Québec City — Une Place Trés Charmante

John Laudando
The imposing Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. Independent/John Laudando

The view from our oval windows at the delightful and comfortable Hotel Clarendon would make a great Christmas card. We arrived at the hotel around 3 PM on a winter’s day, with snow dusting the trees and the tops of buildings.

The trip from East Hampton to Québec City was a long drive, so en route, we had stopped overnight at White River Junction, VT, and we had a fun meal that night at Wicked Awesome BBQ, which boasts an amiable and helpful staff.

Hotel Clarendon turned out to be a gracious, handsome, and convenient find. It was within walking distance of almost all the sights we’d hoped to visit. We started off with a trip to Pub Saint Patrick on Rue Saint Jean, because it was about as far as we wanted to walk for our first foray into weather that was quite a bit colder than we had expected. Afterward, we wandered the famous street, ducking into little shops and wandering past lots of boutiques and restaurants.

Because we were weary from our trip and curious about the hotel’s jazz show, we headed back to the hotel and opted for dinner that night in its jazz bar. We weren’t disappointed. We’re both jazz buffs, and the music, provided by singer Annabelle Doucet and guitarist Gabriel Donais, made the long drive fade into the background. The program included a great mix of old standards and newer jazz riffs, and both ladies performed them with style and grace.

The weather was decidedly cold, but we were prepared, so the next day, after breakfasting on the extensive buffet at our hotel, we bundled up and headed to Musée de la Civilisation to see the “London Calling” exhibit I’d researched. Interestingly, it seemed almost to be more of a bow to Beatlemania and London’s other rock stars, rather than a straight-out look at London. But its layout made for leisurely wandering and was an out-of-the-ordinary look at design, arts, fashion and music, from 1950 to today.

The exhibit runs until March 10, and we would recommend it for a unique museum experience. We also wandered to other parts of the museum, and, in the children’s section, I was especially taken with the wide collection of fairy-tale costumes for kids to try on and imagine themselves in fantastical scenes; it reminded me of exhibits at our own Children’s Museum of the East End.

Next, we headed to Québec City’s famous funicular, which takes you 210 feet down from Haute-Ville to Basse-Ville — the upper and lower parts of Old Québec. It’s been in operation from 1879, with a one-year hiatus following a fire. The ride treats you to a panoramic view of the Saint Lawrence River, viewed over the historic rooftops below. And if you don’t ride it down, you well may want to ride it up rather than taking what’s touted as the world’s longest staircase. It’s a reasonable $3.50 Canadian. We opted to ride it both directions. At its bottom, you arrive on a quaint cobblestone thoroughfare lined with cozy shops and restaurants, in the city’s oldest developed area. It’s especially charming in the wintertime, festooned and lit up for the holidays, once again giving you the feeling of being in a living Christmas card.

After riding back up to Haute-Ville, we opted for lunch in Le D’Orsay Restaurant and Pub, just around the corner from our hotel. What did we have? La fameuse poutine du Québec with duck confit — yummy and rich, with potatoes, cheese curds, and homemade gravy — and chaudrée de la mer, a luscious seafood chowder.

That evening, we enjoyed one of those meals you never forget at the intimate and very French Chez Jules, chosen at random as we meandered down Rue Sainte-Anne. It was only after we’d feasted there that I discovered a note I’d taken long ago, listing Chez Jules as one of the best places to go in Québec City — and though I don’t recall who made it, it was an excellent recommendation.

Next day, we spent visiting with an old friend, spending hours talking, first in Casse Crepe Breton, then, after some walking, at the famous Bistro de Sam in the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. That’s when we discovered just how thoughtful and polite the Québecoise could be, as both establishments, both the simple and the elegant, left us to visit long after we had finished our meals. The Frontenac is indeed an extraordinary place, towering above the Old Town, looking like a medieval fortress and bustling with activity.

On the last day of our visit to this charming city, we hopped a cab and headed to the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, and what a magnificent museum complex it is! From modern art, to the art of the indigenous peoples of Québec, to the design of the museum itself, to the lunch we had that was as good as our dinner the night before — we were glad we’d gone out of our way to find MNBAQ.

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