On our recent trip to Québec, we managed without a car for several days before picking up a rental car for a week. In the relatively compact city center, good walkers will have no problem managing without. But for excursions outside the city center, the flexibility of a car is hard to beat. Since we also had to transport ourselves from Québec City (QC) to Montréal midway through our 2 week stay, we arranged a week-long rental with drop-off in Montréal, also a compact city that can be managed largely on foot, supplemented by Uber and subway. Once I factored in the cost of 2 train tickets between QC and Montréal, and that there were 4 of us, car rental began to look like a good value. We (Steve and I; my sister Clarissa and her husband Jason, up from NY) made 2 day trips to the environs of QC. If pressed for time, these destinations could be squeezed into a single excursion, but we enjoyed taking our time and I highly recommend these destinations. To vicariously visit QC proper, see the prior post.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
The night before, we had picked Jason up at the airport when he arrived in the evening, after his work day. We didn’t even give him a real orientation to QC before whisking him off to the “Cradle of Nouvelle-France”, Île d’Orléans. Although less than half an hour by car from the city, it is a rural world away. The Île is a major source of farm fresh products for QC. All week we had been encountering locally grown produce and products in stores and on restaurant menus, as well as tastes of the Île at the Marché de Vieux-Port de Québec.
Our first stop on the circumferential Chemin Royal was at 721, Cassis Monna & Filles, a family run operation growing black currents and turning them into a full line of cassis products. We had sampled their offerings liberally the day before on our visit to the farmer’s market. While waiting for a table on the terrace, we took a tour of the facilities and imbibed more wines and cassis products in the tasting room.
Most of their lunch selections feature cassis in one form or another, incorporated into meat sauces, including the delicious pulled pork sandwich ( which sounds even more glamorous as porc effiloché au vin de cassis ), made into salad dressings, or featured in desserts. Coming off our prior day’s sampling of Chez Ashton’s standard, we tried the gourmet version of poutine with duck confit, with a sauce made with cassis rather than “brown sauce”. We also enjoyed their homemade sangria, utilizing both black currant wine and their cassis. The property owner, Bernard Monna, is an artist, and his two daughters have taken over the business, opening the restaurant and expanding their range of products. We enjoyed the taste of the products enough to purchase liquid souvenirs to bring home with us.
Our tour guide circled several additional destinations on our map for us to seek out and on our traverse of the north half of the island, we hit most of her recommendations.
At Bilodeau (2200 chemin Royal), an apple orchard (verger) and family run cidrerie, in addition to ciders and iced wines to try, there were goats to admire out back.
Another of her recommendations, halfway down the north side of the island, was Pub Le Mitan, another micro-brasserie with a pleasant terrace and view.
We enjoyed ourselves so much on the north side and taking in the view at the east end of the island that most of her suggestions on the south side had to be deferred for a future trip. These included Du Capitaine Vinaigrerie, Tigidou Confiturerie, and 3 Poules a l’Île. This may be just as well, as fully a quarter of my carry-on suitcase was devoted to products from Île d’Orleans as it was. We accidentally skipped the west end of the island by taking route Prevost prematurely, so doubled back to make our way to the end of the island. Steve was napping by this time, so I was driving.
At the west end of the island, Sainte-Pétronille’s Chocolaterie d’Orleans beckoned. We ate our ice cream across the street, on a waterfront walk on Horatio Walker Lane, named for a long-time artist resident.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
To get our excursion day off to a great start, we stopped at Fromagerie des Grondines, where we had food tour redux, as Christophe was starting a Québec City Food Tour with a group of newbies. We had built up the by now famous “grilled cheese” sandwich enough that we all ran the risk of disappointment, but it was as savory and scrumptious as before, as perfect a melding of prosciutto, pesto and cheddar as has ever met poppy bread.
Thus fortified, we headed out of town to the shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, a romanesque style basilica built in 1926. All I knew beforehand about it was that there were reputed to be piles of crutches, testaments to the healing powers of a pilgrimage to this site. What was a very pleasant surprise was the charm of the mosaics decorations partout.
The oldest pilgrimage site in North America, the primary structure was destroyed by fire in 1922.
A short walk down rue Royal was a surprise, the Musée Edison du Phonographe, the personal collection of > 200 cylinder phonographs of Jean-Paul Agnard. He has a technical background, which was readily apparent as he explained how his collection came to be, starting with the purchase of one Edison phonograph with a few cylinders, leading to another in order to acquire more cylinders, then needing to learn how to do his own repairs…you know what can happen when you peek down a rabbit hole. One of the components of the collection I found especially interesting were the early talking dolls, as early as 1889, essentially small phonographs installed in doll’s bodies.
Our intention was to finish out the day at Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Reserve. However, their hours (closing at 5 pm) were discouraging-could the guidebook be right? The web wasn’t reassuring either. Surely it couldn’t close so early when there were hours more of daylight at this time of summer? We drove out that direction anyway, only to encounter a literal roadblock on the final leg. We rerouted ourselves back onto the only alternate route, but doing so slowly but surely chewed up what time we had.
A funny thing happened on the way there…it was late enough and we were still far enough away, that as we were deciding we’d probably be rebuffed and have to turn around anyway, we found ourselves in a luxuriant wetland, with an observation platform overlooking a large pond.
We had company there, a noisy family group equipped with a telescope. The sullen teenage daughter who had probably been dragged along was rebelling by playing Syrian music at a not conducive for bird-watching volume.
Once the family and their telescope left, we had the platform to ourselves, to bask in the glow of late afternoon light, ruffled by the ducks on the pond, articulated by reeds, all very dreamy and peaceful. Just as we were packing it up, there was a riffling at the water’s edge and surprise, a furry brown muskrat shot across the water right in front of us. It took an Internet consult to confirm this animal’s identity, as none of us had ever seen one.
We almost skipped Montmorency Falls, which would have been a mistake. The falls can be readily seen from Île d’Orléans, and we had stopped at the lower parking lot a few nights before, on our return from the Île. By that time in the evening, the gondola was no longer running. The falls were bathed in colored lights as night fell, which we thought was cheesy. Luckily, following scenic, verdant Route de la Nouvelle-France back towards QC (aka Avenue Royale) led us directly to the upper reaches of Montmorency Falls and Parc de la Chute-Montmorency. Up top, there is a network of nice trails on both sides of the falls, and a pedestrian bridge over the thundering, rushing water. Being so much closer made for a much more powerful experience.
On the return hike, I was shocked to see, in huge letters, a graffiti message on a particularly inaccessible part of the infrastructure of the pedestrian bridge. I know inaccessibility of their targets is part of the lure for graffiti artists, but this looked quite difficult and dangerous to reach. But I had to agree with the message: OMG! It really was a lovely place for an evening walk and shooting session, and I was really glad we hadn’t skipped it.
I also had to smile and agree with this frequently seen message:
It may have taken me 30 years to get here, but je suis certaine it won’t be 30 more before we return! Next blog stop-Montréal!