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

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The Cider Route / La Route du Cidre

Some of the apply delights available for tasting at Michel Jodoin. Photo: David Musgrave

Some of the apply delights available for tasting at Michel Jodoin. Photo: David Musgrave

On my first visit to Canada in 2003, I went to Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake wine region, and tasted ice wine for the first time. Appropriately, I sipped while looking across the snow-covered vineyard at Inniskillin, a pioneer of this style of dessert wine that involves harvesting grapes frozen on the vine.

When I moved to Montreal, I discovered that Québec has its own take on this Canadian innovation. While there aren’t many grapes here, there are a lot of apples, so about 20 years ago someone invented ice cider. Like ice wine, it’s a viscous, sweet and delicious dessert wine.

I’ve enjoyed many a glass of ice cider over the past few years, as well as the quality sparkling cider that’s made in these parts, but only recently did I make my way to some of the cideries that produce it. Turns out there’s an official Cider Route in the Montéréregie region, which is directly across from the island of Montreal. Finding myself in pleasant countryside, tasting good cider at the source, less than an hour’s drive from downtown, was a very pleasant surprise! Continue reading

Borders / Les frontières

Crossing the US border near Montreal. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Crossing the US border near Montreal. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Last weekend my beau and I went for a mountain hike a few hours’ drive from Montreal. Nothing unusual about that, except that Noonmark Mountain is in the United States. As an Australian, this is weird. My homeland is a huge island (yes, huge: it’s only slightly smaller than the US mainland), so you can drive forever without crossing an international border (and go a long, long way before crossing the insignificant state borders; the largest state has a landmass of 2.5 million square kilometres).

This most recent US border crossing wasn’t as weird as it used to seem, after three years living an hour’s drive from the line on the map, and visiting nearby American destinations such as New York, Boston and the Adirondack mountains (where I hiked last weekend). However, it was still unusual for me in that I was only across the border for about seven hours. In my former life, this was inconceivable!

Going by the large number of cars with Québec license plates parked at the foot of Noonmark Mountain, such crossings are probably quite common for people from Montreal and surrounds. It’s probably also true for most Canadians, as the vast majority of the population live within a couple of hours’ drive of the US border (the sometimes-warm southern strip of The Great White North!). Continue reading

Cheers, Montreal! / Santé, Montréal!

McAuslan brewery's terrasse. Photo: Patricia Maunder

McAuslan brewery’s terrasse. Photo: Patricia Maunder

If you’re fond of a drink, especially quality alcoholic beverages served in venues of distinction, Montreal is a fine place to wash up in. It’s not on the New York scale of extraordinary bars, but after three years here I’m still a long way from working my way through the best on offer.

Even so, I’ve done quite a bit of first-hand research, from classy cocktails to craft beer, rooftops to an art hotel bar. So if you’re visiting Montreal, or a local looking for something new, read on! Continue reading

Kitchen rants and raves / Polémiques de la cuisine

Fresh Québec corn looks good, tastes even better. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Fresh Québec corn looks good, tastes even better. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Officially, spring started here more than a month ago, but it’s only in the past week that we’re seeing real signs of it. Tiny buds and the first little blooms, such as crocus and jonquils, are popping out, and within two weeks Montreal will go from grey to green. As the city enters its alfresco phase, I’m opening windows for the first time in six months, heading out without scarf, hat or gloves, and thinking about all the yummy meals I’m going to prepare and eat when fresh, local fruit and vegetables are available again soon.

For several months, sad-looking imported produce has been the norm. Even if it looks good when I buy it, things tend to spoil quickly as it takes several days to get here from farms way down south, from California to Peru. I have never bought tropical fruit here at any time of year for this reason – it has come a long way, and it shows.

The limited supply of fresh produce has been the biggest adjustment for me in the kitchen since moving here, because quality local fruit and veg are available year-round in Australia: it’s temperate in the south and tropical in the north, so there are fresh strawberries 365 days a year, for example, as well as seasonal pleasures, from mangoes to wild mushrooms.

What else is different about the kitchen experience between Melbourne and Montreal? From the miserable stuff erroneously called cream here, to the revelation that is super-fresh corn, it’s time for some (pretty minor) rants and raves … 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

Mind your language! / Surveillez votre langue!

"For Christmas, I want a complaint from the Office de la langue française" becomes "Pour Noël, j'ai eu une plainte de (for Christmas, I got a complaint from) l'Office de la langue française". Phone snap: Patricia Maunder

“For Christmas, I want a complaint from the Office de la langue française” becomes “Pour Noël, j’ai eu une plainte de (for Christmas, I got a complaint from) l’Office de la langue française”. Phone snap: Patricia Maunder

When I first visited Canada in 2003, I anticipated a thriving bilingualism given the country has two official languages: French and English. In this I was disappointed – except in Montreal, where everything seemed to be going on in French, but as soon as my stumbling efforts failed, everyone I met switched to flawless English, without ceremony.

After moving here, I soon concluded that this seemingly effortless bilingualism, which I have encountered pretty much everywhere in the city, is one of Montreal’s most impressive features. While in simple terms most of Québec only speaks French, and most of the rest of Canada (particularly the further west you go) only speaks English, this city is something like that bilingual utopia I had anticipated years ago. It’s all the more extraordinary because of the impediments to its success: the dominance of English in North America, and the world, on the one hand, and on the other some understandable but sometimes ridiculous laws that enforce the use of French in the province. Like when an Italian restaurant was told to replace the word pasta on its menu with the French word pâtes, or bilingual dog parks were introduced. OK, only one of those things is actually true … Continue reading