Imagine a city in France where the buildings are old and graceful, the food is sublime, and the antiquing could drive you to the poorhouse. Not much of a stretch, eh?Now imagine that city with citizens who will happily speak to you en anglais, where the drivers are fairly sane, and where everything from food to accommodations is discounted by 33 percent. Add to that an infinitely shorter plane ride and every winter sport imaginable, and you've got Quebec City in January, a getaway parfait.
Where to Stay
Hôtel Dominion 1912126 Rue St.-Pierre; 888/833-5253 or 418/692-2224, fax 418/692-4403; doubles from $95, including breakfast.Woe to any travelers who stay at the Dominion, for they'll never want to step outside. There's a modern lobby lounge, the 40 rooms are the size ofsmall fiefdoms, the giant beds are made up with 200-count cotton sheets, and the bathrooms have swimming poolsized tubs.
Auberge St. Antoine 10 RueSt.-Antoine; 888/692-2211 or 418/692-2211, fax 418/692-1177; doubles from $95, including breakfast. If you can make it past the lobby—with its flickering fireplace and sprawl-worthy couches—you won't be disappointed. The 31 rooms are individually decorated and have Jacuzzi tubs, views of the St. Lawrence River, and, yes, even Belgian chocolates.
L'Hôtel du Capitole 972 Rue St.-Jean; 800/363-4040 or 418/694-4040, fax 418/694-1916; doubles from $70. If you were a rock star on tour, you'd have to stay here. For one thing, the hotel adjoins one of the hipper performance spaces in the city. And for another, the room decoration is diva-appropriate: a star on every door, red velvet chaises, spotlit bathtubs right in the middle of some rooms, and bodacious sound systems.
Le Château Frontenac 1 Rue des Carrières; 800/441-1414 or 418/691-2157, fax 418/692-1751; doubles from $95.A list of celebrities as long as your leg has stayed at the Frontenac over the past 100 years. And it's not hard to see why: an exterior that is easily mistaken for a castle, service that makes you feel like royalty, and amenities fit for a king.
Relais Charles-Alexandre 91 Grande-Allée Est; 418/523-1220, fax 418/523-9556; doubles from $50, including breakfast. Nestled close to the culture of the Musée du Québec and the restaurants of Rue Cartier, this cheery 23-room auberge combinesa turn-of-the-centuryfaçade with a thoroughly modernized interior.The polished oak floorsgleam, and the comfy rooms are neat as a pin.
Where to Eat
Le Cochon Dingue 46 Blvd. Champlain; 418/692-2013; lunch for two $18. The salade dinguehas enough smoked salmon to feed a subway-load of finicky New Yorkers. And when the desserts finally come around, let's just say you'll understand the full meaning of the restaurant's name.
Initiale 54 Rue St.-Pierre; 418/694-1818;dinner for two $90. Dining here is the closest you'll get to a luxe dinner in Paris without flying overseas. Best bet: Fast all day and order the eight-course grand menu.
Le Saint-Amour 48 Rue Ste.-Ursule; 418/694-0667; dinner for two $80. The two-foot-thick stone walls make this the perfect winter space. The indigenous cuisine—caribou steak with cedar jelly; arctic char with fennel—is complemented by a 250-bottle wine list.
Métropolitain 1188 Rue Cartier; 418/649-1096; dinner for two $40. The food is Japanese, the menu's in French, and the sushi has a distinctly north-of-the-border bent. The fusion cuisine is served up by wispy waitresses and consumed by a young and glitteringly hip crowd.
Café du Monde 57 Rue Dalhousie; 418/692-4455; brunch for two $25. This boisterous brasserie is the place for brunch among Quebec City's young and old alike. Moules marinières, bulging crêpes, a mean pear and sugar pie, and a bowl of chocolat chaud heat things up on a chilly day.
Laurie Raphaël 117 Rue Dalhousie; 418/692-4555; dinner for two $85. French, Canadian, and Asian cooking styles work their magic on au courant ingredients such as Chilean sea bass and portobello mushrooms. Laurie Raphaël is the Quebec City foodie's pick of the moment.
Imagine riding astride the Concorde on a transatlantic flight. That will put the gleeful screams of children and adults at the Dufferin Terrace Slides (adjacent to the Château Frontenac; 418/692-2955) into context. Aboard one of the desperately thin wooden toboggans, you'll achieve supersonic speeds—well, okay, 37 mph—on a 300-foot-long frictionless ice slide.
Ten minutes east of the city is the 272-foot Montmorency Falls (2490 Royale Ave., Beauport; 418/663-2877). Mostly frozen this time of year, the falls' icy base also makes for perfect sledding.
Sure, there's skiing. In fact, Mont-Ste.-Anne (2000 Blvd. Beau-Pré, Beaupré; 418/827-4561) is just 25 miles away, with 56 slopes, a six-month season, and some of the region's best skiing.
If you don't feel like leaving town, try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on the Plains of Abraham. Rent equipment from Vélo Passe-Sport Plein Air (77-A Rue Ste.-Anne; 418/801-1920). Or skate at the outdoor ice-skating rink at the Place D'Youville (across the street from L'Hôtel du Capitole, Rue St.-Jean; 418/691-4685).
Can't afford that trip on an icebreaker to the North Pole?Well, take the cheapest, easiest alternative: the Quebec City-Lévis Ferry (10 Rue des Traversiers; 418/643-8420). The boat's sharp prow easily cuts through the ice when the St. Lawrence is semi-frozen, and after a 15-minute trip, you can disembark in Lévis and get the best view of Vieux-Québec money can buy.
Carnaval de Québec (citywide; call 418/626-3716 for information) is the ultimate winter event. This year it runs from January 28 to February 13, and, as always, there are some silly ways to have some chilly fun: dogsled races, snow baths, and even a snow-sculpture competition.
A Dog's Life
I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I was about to spend my day—my whole minus-10-degrees-Fahrenheit day—with dogs, real live 100-pound sled-pulling bowsers with names like Nanookand Tiloup.
Denis Montminy has been breeding and working with Siberian huskies and malamutes for 32 years; he owns 162 dogs and knows each one by name. As he and his guide start outfitting the lightweight wooden sleds with pillows and blankets, all at once every single dog starts barking. This clamor is typical working-dog zeal. The dogs are born and bred to pull a sled. In fact, "There's no training the dogs," says Denis. "They train themselves and they train each other. All humans do is socialize them."
Soon the dogs are harnessed and we are being whisked through scenery out of some cheesy Celine Dion Christmas special—except that it's real. Long eggshell-white corridors through the firs. Frozen ponds that look as if they've been dusted with disco-era eye makeup. Ice-encased branches clacking in the breeze.
For a while, Denis lets me drive the sled. There's nothing to it, really. Occasionally you apply the brake. Occasionally you shout a command to turn left or right. But the dogs—bright, ebullient, straining at their harnesses—do the work. We decide on a half-day trip of about 22 kilometers (about 14 miles), but the dogs can easily run 100 kilometers in a day. And the colder the day, the better. "The dogs are more effective at twenty below [Celsius; about four below Fahrenheit] than two above," says Denis.
Later, as I slump over my café au lait and maple syrupdrenched pastry back at home base, I can't stop thinking about the dogs. Driven by instinct, they answer to calls that are literally bred into their DNA. Given the opportunity, they carry out that instinct with passion and pure commitment, with every fiber of their being. Don't you wish you could be more like them?
Aventure Nord-Bec,665 Rue Saint-Aimé, Saint-Lambert de Lévis; 418/889-8001, fax 418/889-8307; rates from $55 for a half day to $95 for a whole day, including meals.
Where to Shop
If you're on the prowl for truly cool consumerism, amble over to Rue St.-Paul, Quebec's downtown strip of arts, antiques, and hip souvenirs. Color's the thing at Vitrine(329 Rue St.-Paul; 418/694-7384), stocked as it is with modern furniture and lifestyle accessories crafted by local designers. As long as you're north of the border, you might as well smoke a Cuban, and you can get a box of them at Le Connaisseur Boutique de Cigares(321A Rue St.-Paul; 418/692-4333). If you had a Canadian grandmother and were rummaging through her attic, you'd probably find the same stuff as they have at À la Capucine(145 Rue St.-Paul; 418/692-5318): latch-hook rugs from the thirties, painted but weathered pine benches, tables, chests, and armoires. Not to be outdone, neighboring Le Rendez-vous du Collectionneur (123 Rue St.-Paul; 418/692-3099)offers a similar mishmash: moose lamps, oldie-but-goodie toys in their original boxes, and Art Deco sconces. Vintage-lovers will think they've achieved nirvana at Décenie(117 Rue St.-Paul; 418/694-0403), which brims with to-die-for Deco leather chairs, bead lamps, Mickey Mouse phones, even working Westinghouse and Silex appliances. Size matters, but shipping might be costly at Boutique aux Mémoires Antiquités Inc. (105 Rue St.-Paul; 418/692-2180), which tempts shoppers with things likea six-foot-tall burnt bamboo Victorian hall tree and its pride: the the the 1870 walnut wheel of a three-masted schooner, one of the few in existence.
On the Town
In a city that Old Man Winter could claim as his headquarters, it's not surprising that there are many places to discover the joys of liquid warmth. At Bar St.-Laurent (in the Château Frontenac, 1 Rue des Carrières; 418/692-3861), cashmere-clad women sip port by the stone fireplace as their male counterparts recount their snowy exploits. When the younger set is thirsty, they go to Charlotte Bar Digestif (575 Grande-Allée Est; 418/647-2000). There they can make eyes across the curvaceous bar, wiggle to live Latin, soul, swing, or jazz, or cuddle up on a couch illuminated only by the silvery-blue light of a 75-gallon aquarium. Housed in the same building as Charlotte, Maurice Discothèque (575 Grande-Allée Est; 418/647-2000) — pink drinks, pulsing techno-pop, a cheek-by-jowl dance floor — is so cool that Mick Jagger stopped by when he was in town. With 200 kinds of beer, a mahogany bar, and a fire that always stays lit, it's no wonder locals love Pub St. Alexandre(1087 Rue St.-Jean; 418/694-0015).