It was imperative that the destination for our 3rd Annual Winter Getaway provided a stress-free and affordable experience. This time last year, Devon was being released after 3-days in three different hospitals in Prague. After the "Praga-saga" last December, we decided to avoid flights with a short turn around time and sprang for a road trip to Canada. Quebec City was the obvious choice for two Europe-lovers. Let's face it, everyone pretends QC is France. The producers of "Catch Me if You Can" decided to save the money and stage the film's final scene in QC. They literally just pretended that Leonardo DiCaprio was arrested in a traditional quaint French town square. If it's good enough for Leo, it's good enough for us!
We booked 4-nights at B&B Chez Marie-Claire on Booking.com. For about $100/night we got a deluxe king room, daily breakfast (they cook a different hot breakfast menu each morning!), a parking spot (which is a godsend!), and we were truly no more than 12-minutes walking distance from everything!
We left the morning after Christmas at 7:15am, which is surprisingly a great time to travel. The trip from Boston was just under 7-hours (it would have been 6, but BEWARE: the final fifteen minutes into QC travels over a bridge and there was major traffic). When we arrived at 2pm we still had a whole half-day to explore.
Sam from A Free Walking Tour of Quebec was fantastic and funny! He took us off the beaten path to some of the most unique spots, like to the house where Alfred Hitchcock shot the murder in his religiously controversial film "I Confess."
One of our favorite things to do when we travel is to purchase a piece of framable artwork by a local artist. We are quickly filling the walls in our studio apartment! It didn't take us long to meet Robert Charron, who works primarily in a unique watercolor style. We struck up a wonderful conversation about his travels around the world and of his journey from construction workers to a full-time painter. As performers, we love that this travel tradition supports local artists.
The "Lower Town" (quite literally down the "breakneck" stairs) is the most adorable and festive area in town. Once you make it down the stairs (or take the funicular if you don't mind spending a few bucks) you enter a winter wonderland, complete with snowflake lights, a giant Christmas tree, and dozens of festively decorated shops.
We caught a spunky acapella rendition of "All I Want for Christmas is You," as well as some traditional holiday choir music outside the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires (aka the Leonardo Dicaprio church).
Take a picture in front of the Christmas tree and stop into the holiday-decorated Maison Smith for a warm drink before exploring these quaint streets and their shops. It gets dark around 4:30 so we actually saw the Christmas lights under two different skies in the same hour!
(Yes, this is the exact area that Leo shot the final scene in "Catch Me if You Can.")
SPOILER ALERT: These facades and roofs were added to appeal to tourism back in the 1970s.
This was intended to be one of our more relaxing trips, and we indulged in that. There isn't an overwhelming amount of indoor things to do, and there is only so much time one can tolerate the cold. We booked a couples massage at Källa massothérapie. We have had quite a few couples massages and this one took the cake! The ambiance was just right for a chilly December evening.
One of QC's spectacles is the toboggan slide at the edge of the upper part of the old town and it is totally worth it! For only $10 (CAD) you receive four rides! Because there is a steep climb and only three sledding chutes, the line for this popular tourist attraction can get long. We arrived right when it opened and were on and off within about twenty minutes. The sun was high at this point, so staying warm wasn't as much of a problem.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac was not in the budget for our accommodations. Let's face it, it is like... THE most photographed hotel in the world....but that did not stop us from stopping in for the most delicious drinks (and expensive snacks) of all time!
First of all, the bartenders are artists... they perform all sorts of cool tricks while creating the perfect blend in a fancy glass.
We did not make a reservation, but we arrived right at noon when the bar opened to get a seat. Space is limited and they try to make it an intimate experience. $55 later we had killed these two fancy drinks, four mozzarella sticks, and a bowl of olives. Worth it? We think so. Plus we enjoyed the Christmas tree display in the main lobby.
Between sledding and warming up at Frontenac, we walked the fortifications on our own. The views of the city are spectacular. We then attended a very engaging 3D presentation about the history of QC. We highly recommend seeing this short presentation at the Musee du Fort!
Alright... for anyone who doesn't know, Devon loves cats. You can follow his international adventures with cats on Instagram @themanofmanycats. Turns out there are coffee shops that allow you to have coffee while cats walk-around on tables and stuff. When our tour guide told us about this, it became a priority for Devon.
In addition to providing an exciting experience for cat enthusiasts, Café Félin Ma Langue Aux Chats Quebec Cat Cafe is run by two veterans with a mission of helping those who don't have a place in the world and need a safe haven. The cafe hires veterans and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Downs Syndrome. Even if you don't LOVE cats (aka Lenni) you can enjoy this lovely environment and support good business for a good cause.
QC is most beautiful with its holiday night lights! Do not let the early darkness deter you from stepping out and experiencing the ultimate beauty and holiday experience that QC carries with it into the New Year!
Due to an impending ice/snow storm, we had to cut our trip a night short. This is the only catch- with the convenience and leisure of driving comes the lack of reliability of northern weather in winter! The good news is that we felt we had fully experienced this tiny city and walked it in its entirety more than enough. We grabbed a final warm drink, packed the car, and headed to one final destination.
Montmorency Falls is a natural wonder! These waterfalls are actually taller than Niagra Falls and are just a 10-minute drive from the inside of QC. We took the cable car to the top, walked the suspension bridge and then returned to our car. If we were to do it again, we would not pay the extra $15/person for the cable car. Apparently, there is a north entrance that avoids the cable car...making this quick excursion a lot more affordable.
Restaurants in QC tend to be very small because building permits within the fortified city allow for very few changes to the structure. We found that restaurant owners pack as many tables as possible into these tight spaces, and usually, every restaurant is on a wait...This leaves very little room for servers to maneuver around the restaurant. We were pretty impressed. For a roomy and less crowded spot, venture on the path less taken to Le Veravin.
Traditional QC eats include poutine, french onion soup, and steak frites. We found that duck, rabbit, and deer were meat staples on many menus.
For the gluten-sensitive folks, most menus had a good amount of options. There were even three pizza places that specialized in gluten-free options! We took advantage of this at Polina Pizzeria, which had an awesome vibe with a really cool cover song playlist!
But generally speaking, the Quebec diet is fairly bread, cheese, and meat-heavy, with limited salad creativity.
We ate breakfast at our B&B most mornings, but we did enjoy our breakfast at Au Petite Coin Breton. The setting was unique, service was fast, and they even had gluten-free crepes!
Our favorite meal was at L'Entrecôte Saint-Jean! Our student recommended the Parisian bistro on account of its delicious steak sauce. Basically, there is only one meal option, and it comes in 5 oz, 7 oz, and 10 oz options. Devon and I each got a 5 oz and devoured it in minutes (for Devon this is unusual). We recommend the 7 oz!
A few tips:
- BUNDLE! As New Englanders, we are used to cold winters. What we experience regularly in February is closer to QC December temps. Double-up on heavy soaks, and don't even bother with cute boots. Be sure to have water-proof winter boots with traction. Hand warmers were a life-saver on our walking tour.
- DO THE FREE WALKING TOUR BUT BE SURE TO TIP! Unlike Europe, tipping culture in Canada is similar to that of the US. As mentioned, Sam is an excellent tour guide...give him a great tip at the end of the tour!
- PLAN INDOOR ACTIVITIES! We typically like to walk around and make the most of the outdoors. In Canada, it gets dark early and it can be too cold to roam at a leisurely pace. Divide up your day between indoor meals, coffee with cats, museums, and outdoor sightseeing and shopping.
- MAKE DINNER RESERVATIONS! If you go around the holidays (or in July apparently) tourism is WILD! It is good to have a plan, especially when it is freezing and you have food allergies. Lunch was not a problem, but the one night we did not make a reservation, we tried three restaurants before we were seated.