By DAWN CALLEJA
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
I've been considering a trip to Quebec City now that the weather is starting to warm up, but I don't want to visit the usual suspects. I covered those bases on my Grade 8 school trip. Plus, the old city can get so crowded.
I hear you. Quebec City welcomes 4.5 million tourists each year, many of them disembarking from the cruise ships that sail into port nearly year-round. And sometimes, it feels like every single one of them is wandering the cobblestone streets at the same time. Escape the crowds in Limoilou, just across the Saint-Charles River.
There's history aplenty: Jacques Cartier spent the winter here in 1535, and Jean de Brébeuf set up shop 90 years later to coerce the local Indigenous population to embrace Catholicism (we know how that turned out).
History aplenty? This is still sounding rather educational.
Don't worry, I wasn't finished.
Near the turn of the 20th century, Limoilou was sold as the Manhattan of Canada (complete with numbered streets and avenues).
Today, with its robust startup community, new indie boutiques and sophisticated food scene, it's more like Brooklyn.
Keep talking ... Third Avenue is lined with gourmet épiciers, microbreweries and shops. At Trafiquants d'art, you'll find colourful prints by beloved local pop artist Fred Jourdain, including a giant rendering of Alfred Hitchcock, who shot the 1953 film I Confess in Limoilou.
The movie centres on a priest (Montgomery Clift) accused of murder, and the director was drawn to the neighbourhood's abundant Catholic churches - many of which now stand empty.
One of them has been repurposed as École de cirque de Québec, which draws 100,000 performers and spectators each year. Wander in to watch students and pros alike soar through the air on the flying trapeze and perform daring feats of acrobatics. Then recharge with a creamy latte from Nektar Caféologue (you won't find a Starbucks here), a third-wave temple frequented by a mix of families, students and hipsters.
Try the signature Le Draveur brew.
That all sounds pretty cool. But tell me more about that food scene you mentioned.
For lunch, pick up a selection of local cheeses at Yannick Fromagerie - try Laiterie Charlevoix's creamy Le 1608, made with milk from Canadienne cows, an heirloom breed originally imported to Quebec in the 17th century.
(The place also does a healthy trade in fromage fondue, which never went out of style in la belle province.) Then pop over to Borderon et fils, which sells slices of artisanal breads by the pound.
While you're there, grab a cruffin for dessert - part croissant, part crunchy muffin, filled with gooey chocolate custard.
What about dinner? I'm a bit of a gourmand.
Since spring nights are still chilly, warm up at Le Cendrillon, a neighbourhood hangout with a menu of hearty Québecois favourites. (True to its fairy-tale name, the place shuts down at midnight.) Start with a dozen Îles de la Madeleine oysters, followed by foie gras stuffed with duck confit terrine and served with thick slices of brown-butter-slathered brioche, crunchily seared local scallops accompanied by housemade boudin (blood pudding) and crusted sweetbreads with roasted cauliflower. Save room for a decadent dessert: a slice of buttery cake topped by a maple syrup-braised apple filled with melted sharp cheddar and served with a dollop of foie gras ice cream.
If you want to go all out, head down the street to Arvi, where you'll find a sophisticated fivecourse menu of superlocal delicacies, cooked in the middle of an industrial-hip boite and served by the chefs themselves (led by coowner Julien Masia). A wedge of sous-vide red cabbage somehow manages to eclipse a buttery steak of barely seared bluefin tuna. You'll want a second helping of delicate fried leeks (paired with quail-egg yolks) from a farm in La Malbaie that is so organic, the owner insists on surveying his fields barefoot. Seared ribeye comes with a dollop of smoked crème fraiche and powdered caramelized onions. Go for the winepairing menu to get a taste of Quebecois chardonnay and sweet vidal. A refreshing dessert of apples on buckwheat pudding is paired with Beezz de Lait honey mead that carries a distinct whiff of the barnyard that sits next door to the hives.
I'm down with that. Now, where should I stay? Somewhere close by, please, since I'll probably be moving slowly after stuffing myself.
Try Auberge Amérik. When Nicola Perini arrived in Limoilou six years ago, it was a low-rent crash pad. Within months, the effervescent Belgian had taken over as manager and eventually ended up buying the place - a rambling 1890s mansion built with the same yellow bricks used on the city's iconic Château Frontenac.
Today, it's a homey inn with nine quirky rooms (one of them includes a round bed tucked into a turret). Perini is the kind of host you could only dream of encountering at the starched-white-shirt boutique hotels in the old city.
Ask him to put together a personalized itinerary while you dig into syrup-drenched crêpes at the sunny in-house café.
There you go with the food again.
Maybe I should fit in some sort of physical activity.
Good idea. Just a five-minute walk from the auberge is Domaine de maizerets, an estate that dates back to 1705. The 27-hectare park is crisscrossed by trails, one of which leads to a cedar maze and pond where mallards show off to prospective mates. Climb the observation tower to see all the way across the St. Lawrence to Lévis, where a cold and miserable General Wolfe plotted his sneak attack on Montcalm's troops on the Plains of Abraham - a battle that lasted just 15 minutes, but which continues to cause angst more than 250 years later.
Reward yourself (oh come on, you know you're going to) with a late-afternoon pint at La Souche.
Grab a seat at one of this cozy brasserie's wooden tables (all sheared from the same tree) and order a Rauch lager fumée, made at its microbrewery in nearby Stoneham. You could also order a plate of poutine, but be warned - the portion is massive. Not that I'm judging.
The writer travelled as a guest of Québec City Tourism. It did not review or approve this article.
If you want to go all out in Quebec City, make your way to Arvi, where head chef and co-owner Julien Masia, above, serves a five-course menu of superlocal delicacies.