Quebec City Christmas, Day 2
If you missed the first day of my Quebec City adventure, please check out day one.
Day two of our Quebec City adventure began with sunshine! We also discovered that we had a lovely view of the Chateau Frontenac from our hotel window. There was no mistaking how cold it was but at least the sun was out and the snow was not. It was a Christmas Eve miracle!
After getting bundled up, we meandered to our breakfast. Directly across from our hotel was the (closed) Parc des Gouverneurs and the St. Lawrence River. When we arrived the previous day we drove over the St. Lawrence River and couldn’t see any of it due to the snow and wind so imagine my surprise to see a wide blue rapidly moving river, covered in ice flows just a few steps from our hotel. As we walked on the wide promenade, the Terrasse Dufferin, we saw snow being shoveled for the famous toboggan slide. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to try it as our timing was a bit off whenever we thought about trying it. Side note, I also thought my face would freeze off if I attempted it. The Victorian iron work of Terrasse Dufferin is still maintained and you can easily imagine 19th century fashionable ladies and chaps out on their Sunday constitutional. I can only imagine how wonderfully inviting the promenade is in summer.
What I was most looking to on the terrace was the funicular. In my travels I have always been fascinated by these little inclined railways and take one every chance I can. At a very reasonable $3 we took the funicular down to visit the Lower Town, or Basse Ville. Instead of a funicular, I am convinced that I somehow entered a Delorean and hit 88 miles per hour, because when we stepped out, we were in the 17th century. The Rue du Petit Champlain deservedly earns its accolades as the most charming street in North America. Although we were headed towards breakfast (in the opposite direction) I couldn’t help but wander towards the inviting shops. Here again, I was so happy to see that overwhelmingly the shops were local ones and not chains. Wonderful Christmas lights were strung across the street and as in the Upper Town, evergreen, bows and baubles decorated doorways with icicles perilously dangling from rooftops. Also, there was the most charming outdoor Santa’s Village as well, however I cannot fathom how cold Santa and his elf must have been. The entire street was like walking through a central casting version of what Christmas should be. Even the street signs warning you that you would die from falling snow were delightful and quaint!
My husband finally managed to drag me away and we made it towards our breakfast spot, L’Buffet l'Antiquaire (the Antique Dealers Buffet) for a traditional Quebecois breakfast. The restaurant is equally crowded and charming with a small bar, a few tables downstairs and a loft upstairs. My husband loved their traditional Quebecois breakfast with beans and meat pie while I opted for the French Toast which was light and fluffy. Make sure to get their sausages and a side of the house made strawberry jam - both really elevated the meals. Not being coffee drinkers we were also happy to find our breakfasts included juice or hot chocolate.
After breakfast we ventured in and out of the antique shops that lined the street and made our way to the Old Port Market, Marche Vieux Port, for the last day of their Christmas market. Again, I was so impressed with the focus on local food - maple everything (obviously), honey, blueberries, liquor, sausage, terrines, pates, jellies, jams, fruits and vegetables, ciders, Quebec wines and cheeses. It seemed as though even though it was called a Christmas Market, these vendors were permanent residents. As we left we realized our mistake, we were now in the lower town and had to get back to the upper town with overflowing bags full of wine and food. This is probably where we should have used the funicular but instead, decided to walk up the steep streets and stairs, back to the Upper Town. As we made our way, we stopped in some wonderful shops, some of my favorites being Three Crow Glass and Boutique Artisans Canada (which has a plethora of fascinating, detailed miniature battle reenactments towards the back - my husband was enthralled) for all of your stained glass and fur needs.
After dropping off our goodies from our morning adventures back at our hotel, we went to explore the lower town in more detail. We chose to walk down this time, popping in and out of the shops. We found ourselves back on Rue du Petit Champlain, where I finally got to try the Quebec speciality of maple taffy made in the snow! It was like eating a warm thickened wonderfully gooey glob of maple. For $2 it tasted like heaven and I could not have been happier. Other quaint shops which carried local items were Cidrerie Verger Pedneault and a culinary store, Pot en Ciel Cuisine. A few streets away we grabbed a flaky, pillowy croissant at Fou du Bio, a gourmet grocery store with a curated selection of wine, cheese and breads. We crossed the snow covered Place Royale square and the Notre Dame des Victoires church, making our way past the famous building side Old Quebec fresco on Rue Notre Dame. At this point we were frozen and decided we needed something to warm us up.
Before our trip, I had studied list after list of where the best hot chocolate was in Quebec City. Bar Artefact at the Auberge Saint Antoine was a mainstay. As soon as we walked in, I felt we were out of our league. I feel dressing well in cold weather is a difficult challenge, especially if you are walking around all day and need to be warm and comfortable. I decided that any hot chocolate was worth me feeling schlubby so I asked where the bar was. The staff could not have been kinder and my hesitation melted away. We ordered one of their classic hot chocolates to share (they also had a spicier Mexican hot chocolate) and it took two people to serve when it arrived - one to stir and guide it while the other poured. It was dark and wonderfully chocolatey. It was thicker than an American hot chocolate but not as thick as Spanish hot chocolate. It was incredibly rich and not overly sweet. We were able to get two cups each from our pitcher and agreed that it was the best hot chocolate we ever had. Ever. The bar itself was a mixture of tables, couches, barstools and some hidden alcoves with fireplaces - I would try to book one of those if possible. The history teacher in me geeked out as the walls were adorned with a cannon, ammunition and utensils found during construction, hence the bar’s name, Artefact.
After fortifying ourselves with chocolatey goodness, we climbed back up to the Upper Town and went for dinner at the place you must eat while in Quebec City, Restaurant Aux Ancien Canadiens. Located in Quebec’s oldest house, built in 1675, the reservations necessary, cheerful red and white restaurant with its Quebecois menu was the perfect choice for our Christmas Eve dinner. In my opinion, we got the best table, a corner second floor table with a window where we could look over the streets and the hansom cabs riding by. I love a prixe fixe menu so I can try as many items as possible (and force my husband to get what else I want to try) and theirs did not disappoint (read closely for the upcharges). The escargot were drenched garlic butter and the french onion soup was overloaded with melty cheese. Our main courses took a bit long (to be honest, we didn’t notice), so they kindly gave us a cocktail on the house. If you like exotic meat, this is your place - caribou, bison and duck are all over the menu. I especially enjoyed my meat pie with a house made fruit jelly and housemade maple pie for dessert, made not too saccharine by the unsweetened whip cream that accompanied it.
In yet another sugar induced haze, we returned to our hotel to await Santa’s visit and the snow and wind that we knew were arriving on Christmas morning.