minute crossing. As I mentioned, L'Isle-aux-Coudres was similar to L’Ile d’Orleans, but turned out to be even more bucolic, if possible. We visited a boulangerie and got an amazing chocolate chip “cookie” that was more like a small cinnamon roll (without the cinnamon) studded with chocolate chips. The bottom of the roll was crunchy with caramelized sugar, and the pastry was more short than yeasty. Wish I knew how to make them! Even though it was raining we went to a lookout and had another “picnic” – in the car again — and had these pastries for dessert. Yum!

    Our last day in Quebec dawned bright and clear – you could see for miles. The sunrise in the clouds over the St. Laurent was pink and gold and full of promise. Couldn’t have been more different than the day before! As we sat at our large kitchen table eating breakfast and looking over the water, a cruise ship went past. Don’t know about you, but it’s not every morning that a cruise ship floats past our breakfast table.

    Then we began the long trek back down to Montreal. MapQuest predicted five hours, but rather than just retrace our steps we decided to take a path down the eastern side of the river, which would allow us to visit the Eastern Townships (les Cantons de l’Est). These are small towns dotting the landscape to the east and northeast of Montreal – the Canadian tourist folks have cooked up three “trails” which lead the tourists either past vineyards and wineries (le route des vins), or through the “prettiest” towns (le chemin des cantons), or through the mountains (le route des sommets). Since we had only limited time, we decided to ignore the “Sommets” route, and instead drive part of the “cantons” one and part of the “vins” one.

    We retraced our steps from Les Eboulements to Quebec and from there headed for North Hatley, which is at the northern tip of Lake Massawippi and is described as the most beautiful little town. By the time we got there it was about 12:30 and the skies had turned cloudy and the winds had picked up – definitely a “blustery” day at about 11 degrees (about 50 degrees F). After lunch we headed for Magog (not sure where they came up with these names) and then to the Benedictine Abbey at St. Benoit-du-Lac. This is a lovely spot, and the abbey houses not only about 60 monks, but also offers guest rooms to *males* who wish to spend some time in contemplative silence with the monks. To support themselves and the property, the monks are engaged in a variety of enterprises – they grow and sell apples; make apple cider vinegar, cider, and sparkling cider; they make and sell cheese; they make and sell fruitcakes and other baked goods; the sell honey; and they have a gift shop with the usual religious items alongside their produce! And it’s a beautiful building to boot. The parking lot was full on a not-so-pretty Friday afternoon, which tells you something.

    After the Abbey we were on our way, and went through Knowlton, and Lac-Brome, and several other little towns … but perhaps because of the weather, or perhaps because the leaves hadn’t turned much yet, or perhaps because I was overwhelmed after eight days – I just wasn’t all that taken with the Eastern Townships. Not bad – just nothing too special. So we decided to head for Montreal and our final night in our airport hotel. The traffic on a Friday afternoon was as bad as Chicago in rush hour, mostly because there seems to be perpetual road construction. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, investigations into Quebec's road construction -- rife with corruption, organized crime, crumbling infrastructure -- hit the news earlier in the week.

    The Quebec motto is, “Je me souviens” – I will remember. And I am sure we shall!

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    Purdue, very nice report. Since we are only 120 miles south of the Quebec border, we spend a lot of time up there - mostly bicycling and exploring. Your writeup brought back lots of memories. We've been to many great cities throughout the world, but Montreal is one of our favorites, very user friendly and safe. We try and visit it at least twice a year. You didn't miss too much with poutine, and I have to admit Montreal bagels are not my favorite. However, Montreal is a foodie's paradise.

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    I'm glad to you made it to J.A. Moisan in Quebec City; I used to regularly shop there when I'd visit my friend who lived in the Saint Roch district adjacent the Basse Ville between 2001 and 2004. I'm glad you got to see quite a number of different regions of la Belle Province, well done. I like the Eastern Townships for the bucolic/mountainous contrast (great for cycling and leaf-peeping) as a relatively close-by escape from the hecticness of Montreal, but I suppose I can see how you might not have been so taken with the Townships coming from the stellar views of the Charlevoix region.

    Seems like you had an amazing trip! Best wishes, Daniel

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    Wonderful report! I live in Ottawa so I frequently go to Montreal. Going next weekend and now after reading your report I'm really looking forward to visiting sites such as Saint Louis square and the marche Jean Talon. I'd actually forgotten how charming these places are. Thanks.

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    I also enjoyed your report very much. We go to Montreal and to the Eastern Townships quite often but had not been to Quebec City for many years when we visited that city in early June. We definitely want to go back soon and to continue on to the Charlevoix area.

    Our son went to McGill as an undergrad and he still misses the wonderful markets--and the bagels.

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    Fantastic report! You make me love my hometown even more! :)

    By the way, the hype is correct for Olive and Gourmando (mmmm)and I'm not ashamed to say that I've eaten at Schwartz’s more than a few times before noon! Haha!

    And you must come back for the poutine "galvaude" at La Banquise!

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    Your trip sounds just about perfect.

    Would you mine sharing the details of your accomodations in Montreal & Quebec? I'm starting to plan a trip for next fall and it sounds like our traveling styles are similar. I like to have a place to call home for a few days and do some of my own cooking with local products.
    Thanks so much.

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    CindyP -_ I often use VRBO for my rentals, and I did for this trip, too. It turned out that some of the VRBO listings led me to other rental outfits/sites, and I ended up using those.
    For Montreal, I used (was property 62695) -- also listed on

    For Quebec and the Charlevoix, I used Les Immeubles Charlevoix ( ) -- the ladies there were very accommodating and will offer to help out, searching properties in your locations for your dates. We stayed in properties 1020 (Quebec) and 309 (Les Eboulements).

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