Our flight landed at Jean Lesage International Airport around 5:30 pm. It was December 15th. It had been a smooth flight from Toronto, about one hour and 45 minutes but as we broke through the clouds and the mass of city lights grew closer, we could feel the wind tug on our little commuter plane. In the reflection of the plane’s landing lights, we could see fine snow.
Sunset comes early to Quebec as the Winter Solstice nears, around 4:00 pm. By the time we arrived, it was dark, bitter cold and gusts of frigid wind slapped against our bodies. We grabbed a cab to our hotel, https://www.saint-antoine.com/ . After two prior stays at the lovely https://www.fairmont.com/frontenac-quebec/ we had decided it was time for a change. The Auberge Saint Antoine, a historic boutique hotel was our destination.
As we entered the lobby, a fire at the far end was bright and welcoming. We were warmly greeted and checked in quickly. Upon settling in, our first thought, as always, turned to food. We had spend just over 12 hours in airports (3) and planes and were looking forward to eating something that wasn’t, well, airport food.
When one travels to the same city several times, certain places begin to feel comfortable and bring to mind good memories. Our favorite first night restaurant is a cozy Italian spot, Le Parmesan, located just steps from the Frontenac ( http://www.restaurantparmesan.com/), at 38, rue Saint-Louis. For days we had been anticipating a little table by a crackling fire, table to table violin music and a nice meal BUT Le Parmesan is located in Upper Town and our hotel was located in Lower Town. We didn’t fully get that when we booked the hotel. We were tired and a trip to Le Parmesan would necessitate a long, steep hill walk and some 200 steps in dark, icy conditions. Also, it was about 0 F wind chill.
Sooo, we checked with the helpful hotel staff and found a nice restaurant just steps from the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Ristorante il Matto is located in Hotel 71 at 71, rue Saint-Pierre. Not as cozy as Le Parmesan, but the food at this modern restaurant was delicious! Our first course was a bowl of what may be the best minestrone soup that has ever passed our lips. For a second course we chose mushroom risotto. The portions were large enough that we could have split a main dish and had dessert but we didn’t realize that when we ordered. We had to pass on dessert.
The tables around us were bubbling with couples and groups. We assumed many were locals, deep in conversation. We were especially fascinated by five couples seated next to us. Elders, such as ourselves. We judged them to be in their late-60’s to mid-70’s, fit and dressed in “outdoorsy”, stylish clothing (this coming from a wistful someone whose outdoorsy clothes are not so stylish). We had no idea the topic of their lively conversation (old friends discussing holiday plans or an afternoon spent skiing in the Plains of Abraham) as French is the spoken language and we don’t speak, but the food and wine flowed at their table and they appeared to be having a marvelous time.
After a solid night’s sleep fueled by exhaustion, we woke to a clear but painfully cold Monday morning. The high was predicted to remain in the single digits but with gusty wind blowing off the St. Lawrence River, the wind chill would feel like -10 F. Our plans remained loose as we had ticked off many of the major sites on previous trips, trips that also occurred in the middle of December in snow and ice. What can I say, Old Quebec does Christmas as well.
Seriously buttoned and bundled up, we began our morning by navigating our way to Upper Town via the Cote de la Montagne, a steep, demanding road. I stayed some steps behind John, huffing and puffing and trying not to be too loud as to not elicit a comment about fitness levels. We took this trek several times during our two day visit and it did become easier.
I pause here to announce that we have officially become old people worrying about slipping and sliding on ice. We watched younger people rush up and down hills and steps, hurrying from one place to the next, icy patches be damned. We walked carefully and deliberately, especially me. I felt achy and old in the bitter cold.
Our first stop was the rue petit de la Champlain. Little has changed since the last time we strolled the historic, icy, cobblestone street (well maybe a foot less snow). The popular shopping district lined with artisan shops and restaurants, is located at the bottom of a cliff under the Chateau Frontenac. It is accessible 24 /7 by foot or by the popular funicular which connects to the boardwalk by the Frontenac.
When we had seen everything we wanted to see and I had strolled through all the stores I wanted stroll (John is not a store stroller), we decided hot chocolate at Café La Maison Smith was a good idea. Along the way we passed through the closed Christmas market. We thought the number of vendor huts had expanded significantly since our last visit. The market is only open Thursday-Sunday so poor planning on our part meant we were walking through shuttered wooden huts.
Our walk included a trip to the Old Port where the best indoor Christmas market is located. Much to our dismay, the market had moved to the suburbs and the building was being demolished. Sigh… We visited the beautiful Basilique Cathedral-Notre Dame de Quebec, and window shopped the art galleries in Lower Town.
Lunch was at the “cheerful and relatively cheap” Casse-Crepe Breton, 1136 Saint-Jean, where ham and asparagus crepes were had by both. Dinner later at D’Orsay Pub included French Onion Soup, salads and an order of poutine. John’s soup order was mixed up and he ended up with the cream of celery. This is memorable because into the night he ended up with food poisoning and the soup is the only thing we ate that was not the same. I must tell you, while I am not a fan of poutine, John will never eat it again, enough said.
Needless to say, the next day I was on my own to move at my slower pace. Still very cold but the wind was not gusting so the temperature held around 20 F. Warm compared to Monday! I ran a handful of errands including purchasing several Christmas gifts and a 22″ strand of pearls that had caught my eye. The pearls are an anniversary gift from John. I also purchased a set of beautiful pearl earrings for myself for our anniversary (John gets a bird feeder and stand). I stopped often to take photos of festive Christmas decorations.
I had cancelled our reservations for lunch at Le Monastere des Augustines (https://monastere.ca/en. We have eaten here before and the food is delicious and healthy BUT I wasn’t sure I could navigate my way to and from the monastery so I slipped into a seat at the hotel bar and enjoyed a nice salad. I was spending the day wondering if John had a virus and if it would strike me next. Sick on a trip is difficult, we have both been there.
Since I didn’t want to go back to the room to sit while John slept, I didn’t want to stray too far from the hotel and I really had nothing else I wanted to do, I splurged and booked a pedicure at the hotel spa. Wonderful, relaxing choice for the afternoon!
I had dinner at the hotel bar again. The food was the same as in the hotel’s restaurant and the atmosphere less stuffy. After dinner it was time to pack and prepare for our morning flight. John was somewhat stirring and ready to pack. We had a long travel day ahead and he was ready to get home to his own bed.
We were glad to return to Quebec again for a little Christmas magic and glad to get home. After this trip we have seen everything we want, shopped every place that interests us and eaten at some memorable restaurants. Hopefully our next Christmas trip will bring some new and different adventures.