A taste of city, a taste of country: Put Quebec City on the bucket list for a great cultural escape

If there is one region of Canada that feels to visitors like visiting another country, it is Quebec, specifically Quebec City and the adjacent countryside of the Charlevoix region. Here, you can experience rich culture and history, gastronomic splendour, outdoor pursuits, vibrant nightlife and finally, a sense of just how important it is to slow down and take it all in — perhaps you’ve heard the term “joie de vivre”? All this puts Quebec City high on the ideal Canadian staycation list.

Old Quebec City, set high on a bluff overlooking the St. Lawrence River, is filled with cobblestone streets, historic buildings dating back to the 1600s, stunning waterfront views, trendy shops and, of course, the lyrical French language.

Stay in the grand and imposing Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, right in the heart of the action and walking distance to not just the historic sites, but the many trendy shops and cafes of the area. The views from the Chateau’s windows are worth it, and so are the maple syrup crepes, a staple of the breakfast buffet.

For the ultimate view, you need to head to the skies, and a helicopter tour with GoHelico — a sweeping, 30-minute, bird’s-eye view. Flying along the St. Lawrence River to sweep around the point, and the airborne views of the spectacular Chateau Frontenac, will put the size and scope of the city into perspective, from the walled fortress of upper Quebec to the sea-level buildings of Lower Town. (Tip: Walk down, but hop on the funicular to go back up, avoiding the steep climb that connects the areas.)

Quebec City is a strolling kind of place, and summer evenings here are alive with nightlife.

There’s the outdoor music extravaganza Festival d’ete de Quebec in July (this year, the Foo Fighters, America and The Chainsmokers all blasted it out on the historic Plains of Abraham), there are street performers and concerts, a free acrobatics festival, and through the summer, weekly themed fireworks at the river.

Nightlife in Quebec City should start with dinner on a terrace. Courtesy Yves Tessier, Tassima and Quebec City Tourism

Dinner itself may be your plan for the evening. Quebec City celebrates great food, and it’s served and consumed with gusto. You could opt for a glorious charcuterie platter in the Chateau Frontenac’s lobby bar Le Sam, featuring artisanal pickles, cured meats, mustards and jams, or choose a leisurely dinner on the sidewalk patio of Restaurant Louis-Hebert on the main drag of Grand Alle Est, where the people watching is as good as the duck confit.

For a very special evening, head to luxury boutique hotel Auberge St. Antoine — a hotel built on a maritime warehouse site so deeply historic that the property has been designated a museum. Each of five floors has been curated to represent a different century, and glass-encased museum displays — showing off the items discovered over years of excavation and rebuilding — transform artifacts into art displays.

Dinner at the hotel’s Chez Muffy is a leisurely and elegant experience, highlighted by perfectly executed dishes that evoke the history of Quebec cuisine with a fresh twist. Try the milk-fed veal to share with wild mushroom pappardelle, roasted with herbs and served up for the table in a massive copper pan.

Parc de la Chute-Montmorency. Courtesy, François Gamache, Quebec City Tourism

Don’t worry, you’ll work off the lavish dinners with all the outdoor activity here. Head to Cyclo Services for a 45-minute guided historical bike tour along the riverfront to the pounding and glorious Montmorency Falls, a natural wonder that rivals Niagara Falls in height if not volume. Once there, you can turn in the bike, and hop on the gondola that rises up to the top.

For one more shot of adrenalin, strap yourself in for a zipline that swoops all the way across the falls in a heart-stopping rush. (Have someone ready on the platform to photograph your victory salute.)

The historic mansion that now acts as the visitor’s centre features a lovely veranda restaurant, the perfect place to enjoy a casual lunch with a view. Try one of the local micro brews like the light and fresh orange coriander La Magie Blanche and a grilled burger.

Montmorency Falls Park is also home to the train station, where you can board the very charming Train de Charlevoix. The passenger locomotive travels at an unhurried pace, all the better to take in the craggy vistas of river, rocks and trees that seem straight out of a Group of Seven painting as you wind your way along the water’s edge.

The rugged scenes give way to pastoral landscapes as the train travels northeast along the St. Lawrence River to the region of small farms that produce the most exquisite culinary treats — foie gras, artisanal ciders, jams and jellies, fresh mushrooms, crisp fluffy baguettes and mouth-watering cheeses. This is a farm-to-table region known as the Taste Trail — La Route Des Saveurs.

Hotel & Spa Le Germain Charlevoix (La Ferme) in the Charlevoix region. Courtesy, Martin Laporte, Tourisme Québec

In the picturesque town of Baie-St-Paul, the train stops right at Le Germain Charlevoix Hotel & Spa.

Check in and then get ready to explore the farm-fresh hipster vibe of this very modern hotel rebuilt on the site of what was once a large working farm. Every detail is rustic yet modern — lots of reclaimed wood, white linens and antique accessories — and the place itself is a real farm complete with beehives, extensive gardens, sheep, ducks and highland cows. Needless to say, the restaurant serves farm-to-fork delicacies. Meanwhile, the property’s Spa Nordique is blessed with a geothermal spring. A highlight of any stay here is a soak in the outdoor hot and cold thermal pools.

The town itself offers a charming stroll of tiny shops and eateries. Be sure to stop in for a cider tasting at Ciderie Vergers Pedneault, and snap some photos of the stone buildings and churches and the pretty, windswept bay.

This area is the epicentre of agri-tourism, and the small-scale farms along the way are open for visits and tasting.

Start with cheese at Laiterie Charlevoix, an award-winning producer of fine cheeses, including 2018 Quebec Cheese of the Year “Le 1608,” a sumptuous cheddar. The fourth-generation family farm also produces a nutty gruyere called L’Hercule and a soft, brie-like ripened cheese called L’Origine de Charlevoix, among others. Before tasting, you can also see the eco-friendly methane capture system they use to heat their water, and tour a small museum of vintage tools, signs and equipment. And then, the tasting. Oh, the delicious cheese tasting.

Next, check out Basque Farm, a free-range duck farm that produces top-notch foie gras and meat, and mushroom farm Champignons Charlevoix, where oyster mushrooms are grown from scratch and transformed into mouth-watering canned and dried products.

By the end of this day, you may be loaded down with containers of herbed-infused marinated mushrooms, duck liver pate, pear cider and wheels of cheese.

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in the Charlevoix region. Courtesy, Claude Parent and Paul Hurteau, Tourisme Quebec

The perfect ending to this gastronomic and scenic tour is one more night of pampering and luxury. Continue northeast via the train de Charlevoix or by car on the stunning St. Lawrence Route, a panoramic, winding road along the St. Lawrence River to the town of La Malbaie, and check in to the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu.

The grand, historic hotel is as elegant as one would expect for a place that hosted world leaders for the G7 Summit in June. Check out the hilltop golf course where every hole faces the water, and the world-class spa for a locally sourced treatment like the bracing Elixir Ice Cider Body Wrap.

Dinner at the Chateau’s Table et Terroir restaurant, is a fitting finale. Especially if you sit out on the terrace, take in the views, and end the evening with Chef’s Choice, Crème Brule.

Pure magic. And perhaps, a little of that joie de vivre.

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