Since we were concentrating this trip on Quebec City, and east, we decided not to stay in central Montreal, tempting as that was.
Instead we stopped about 10 miles outside of Montreal on the south side of the St. Lawrence, at a very pleasant Inn called Les Trois Tilleuls, (meaning “the three lime trees”) which sits right on the Richelieu River.
We enjoyed a very nice meal, an exceedingly comfortable bed, and the view from our balcony right on the river.
The next morning we had an early start up Route 20 to Quebec City. It’s a long flat straight highway, with endless fir trees lining both sides. In the space of an uneventful two and one-half hours we reached Quebec City, and our chosen hotel.
The Auberge Saint-Antoine is down in the old city on the river, and is a true gem. A friend had raved about it, and was right. It is the first time in my life I have fallen in love with the window treatments in a hotel! They were raw silk in the deep teal blue color of a Winslow Homer wave. Wall washer lights gave them an incredible sheen in the evening. Not to dwell on the room too much, but we also had a Bose Wave radio in the room, which was playing a Bach CD when we came back from dinner, part of the turn-down service. Oh, and there was the most spacious bathroom I’d been in quite a while: two sinks, giant shower (bring your friends) and a lovely separate dressing area. This inn was built on the foundation of very old buildings, so during the construction many artifacts of early Quebec were unearthed. The owners hired an archaeological conservator, and carefully preserved all of these artifacts, which have been catalogued and are on display all over the hotel, in little glass vitrines.
Barely able to tear myself away from the comfort of the Auberge, we drifted up the old streets and took the funicular up the high town, where the famous Hotel Frontenac commands the very important promontory facing down river. Contained in this area, inside the walled city, are so many historical sights that I think it would take a book to cover them all. The historic sights and the charming sidewalk cafes form an attractive picture, and beg for a walking, or a horse-drawn tour. However, we opted for a small bus tour that proved to be extremely worthwhile. Our bus driver was full of suggestions, and along the way we noticed a couple of tourist tips. For example, there is a brand new high rise Courtyard by Marriott just outside the wall across from the Hilton Hotel, a great location.
Back down in the old part of the town, there are several other boutique hotels, and many fine restaurants. We were lucky enough to choose the best one first. This happened because our friend suggested we not go to the most expensive, well-known places, but to try one which she thought was called L’Echaudee, (gleaned from her husband’s credit card slips). Sure enough it was about as perfect as it gets. Jim had a veloute de poulet, which is mundane in the translation “cream of chicken soup”, but divine in the look that came over his face as he took the first sip. And he just would not stop raving. In fact, when one of the men next to us ordered the “veloute” Jim waited for his reaction to the first spoonful, and soon made a new friend. The man turned out to be a fashion photographer shooting a story for a very well known national magazine, and was staying at our hotel. Boy, were we on the cutting edge! I ordered grilled scallops that were served with grilled endive, and a small eggshell of scrambled egg with truffle. Again: divine. Jim could not resist steak frites, as this was a bistro after all. We loved the place and the wines by the glass and the wait staff and the decor. Of course we just had to go back for another great meal. Put it in your little black book.
Among all the historic lectures and sights, do not forget the culture of Quebec City. We spent a marvelous day at the Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec. It’s a fascinating combination of a contemporary building, attached to a former jail by a glass-roofed entrance (a la Louvre) that contains the ticket office, gift shop and restaurant. Continuing my timeworn bias in favor of museum restaurants, we lunched there, just beating the locals who come to eat at the obviously popular restaurant. It is probably because they have a super bargain lunch: panini of roast chicken, tomato, pesto, together with a salad and a glass of wine for $10.95 (Canadian). Lovely place looking out on the terrace overlooking the Plains of Abraham and, way down below, the St. Lawrence River. We saw an exhibit of Picasso Ceramics, and a haunting exhibit of the ethnic busts of Charles Cordier, a giant of French sculpture of the 19th century.
We took our leave of this charming city reluctantly, happy only in the notion that we would return in a couple of days, when our journey down the St. Lawrence ended. We wanted to hurry back to the city of so many layers, historically as well as geographically, as soon as possible.