Canadian Charms: A Tale of Two Cities

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Both Montreal and Quebec City remain, at their core, the towns French settlers built almost four hundred years ago, with plenty of joie de vivre. Autumn is the perfect time to explore the long history and exciting contemporary flair of these cities. Strolling the narrow streets of Vieux-Montréal, Montreal’s Old City, on an early autumn evening, it’s easy to think you’ve dropped out of time and place. Surely this is a long-ago evening in France, with cobbled streets and stone buildings rambling on either side. A visitor stops to read the menu outside a little auberge, while another practices lèche-vitrines (window-shopping) as she stands at the patisserie, transfi xed by what a talented baker has done with butter and chocolate. Two children ride by on bicycles, giggling with one another, and in the distance, the smell of fresh, crusty bread fills the air. With a weekend ahead to sample the pleasures of the city, simply walking can be its own reward; there’s a discovery to be made everywhere you look. In the fall, the trees seem to pour rivers of scarlet and gold over the hills. The blaze of bold color is in sharp contrast to the St. Lawrence River’s pewter water and the gray of the old stone buildings. The air is mild but has just enough of a chill to make the homey inns and restaurants even cozier.

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Left: Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours glows with candlelight. Right: Streets in the Old City could just as well be in Paris.

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The Hotel Pierre du Calvet is a good and rare example of an eighteenth-century stone building. The inn is known for its cosseting charm, with fi replaces in many rooms and romantic décor. The cozy restaurant here is just the place for a celebration.

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Though there are some tempting large stores in Montreal, the small boutiques have their own delights. Traditional shops that line the streets look as if they’re plucked right out of Paris. Left: Créations Nicole Moisan features lace from around the world–beautiful on its own or for trimming linens or curtains. Right: Another way to discover the city’s culture is through its cuisine. Diners savor authentic French flavors at Boucherie Charcuterie Alimentation Generale.

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Open-air markets are as much a part of Montreal as any French town, with the added appeal of rich farmland surrounding the city and a diverse population that loves its food. Like a painter’s palette, the markets are alive with the bright greens, reds, yellows, and purples of the vibrant produce. There is as much to feed the eye as the stomach—ripe apples, mountains of carrots, flowers for the vase or the garden, freshly ground coffee, fish, chèvre, and all kinds of chocolate, such as these treats at the Boulangerie Première Moisson.

Canadian Charms: Quebec City 

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In Quebec City, one of Canada’s provincial capitals, history abounds. A walk here will reveal magnificent churches, museums, forts, and, of course, meandering cobblestone streets where there’s always a café for enjoying a cup of fragrant coffee and a buttery pastry.

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More than four hundred years ago, the first settlers colonized the riverbank of the St. Lawrence. When the English attacked, the settlement of Quebec was moved to the cliff tops. The ramparts still encircle ancient streets and are the perfect point from which to view the sweep of the river and the ramble of old houses and shops behind. Left: The mansard roofs are a French inheritance. Right: The St. Jean gate is one of three gates to Quebec City.

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The rolling countryside provides contrast to the city center, with its market gardens and apple trees, the fruit ripening this time of year. The woods offer a colorful background to the play of rich greens in the fields. Ile d’Orléans, just fifteen minutes from Quebec City, is a pastoral idyll of small towns linked by narrow roads. Visitors are charmed by historic houses, farm stands, artisans’ workshops, and roadside shrines here and there. Set in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, the borough is a perfect place to see the flame of autumn trees.

Text Catherine Calvert
Photography Kate Sears

 

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