Travel Diary

A Relais & Châteaux Getaway to Charming Quebec City

Where to stay, eat, and shop during a long weekend getaway

BEST PLACES TO TRAVEL IN 2016

Planters Inn and Peninsula Grill are longstanding members of Relais & Châteaux, the exclusive collection of luxury boutique hotels and gourmet restaurants located in the world’s most romantic, most cultured, and most memorable destinations.

Every Relais & Châteaux establishment is independently owned by a hands-on hotelier or chef personally committed to providing the highest quality guest experiences. From time-to-time, we travel to experience the hospitality and splendor offered by our Relais & Châteaux colleagues around the world.

When Travel + Leisure magazine announced the results of its 2016 World’s Best Awards, we toasted Charleston, S.C. for winning #1 Best U.S. City, and we flew north to discover the charms of the #1 Destination in Canada—Québec City—during a long weekend getaway at Auberge Saint-Antoine, the lovely Relais & Châteaux hotel located in the heart of the city. 

A Celebration of Travel + Leisure's Top U.S. City & Top City in Canada

A TALE OF TWO PRETTY CITIES

From charming cobblestone streets and beautifully preserved buildings that date back several centuries to sweeping waterfront views and popular public parks, the similarities between Charleston and Québec City are marvelous.

Both cities wear a patina of European elegance and nurture a vibrant arts scene.

Charleston was founded in the late 1600s as a walled city to protect its citizens from the threat of foreign invaders including pirates. Québec City exists as one of the oldest walled cities in North America. 

Charleston’s French love affair began in 1680 with the arrival of Huguenot colonists who played a significant role in shaping local cuisine and culture over the course of three centuries. Québec City is a bastion of French-Canadian culture. 

Charleston is often referred to as the “Holy City” with its historic church steeples standing tall above the city skyline. Québec City’s religious heritage spans 130 churches, 20 conventual chapels, two cathedrals, and two basilicas. 

And just like Charleston, one of the best and easiest ways to become fully immersed in the charms of Québec City is to stroll slowly through its historic district. A maze of narrow cobblestone streets and a visual feast of early Nouvelle France-style architecture—quaint stone dwellings with steep rooflines reminiscent of home built in northern France during the 17th and 18th centuries—Québec City remains untouched by time.


WHERE TO STAY

A member of Relais & Châteaux since 2005, Auberge Saint-Antoine is a thoroughly modern boutique hotel tucked discreetly inside a series of 18th-century maritime warehouses overlooking the majestic St. Lawrence River. The Vieux-Port (Old Port), where the 95-room hotel is located, is a pretty and pleasing neighborhood filled with beautiful buildings and popular brasseries. It has a more relaxed and residential feel than the nearby Quartier Petit-Champlain, perfect if you prefer to be out of the throes of the bustling city center.

Owned by the Price family who traces their Québécois roots back more than 200 years, the Auberge Saint-Antoine is a thoughtful homage to the city’s unique cultural heritage. Hundreds of museum-caliber artifacts unearthed during an extensive on-site archaeological dig are thoughtfully displayed throughout the hotel (think porcelain shards and clay pipes in exhibition cases near the elevators).

Exposed wooden beams and stone walls add to the hotel’s authentic sense of rustic elegance. The luxurious bathrooms have heated flooring and deep-soaking tubs, ideal for warm relaxation during a snowy winter getaway.

Travel Tip: Book one of the suites with a balcony to enjoy serene views of the river at sunset.


WHAT TO DO

Within walking distance from the hotel, you’ll find the Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica, one of the oldest cathedrals in North America. Founded in 1647 and rebuilt several times, Notre-Dame de Québec is prized for its spectacular Neo-Baroque interior—a repository of gold leaf, historically significant religious artwork and icons, as well as a crypt that is the final resting place of archbishops and cardinals.

From the Quartier Petit-Champlain, hop aboard the funicular and take the short, steep ride up to Le Château Frontenac, the turreted citadel that appears suspended as if it were floating in the air above Québec City’s Old Port. The best panoramic views of the St. Lawrence River are here, at the Terrasse Dufferin, a wide promenade dotted with benches and street performers, and the Promenade des Gouverneurs, a wooden walkway suspended from the cliff between Château Frontenac and the Plaines d’Abraham.

The selections of vegetables, fruits, cheeses, charcuterie, and sweets available at Marché du Vieux-Port represents the best of Québec City’s seasonal and traditional flavors. Leisurely stroll past tables laden with richly hued aubergine, their shiny skins gleaming in the morning light, and baskets of perfectly ripe strawberries that delicately perfume the air.


WHERE TO SHOP

A trove of old books and gleaming curiosities awaits at Les Antiquités Bolduc where collections of gramophones and vintage cameras sit adjacent to cases filled with military medals and shelves lined with silver trinkets that date back a century or more.

Tucked inside the 265-year-old brick vault basement of the Musée de la Civilisation, the museum shop features top-notch products made by local artisans and craftspeople.

More than 100 professional Québec artisans showcase their handcrafted items at Métiers d’Art du Québec, where you’ll find everything from luminous blown glass apothecary jars and hand-hammered tin oil lamps to hard-carved wooden furniture and hand-dyed silk scarves. 

The Quartier Petit-Champlain bills itself as the oldest shopping district in North America but its seemingly endless parade of souvenir shops makes it a better people-watching spot than shopping destination.


WHERE TO EAT

The traditional cuisine of Québec City traces its origins to the 17th century when hearty dishes like meat stew and meat pie (tortièrewere necessary to fuel the fur trade and sustain settlers throughout winter. The French influence on Québec’s culinary history is widely evident. Crêperies and cassoulet abound, and a brasserie serving steak-frites is found on practically every corner.

For a true food nomad experience, seek out distinctively Canadian flavors like spruce beer or creton, a rustic version of paté made with pork, onions, cloves, nutmeg, and garlic often enjoyed for breakfast. And no visit is complete without ordering the ubiquitous poutine, a savory trifecta of French fries, fresh cheese curds, and hot gravy.

More recently, Québec City has become home to a growing number of widely acclaimed restaurants serving what nearly resembles Nordic cuisine: innovative use of indigenous items prepared using contemporary cooking trends. When visiting Québec City, arrive hungry!

The wonderfully intimate 40-seat L’Initiale is a gourmet destination unto itself. Widely praised as one of the top restaurants in Canada, the restaurant is an enclave of refined cuisine, flawless presentation, and understated luxury.

One of Québec City’s top restaurants, Panache is the posh sister of Auberge Saint-Antoine, Québec City’s top hotel. Its exposed hand-hewn wooden beams and window-lined dining room offering stunning views of the St. Lawrence River are the perfect backdrop for Québécois interpretations of seasonal foods such as halibut with blueberries or poached foie gras with sorrel and Labrador tea.

Nestled in the middle of a charmingly narrow cobblestone lane, L’Échaudé is the perfect spot to languidly enjoy a bowl of coubion and a plate of duck confit while watching the world stroll past from a seat at the restaurant’s popular outdoor patio. The dapper maitre’d Wilson holds court at the host stand—his social pulpit—affirming his role as choreographer of memorable evenings on Rue Sault-au-Matelot.

Perhaps the best in salmon tartare in Canada is found at SSS (Simple Snack Sympathique), a popular spot for smartly dressed young professionals. The chic interior teeters on nightclub decor, so opt for a sidewalk table for a more romantic dining experience.

At Légende, the entrance is flanked by miniature potted trees with twinkling white lights strung among the branches, akin to wandering into an enchanted glen. To dine here is to be stripped of any preconceived notions about French cuisine; there are no heavy sauces, no excessively complex recipes. Instead, dishes showcase the culinary creativity of lesser-known, often foraged Québécois ingredients.


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