Thursday, December 12, 2013
One of our regular, but not-frequent-enough, trips from our midcoast home is only about 250 miles, but it takes us not only to another country but another world.
A lot of Mainers have discovered that the straight shot on excellent and scenic roads skirting the east side of the Kennebec River through Bingham and The Forks, with a stop at the breathtaking overlook encompassing Attean Pond and the surrounding countryside just south of Jackman, is a trip to remember.
The road from the Canadian border through St. George and then along the Chaudiere River all the way to Quebec City has been vastly improved in recent years, and the final stretch of about 30 miles to the bridge spanning the St. Lawrence is limited access highway.
For us, it's an easy 5-1/2-hour drive, although winter trips to ski Mont Ste-Anne or Le Massif farther to the north do take somewhat longer.
Memorial Day weekend is an annual must for us, as it marks our wedding anniversary ... and what more romantic place to celebrate than in a truly European city right on our doorstep.
Despite less-than-perfect weather, the few days we spent there last week were as memorable as ever. Our tradition for spring and summer visits is to leave home at dawn so we can skirt the city before noon heading straight to Ile d'Orleans, a stunning agricultural island in the middle of the St. Lawrence just north of the old city.
The drive circumventing the island is about 40 miles, offering views back to the Quebec City skyline, and it generally takes us a few hours as there are farm stands galore with native fruits, veggies and delectables (notably those with maple syrup as their prime ingredient), as well as charming restaurants and pubs around almost every corner.
Spending the afternoon on the island allows us to then head into the city after check-in time for our first night. For years we opted to stay in one of the small and less-pricey inns in the shadow of the Chateau Frontenac (reputed to be the world's most photographed hotel) after our first visits with our young sons when we stayed in hotels on the Grand Allee. Both Chateau Bellevue and Manoir Sur le Cap right off the Terrasse Dufferin feature comfortable accommodations, views across the St. Lawrence, and easy access to all of Old Quebec's delights.
Recently, thanks to discovering www.airBNB.com, apartment rental makes the most sense to us, with the convenience of several rooms and the opportunity to prepare (by Marty) some of our own meals. And it's more economical than staying in a hotel.
If you're into walking, Quebec City is the place for you. Strolling the narrow European streets, soaking up the ambiance emanating from street corner musicians and the aromas from shops and cafes, not to mention the historic Plains of Abraham, can easily consume several days. And the attendant appetites that result from all that exercise can be wonderfully satiated, regardless of your culinary preferences.
The open-air Old Port Market on the Basin Louise has to be one of your stops, and a rented bike is an option for pedaling along the river, both on the Quebec City side and Levis on the east bank. Taking the short ferry ride across to Levis is always a must for us, and we usually time our trip so we can return in the early evening to look up at the lights of the city ahead and high above us.
After disembarking, we take the Funicular up from Quartier Petit-Champlain (after poking around there for the unavoidable couple of hours) to wander the streets of Old Quebec before tumbling into bed to rest up for the next day's fun.
Funky St-Roch, bordered by the Charles River and the cliffs of the city, is a revitalized industrial area featuring shops and restaurants, and an avant-garde arts cooperative where you can spend some fun hours. Like virtually all of Quebec's attractions, it's within easy walking distance in this very compact city.
If you're up to doing a little touring outside the walls of the old city, Lac Beauport, to the west, is a pleasant ride in the country, and a stop at Montmorency Falls, either on your way to Ile d'Orleans or a brief side trip, is a must especially, if you're bringing along the kids or grand kids.
Two or three days across the border can feel like a little European vacation, one that's surprisingly close and affordable.
John Christie is an author and year-round Maine explorer. He can be contacted at: