Living in maple heaven / Vivre au paradis de l’érable

maple buckets

Gathering maple sap the old-fashioned way. Photo: Patricia Maunder

March may as well be renamed Maple in Québec. In the province that produces three-quarters of the world’s maple syrup, it’s literally flavour of the month when the harvest of maple sap begins. It’s a sign that spring is here, and it’s time to eat even more maple goodness than usual, from the traditional meals at maple farms, to seasonal treats, including maple beer and latte.

In Australia I had a choice of two brands of maple syrup in nearly identical bottles. It’s fairly pricey there, so used sparingly, and limited to but a few dishes (particularly pancakes), or entirely absent no thanks to maple-flavoured syrup – urgh! Now I live in the sweet spot of the maple universe: it’s way cheaper; there are as many ‘brands’ as there are maple farms (so thousands); it’s available in different grades, from golden/delicate to dark/strong; it’s a pleasure not limited to syrup form; and, especially at this time of year, it’s everywhere – even on the Canadian flag! Continue reading

Winter a la carte at Montebello /L’hiver à la carte à Montebello

doglsed Montebello

Dog-sledding at Montebello. Photo: Patricia Maunder

It’s been quite the dud winter so far, with little sign of improvement on the horizon. No snow to speak of until just after Christmas, and generally much warmer than usual so what snow there is keeps melting and, even worse, it sometimes rains! My plans for lots of winter fun, including skating, snowshoeing and tubing down snow slides, has been badly impacted. Fortunately, one keenly anticipated weekend of winter activities worked out perfectly, as a generous 40cm of snow fell in one day shortly before my beau and I checked into Le Château Montebello.

Fairmont’s luxurious, giant log cabin of a hotel set on extensive resort grounds has got to be one of the best places for travellers looking to tick off a bunch of Canadian winter pleasures: snow-and-ice-based sports, crackling fires, a huge Christmas tree, rustic-meets-luxurious vintage decor that’s the epitome of Canadiana (in my mind, but it might seem old-fashioned to locals?). After driving about 90 minutes’ west of Montreal, I was enchanted the moment we drove under the property’s big log entrance arch, across the snow-covered grounds, then checked in in the grand central foyer. Continue reading

Charlevoix getaway / Charlevoix escapade

Sunrise at Le Manoir Richelieu, looking across the St Lawrence River. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Sunrise at Le Manoir Richelieu, looking across the St Lawrence River. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Whales, a fancy rail journey, and a grand old hotel: it’s the kind of holiday combination I really like the sound of. So when I discovered it was all waiting for me in the nearby region of Charlevoix soon after moving here, it went high on my long travel wish list. I finally went there recently, though sadly, in the interim, the fancy rail journey has been reduced to a fairly functional affair, so skipped that.

Le Manoir Richelieu is still the grandest hotel around though, and it was peak whale-watching season … plus the weather was perfect, I went sea-kayaking and hiking, and was generally stunned by the natural beauty of yet another part of Québec. I was reminded, yet again, that Aussies who visit Canada but don’t get further east than the Rockies are missing out on a whole lot of wonder just in this province alone … Continue reading

Québec’s fairytale capital / Capitale de conte de fées de Québec

Looking along Terrasse Dufferin to Chateau Frontenac. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Looking along Terrasse Dufferin to Chateau Frontenac. Photo: Patricia Maunder

I don’t write about Québec City as often as I should. The province’s capital and prettiest city is only a few hours’ drive east of Montreal, so since moving here I’ve added annual visits to the two earlier trips when I travelled all the way from Australia. I tell friends coming to the region to include it in their itinerary if they possibly can, primarily because the fortified, historic heart of the city overlooking the St Lawrence River is utterly charming and picturesque (for North Americans, it’s like going to an old European town without crossing the Atlantic). So let me put it on record: Québec City is not only one of the best places to visit in the province, it’s also one of the best places on the continent.

Earlier posts have covered a few of the town’s pleasures, including the ice hotel and winter carnival. There’s so much more though. On a recent weekend, my packed itinerary mostly involved returning to some old favourites (including the recently renovated Chateau Frontenac), but also some new experiences. Follow me and get some more ideas for your next, or first, Québec City sojourn … Continue reading

Gasping in the Gaspé / Haletant en Gaspésie

Percé Rock, from my balcony, around 4am. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Percé Rock, from my balcony, around 4am. Photo: Patricia Maunder

As described in previous posts, I’ve had a lot of outdoor fun during the winters here in Québec: skating and snow-shoeing, as well as the odd bit of dog-sledding and snow-mobiling. However, I’ve not got around to nearly as much hiking and canoeing or kayaking during the warmer months as I would like. So last week’s trip to the Gaspé Peninsula (Gaspésie in French) was a welcome and truly wonderful parade of outdoor summer adventure (full disclosure: I was a – very fortunate – guest of Tourism Québec and Québec Maritime Tourism).

It was an action-packed five days, because the weather was sunny and the days long (just past the summer solstice, being 49 degrees north and just west of the next time zone meant sunrise was around 4.15am, and dawn light began around 3.30!). It was also action packed because there are so many spectacular sights in the Gaspé, both on the coast and in the forested interior. In no particular order, here are five of my favourite things to do in the region, from grand hikes to relaxing with the local microbrew … Continue reading

A walk in the park / Une promenade dans le parc

Autumn colour in Gatineau Park. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Autumn colour in Gatineau Park. Photo: Patricia Maunder

I was in Ottawa recently … but I can’t tell you much about that because this blog’s dedicated to Quebec, and Canada’s capital is in the bordering province of Ontario. Right on the border, as it happens (because, as with Australia’s capital city, Canberra, Ottawa was built between rival cities, Montreal and Toronto), so I can tell you about a remarkable chunk of Quebec that’s within what’s known as Canada’s Capital Region, Gatineau Park. Just a 10-15 minute drive from downtown Ottawa, this 361 square kilometres of forest and lakes (and a former Prime Minister’s estate) is an all-seasons playground, but I was there specifically to enjoy autumn’s blaze of colours. The eye-popping patches of yellow, orange and red that leapt out at me were not the only pleasant surprises on this warm, sunny afternoon. Continue reading

It’s cold! It’s crazy! / Il fait froid! C’est fou!

The adventures with snowmobiles, dog sleds and ice karts related in my previous post weren’t the only unforgettable experiences I had on my recent  press trip to Québec City and the nearby region of Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean (full disclosure: I was a guest of Tourisme Québec).

Chilling out at the Ice Hotel. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Chilling out at the Ice Hotel. Photo: Patricia Maunder

It seems there’s no end to the  ways locals have found to have fun with snow and ice – the only limit probably being their ability to convince a few other daring and/or crazy people to join in. I was hovering around my daring/crazy limit the other day when I got out of a divine outdoor hot spa and threw myself into the snow … but only after I’d had a few chilly close encounters over the preceding week to adjust my sense of normality. Continue reading