Drink, Eat, and Stay Fit in Quebec
There are a few places on Earth where I want to return time and again. One of them is Quebec, where they speak, eat, and drink French but greet visitors (even those who “ne parle pas Français”) with purely American hospitality. Quebec specialties like foie gras, maple syrup, and ice wine are not the only agricultural marvels here; it’s especially enticing to visit in the fall, when local farmers celebrate harvest time.
Proud of their gastronomic ingenuity, Quebec City residents enjoy a number of unique establishments like SAQ Classique wine shop featuring produits du Quebec such as maple syrup liquor, honey wine, and ice cider; the oldest in North America grocery store, Maison Jean-Alfred Moisan, founded in 1871; the chocolate museum-shop Choco-Musee Erico; and honey museum/shop Musee de l’Abeille.
We made our way to 98% agricultural Île d’Orléans via a bridge built in 1935—to the dismay of the islanders fond of their secluded lifestyle and not seeking company of the city dwellers at the time. Even today, the residents of the popular “treasure island” retain their quiet existence amid golden fields of hay and grazing sheep. The only loud sounds allowed here are those of chirping birds and the crushing waves of Saint-Laurent River. We sat down on an open terrace at Cassis Monna & Filles, a specialty wine shop and restaurant that produces its own black currant wines and also serves delicious lunches. Whether you’re enjoying a duck pâté sandwich or a lamb terrine, vitamin C-loaded black currant berries are present in sodas, salads, dips, dressings, and even beer.
Our next stop was at Cidrerie Bilodeau, where owners Micheline and Benoit produce sweet ice cider made from snow-covered apples frozen over winter right on the tree branches. Then we visited Le fromage de l’isle d’Orléans, where Jocelyn Labbe, Diane Marcoux, and their two daughters are faithfully recreating a cheese recipe from 1635. And then it was time to visit a cellar of Isle de Bacchus and try some Le Kir de L’Ile (white wine with black currant syrup) and multiple gold-medal winner Vin de Glace Jardin de Givre.
To round out a day of culinary adventures, we dined on elk, deer, and caribou meat prepared on an open fire tabletop at Sagamite Restaurant Terrasse. The restaurant, serving wild game in a warm and hospitable setting, is a part of a four-star Hotel-Musee Premieres Nations, overlooking the Akiawenrahk River and decorated with native artists’ works, antlers, and bear skins. The Huron-Wendat nation has inhabited the territory for 450 years now and counts about 1600 people living in the community of Wendake today.
After indulging in Quebec’s luscious agriculture, it was time for us to take care of those extra calories, so our next day’s adventure started in an enormous (670 square km) Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier, named after a French explorer & discoverer of Canada. Out of a great number of outdoor activities, my dear husband not surprisingly picked white-water rafting—something he’s been doing all his life…before he met me, that is. I didn’t feel like wearing a wet suit and a life jacket on a sunny day, and paddling like crazy to safely pass shallow rapids, but I had to tag along with a group of more experienced rafters, kind enough to let me in.
I fully realized the beauty of active lifestyle in the nearby Scandinavian-style Le Nordique Spa et Détente which included an open-air hot tub, steam and sauna facilities in cute wooden houses, and plenty of relaxation in the resting areas. In order to get to any of these facilities, visitors have to take stairs, as the spa is located on a steep hillside, but that’s what keeps those Québécois fit and trim, and youthful at any age!
Historically and architecturally rich, clean, and safe, Quebec is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and one of the best cities for physical fitness. No matter how much duck liver, cheese and bacon is being consumed by its residents, not to mention chocolate and maple butter, steep cobblestone streets and numerous stairs keep Quebec dwellers in shape.
On the day of our departure, at the bursting at seams Quebec City market, Marche du Vieux-Port, I overheard a tourist from Minnesota telling her companions, “These strawberries, they don’t look real.” I bit my tongue, not to blurt out loud, “No, honey, these strawberries are real; those you buy in Safeway are not.” Find more information on Quebec tourism at the region’s official website.