This is quite long - but I wanted to give as much detail as possible in hopes of being as helpful as you all were in the planning!! It's also way overdue. The trip was in June 2013 (admits embarrassingly).
With 9 and one half days, numerous maps, guide books, my trusted camera and our little Ford Focus packed full we were off for my big birthday adventure! While the vacation went by quite fast, the days were leisurely and relaxing, taking on a charm and sophistication that I could not image before we left. Now that it’s over, looking back on it, DH and I agree it was one of the best vacations ever. Armed with 802 pictures, several souvenirs, a pledge to take a French language class, a craving for a croissant and tons of happy memories, I know we will return again in the future.
Thank you for all of your suggestions and tips – we had such a fun time exploring your favorite places, eating the food you love and seeing the city through your eyes!! Where to start? I suppose with day one – which was our half day. I worked that morning (unfortunately it was unavoidable) but had everything ready to go so that we could hit the road as soon as I could escape the office. Our plan was one night in Oakville (a randomly picked suburb outside of Toronto that I thought would be a good stopping point for the night). The next 4 nights were spent in Quebec City and the last 4 nights in Montreal. We did it this route because the Montreal Grand Prix was taking place the first weekend of our travels and I didn’t want to share my first experience of this mini-New York city with thousands of race fans (nor did I want to pay triple the price for our hotel room).
The hotel in Oakville was a County Inn. Honestly, it was just okay. It was a Priceline win and for what we needed – a quick overnight stay, it suited the purpose. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad, it was just okay. The breakfast was just awful, but it was free so I can’t complain. The room was spacious – almost awkwardly so – too much open space if you can believe it. The mattress was a bit hard but not back-breakingly so. The shower was nice and came with all of the amenities you would expect in a 2.5 star hotel – cheesy little coffee maker, little bottles of soap, shampoo and the likes, a fridge, microwave (darn, I forgot the popcorn) and a flat screen tv. The best thing about this place was its close proximity to Stoney’s Bread Company – just one exit away. I quickly did a search on places to grab a bite and Stoney’s came up near the top. I can see why! Listed as a sandwich shop (and I love my carbs) it was actually so much more than that! The interior was beyond cute. Order at the counter and take a seat and someone will bring you your food – the concept was a bit lost on us when we first arrived. Wasn’t sure if we should take a seat, wait to be seated, etc. Finally someone came over and explained the procedure to us. They served beer and wine along with delicious sandwiches, soups, a daily burger special, pizza, and a small handful of entrees. Oh, and don’t forget the delicious desserts. A bit of time went into making our decision – I was starving and everything looked so delicious! I settled with the burger of the day – a well seasoned ground chicken burger served with yummy bacon, avocado, cheese and the usual lettuce and tomato. I also ordered a side salad that had the most delicious Champaign vinaigrette on it. I was informed that all of the dressings are made in house and that was very evident in the flavor. DH got the Rosemary Crusted Pork Loin sandwich and declared it was some of the best pork he had ever eaten. Just make sure to grab a napkin (or 3) because both of the sandwiches were very messy. The highlight of the sandwiches imo is the balsamic reduction smeared on the plate next to it. They sell the reduction at the counter, it is that good. After we got done eating our sandwiches – which took a while because they are HUGE – we decided we needed just one more look at the pastry display. I couldn’t resist and neither could DH. We grabbed two items to go and shared them later that evening. The best of the two was the Lemon Ricotta cup that DH got (and kindly shared with me). The brownie I got was good but nothing special. The best part of our experience were the employees who have obvious pride in the food they serve. Two of the staff were very friendly and we quickly began telling them about our adventures ahead of us. One of the girls was from the Windsor area which got us talking about Detroit and Windsor being neighbors. Friendly conversation to end the evening made the meal all the more better!
Our first full day was spent mostly in the car. The weather was cloudy and gray but that didn’t dampen my spirits any because we were headed to the lovely Quebec City. Traveling was smooth, but for the hour that we got held up in traffic around Montreal – which was nobody’s fault but my own for the poor planning. I was relying on an old GPS borrowed from my mom (couldn’t use the GPS on our phones without very high roaming fees). Lesson learned!
Coming up on Quebec City I wasn’t sure what to expect, and with our handy Garmin declaring we would be arriving in under a half hour I was dismayed to see that the surroundings looked just like the outer suburbs of any city in the US or Canada. Was Quebec City really going to be all that I had hoped for and read about during the many months of planning our trip? I am very happy to say Yes! Yes, absolutely! In the blink of an eye gone were the chain stores and supermarkets and before us was the most picturesque European-looking village I had ever seen (because I’ve never been to Europe ). Even my husband uttered a ‘wow, look at this honey’ as our tires began to reverberate over the cobblestone streets of Old Town. We had literally driven into a postcard setting. The rain had dried up, and although the skies were still cloudy, the temperature was pleasant and I got my second wind and could hardly wait to get checked in and go exploring, camera in hand! Ah, but I don’t want to skip over the check-in at our fine Hotel 71. No, I want to remember every moment spent at this hotel – as it was truly a classy place to stay. I just couldn’t bring myself to play around with Priceline or look into one of our favorite chains when choosing a hotel for Quebec City. A place this charming begged for equally charming accommodations. Reading the many reviews of hotels in QC paid off and I picked us a winner. We were greeted warmly at the front desk and check-in was smooth. The valet (Max #1) was asked to help us with our bags (and I admit, we had an embarrassingly large amount of bags – the weather was going to be anywhere from 60’s and raining to 80’s and sunny, tell me you could have packed lighter?). Upon entering our room we heard soft classical music playing and were delighted with our river view. When the reservation was made it was mentioned that we were celebrating a birthday so a beautifully handwritten card and 3 delicious pieces of chocolate awaited our arrival. Max was very kind and helped with all of our luggage as well as writing down some dining suggestions and confirming that we should go to the Hotel Clarendon if we wanted to listen to jazz. DH quickly zeroed in on the nespresso machine and over the course of the next few days consumed more coffee/espresso than I thought humanly possible. Perhaps that is the reason he didn’t mind missing his afternoon nap? The concierge (Max #2) was amazingly helpful every single time we approached him. He gave us a map highlighting the location of the places we had on our agenda and we didn’t leave the hotel room without it! One of the many things I loved about Quebec City was that it was so compact. We walked just about everywhere. After unpacking (somewhat) and getting settled in we went exploring. Each turn of a corner lead to more ohhs and ahhs from us as we soaked in the cobblestone streets, fountains, our first glimpse of Chateau Frontenac, and the many cafes and bistros with charming patios. We walked around for quite some time in Old Town and decided to save the upper part of the city for another day. It was going on 10:00 and our stomachs were demanding dinner. It was a bit cold and looked like it could rain at any moment so we decided to forgo sitting outside and came back to the hotel to have dinner at Matto 71 – which was conveniently connected to our hotel. The staff gave it 2 thumbs up but more importantly, so did the review boards I read. It was Friday night and at the hour was one of only a handful of places still open. It was crowded and loud. I found myself wishing I had dressed up a bit more for the evening but at 10:00 it seemed silly to run up to our room to change clothes. Being that it was late we decided to just split a pizza and an antipasto platter. Both were excellent choices. The antipasto was my first taste (but certainly not last) of the wonderful European meats that I will forever crave! Along with meats and cheeses there were marinated artichokes, melon (which paired perfectly with the prosciutto) and some Italian style olives and onions. The menu was in French so we had to have the pizzas explained to us. I heard the word mushroom and was sold. Let me tell you, they didn’t skimp on the mushrooms! I know we shouldn’t have, but when the table next to us ordered dessert and I saw a deep fried donut covered in chocolate ganache I had to have one. DH tried to dismay me but you don’t come between a girl and her chocolate – besides, I was on vacation. If ever there is a time for common sense to be thrown out the window it was now. The dessert actually came with 2 deep fried donuts and let me tell you, it took DH about 2 seconds to pick up his fork and dive into one of them! All in all, a great start to the vacation!
Saturday was our first full day in Quebec City. The weather threatened rain and was pretty gloomy. The day began with a charming little breakfast at the hotel. It was served in the Matto 71 restaurant and consisted of ham, cheeses, croissants, bagels and bread, boiled eggs, cereal and muffins. It was a good variety and much better than your average ‘free’ breakfast. DH appreciated the fact that coffee, latte, or espresso was offered to him each morning along with breakfast (because he wasn’t getting enough coffee in the room apparently!). Each morning we sampled something different while reviewing our trusted map and plans for the day. The music playing during breakfast was much more enjoyable than the loud music playing the night we had dinner there. On the agenda today was the thought of the Grand walking tour but with the forecast showing sunshine for Monday we decided to take our chances and wait until then hoping for a backdrop of blue skies rather than gray ones for my hundreds of pictures! The only other ‘must’ for the day was a visit to the Morrin Center. We set out to explore the market - Marché du Vieux-Port. We sampled meats and cheeses, ice wine and ice cider and of course the best macaroons ever! With many purchases made, we had to tear ourselves away quickly. As a side note, had it been physically possible to get them home alive I would have bought a hanging basket or 2 or 3 in a heartbeat. They were so beautiful!! Walking back to the hotel with our purchases we ducked into a couple of the charming boutiques and art galleries along the way. One of them really stood out as the owner of the shop was so charming – we quickly engaged in conversation as I took my time looking at the beautiful rainbow of handbags, purses and earrings. If you are a girlie girl you have to stop in at Miss Vanille on Rue St-Paul! I did not leave empty handed! Walking back to the hotel we spotted a restaurant that our concierge told DH was the best place to get a meat pie - Le Buffet de L'Antiquaire. I must say this was the most disappointing meal of the entire trip. I should have read some reviews before I went and I probably would have changed my mind. Walking up to it looked promising because it was packed. The prices were cheaper than most places we went to (maybe that is why it was packed). But everything we ate reminded me of processed food. Nothing tasted ‘fresh’. My DH was disappointed in the meat pie, but said that he probably would be disappointed in any meat pie because he loved his mom’s recipe. I got fish, which was all breading and very little fish. We sat at the counter because the upstairs was like an oven and I couldn’t stand it up there. I would definitely not go back.
We dropped our purchases off at the hotel and set out to find the Morrin Center. This was our first trip to the upper city and we enjoyed our ride on the Funicular. Somehow we misread the map our concierge gave us and ended up getting lost. Even when we got reoriented we still could not find the darn place! I was glad that we had set out about an hour early or we would have missed our tour! As it was, the library had closed before we got there which was somewhat of a bummer. My main interest in this tour was to see the prison, being that I have a degree in Criminal Justice. We did a lot of extra walking and I was happy to see some places I made a mental note about going back to – Quebec City is so walk-able (thankfully). The tour was just wonderful. I loved every minute of it but especially the part where our guide had my DH step inside the jail cell and then closed the door on him. Best photo op ever! I enjoyed the part of the tour that spoke of the college that was also housed in the same building and was happy to go into the library since we had missed our chance to go in while it was open due to our little mis-adventure! Ben was our tour guide and he was very enthusiastic, which made it all the more enjoyable. There were just 4 of us for the tour so it was a more intimate tour. This was definitely one of the best things we did while in QC!
We wandered around the streets – that was my favorite thing to do because there was a photo op everywhere and everything was so charming. After our disappointing lunch I realized I was a bit hungry. I had wanted to try poutine and we heard that Chez Ashton was the place to go. It was perfect because we didn’t need a full meal and it gave us an (affordable) chance to try poutine. Wow….it was very different than what I thought it would be. That isn’t a bad thing…I actually kind of liked it, although I cannot imagine eating it on a regular basis! Feeling satisfied with our choice for dinner (although not exactly a light meal!) we headed over to Hotel Clarendon to end the night listening to some jazz and having a drink. I loved the intimate setting – but admit that again I felt underdressed somewhat. Darn…because somewhere in the 4 suitcases full of clothes that I packed I had some pretty cute outfits! I’m not a drinker and was a bit flustered over the menu (so many choices) and when the waiter came to take our order I couldn’t remember what I wanted and got a disapproving look from the waiter, which made me even more flustered. Really, he was not the best server and we saw many tables experience very very long wait times for their drinks (we did not though). It was a nice evening and a great way to end the busy day. On the way back to the hotel it began to rain – just a soft and light rain. The rain and the lights from the businesses reflecting off the cobblestone streets were very charming and romantic. Nothing like walking down the street holding hands with the one you love!
Sunday we started off (after breakfast at the hotel and lots of espresso consumed by my DH) for the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. We had a relaxing morning and a leisurely breakfast and missed any chances of attending church/mass at any of the places of worship we were planning on visiting. The drive was nice and we arrived at the Basilica around 11:30 or so. There were a lot of people outside and once we got a full view of the front of the building I could see why. It was just breathtaking. I loved the fountain and snapped off quite a few pictures. We went over to the information center (yes – information center at a church) and talked to a nice gentleman there. Looking at the time and knowing we wanted to go to the falls and to Ile de Orleans we didn’t do any of the extras at the Basilica. We were in the chapel below and almost thought we were in the main sanctuary…lol. Oh wow…the main sanctuary was just amazing. I loved seeing all of the canes and crutches hung up on the wall. We really could have stayed for hours. I realized it was getting late and really wanted to make it over to Île d'Orléans with enough time to explore so we left. Having done our research (but as you will see, not as well as I thought we did) we made our first stop at Vignoble de Sainte-Pétronille vineyard for our lunch break at Panache Mobile. The girls at the winery were very friendly and we enjoyed hearing more about the ice wine process and of course trying some samples. In the end we went with a bottle of red ice wine (not as common as the white) that I didn’t like quite as much but DH really loved. Now on to lunch - The combination of the wonderful setting overlooking the vineyards and beyond, the delicious food and the friendly service makes this a 5 star dining experience. This place really broadened my view of what a 'food truck' is! I loved the lobster roll. The salad was simple but amazing. The burger and fries were good, but were not the choice that should have been made with all of the other delicious sounding menu items. It's a bit on the pricy side, but you do get what you pay for! Go here and try it....it's a very unique experience....one that I would gladly have again!!! When leaving the vineyard we asked for directions, which was our bad because we had driven right past an information booth. The weather went from bad to worse. We also went the really really long way around the island, missing the road that cut the island basically in half. It was a bit longer than we had planned to stay. We did find some good stops along the way, but they were few and far between. We loved Chocolaterie de Île d'Orléans. We bought my mom a box of chocolates and they let us pick out the individual pieces – quite a feat when everything was in French. But she didn’t complain We also loved the ice cream dipped in chocolate, dark chocolate. Oh. My. Gosh. I want one right now. The chocolate dip was soooo incredible! I also had my heart set on stopping at a cheese shop but we almost missed the opportunity. Because of our detour /poor planning/whatever we pulled up at Les Fromages de l'Isle d'Orléans just after they closed. I was really disappointed so my sweet DH went and knocked on the door and tried to explain the situation. I don’t think the girl understood him but did let us in. We ended up with a couple different cheeses and I was pleased. After leaving the island we stopped at Montmorency Falls. We were too late to take the cable car – it was closed. But we did walk around and went across the bridge and really just stood in awe and took it all in. DH says that it was his favorite thing of the entire vacation. Thankfully the zip line was also closed because he said he was going on it. Yikes! Living in Detroit and being so close to Niagara Falls, I wasn’t expecting this trip to the falls to do anything for me….but it really was just wonderful. Maybe because all the commercialism of Niagara was missing, and because we got to stand over the falls and be so close to them, we both really enjoyed our little bit of time here. We ended the day with ice wine, wonderful cheese, sausage, and of course chocolates in our room.
The last day in Quebec City was probably my favorite. We had dreary weather the entire trip but when we woke up Monday morning we were greeted with a perfect blue sky. We had signed up for a walking tour which is always the best part of a trip for me. I love hearing the history and culture of a new city. And a walking tour – so much better than a bus or trolley tour for taking pictures! We took the early morning Grand Tour from Tours Voir Quebec. It was about 2 hours (maybe a bit longer) and moved at a leisurely pace, good for being able to take pictures along the way. We started across the street from Chateau Frontenac and walked through parks, along the river, into a church, by the Ursulines Sisters and ends under the Chateau Frontenac by the funiculaire. We had a lunch reservation at Le Parlementaire Restaurant. We let them know when we made the reservation that we would be in town celebrating a birthday and we received a wonderfully delicious complementary dessert at the end of the meal. This place really posed a challenge with the English/French language barrier. The waitress tried her hardest but we couldn’t understand her at all. Looking at the menu we could somewhat guess what the entrees were but we wanted to know about the pricing and the specials. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts she went and got the Maitre d’ and he was able to answer our questions in English. Everyone was very nice and the room was just breathtaking. I felt special sitting in the dining room soaking it all in. The room was very large with high ceilings and lots of columns. The royal blue color scheme of the dishes was perfect. Our meals were enjoyable. I had pasta and my husband had pork 3 ways. After lunch we took a tour and then wandered on the grounds for a while. It was just beautiful. The garden tour unfortunately wasn’t happening yet – we were too early for it. The view from the Parliament Building back to the Chateau Frontenac was definitely picture worthy. Knowing it was our last night I wanted to make sure to get back to the room to pack up. After that we wandered around - I always am up for shopping so we went into a few of the stores. Then it occurred to me that we hadn’t gotten any pictures from the water. Following one of the tips I had gotten we quickly made our way to the Quebec-Levis ferry. The timing was perfect and because it had actually been sunny that day we were blessed with an awesome sunset. We ended up running into a couple we had met on the walking tour and had a nice visit while the sun set behind the Chateau. Then we walked around by our hotel and decided to get something to eat at Bistro Sous le Fort. Our new friends had recommended it. We decided to split an order of fish and chips because it sounded good. I am a big fan of fish and chips and had been disappointed in my choice at Le Buffet. We sat outside because we couldn’t get enough of the charming patio atmosphere. The waiter was very friendly – we actually thought he might be the owner he had that much pride in the place. We mentioned being from Detroit and he said, oh, Hockeytown. I knew we had picked the right place.
Before we left Quebec City to head back to Montreal for 4 nights we wanted to hit Rue St-Jean. I wanted to go to JA Moisan and I’m glad we made the time to visit. It was so charming. The whole street had a very European feel, more so than other parts of the city in my opinion. We were there early and deliveries were being made and crates with vegetables were being carried into the stores. It was one of my favorite vacation scenes. Being the chocoholic I am we also had to go to Erico. We overdosed on the most wonderful cookies I have ever had for the rest of the vacation. I really wanted to bring some back but figured they would be getting stale by the time we got home (such a shame). And of course we needed one last visit to Paillard’s. It’s been about 4 months since our trip (I am terrible for taking so long) and I can only imagine how beautiful it is there now with the fall colors. I am itching to go back – it was just wonderful and made that milestone birthday a little more tolerable!!