The Artist’s Quarter
Unflatteringly referred to as “plywood city” in the 1960s because so many storefronts were boarded up, today the St-Roch neighborhood is one of the more intriguing outside the walls. Thanks to a visionary mayor who revitalized the quarter by building parks and gardens, relocating the School of Visual Arts of Laval University and the Arts and Crafts House there, and awarding grants to entrepreneurs to open high-end shops, Saint Joseph St. West now attracts students, locals and tourists. A cornerstone of the city’s plan to fuse the arts, culture and education is the Medusa Project, a 1995 housing co-op thatprovides space for visiting artists to encourage exchange of ideas.
The quarter is filled with quirky spots to drink and dine. The Taverne Jos Dion was the last “men only” bar. In 1986 the city gave the Taverne the choice of integrating or closing down. The owner opted to close it, but the clients insisted on keeping it open, even if it meant going coed. Located on St. Joseph West and St. Valier, the 68 year-old Taverne may be seedy but it’s certainly a one- of- a- kind beer joint.
So is Le-Cercle, an inexpensive priced restaurant with great food and a great appetite for alternative music, hosted in a concert venue next door that’s part of the complex.
You’ll also find bakeries like La Croquembouche specializing in all natural, no-preservatives ice cream and sorbets, plus other edible delights.
Spend a day getting up close and personal with the boutique farms on L’île d’Orléans that grow the ingredients that make Quebecois food memorable. Probably the best way to experience this agro tour is to rent a car or motorcycle, as private tour operators only provide a tiny taste of what’s on offer. The idea is to picnic your way across the island.
Named for the Duke of Orleans, the L’île d’Orléans is Quebec City’s food basket. Situated five kilometers down river from the city, it is dotted with small businesses, some of them certified by the government as “ecomuseums,” where you can meet the owners and buy local products that ultimately wind up on restaurant tables. You probably won’t have the time to visit all six parishes, so you might be interested in renting the two hour 20 minute audio tour ($17.25) from the L’île d’Orléans’ Tourism Information Center in Saint-Perre (www.iledorleans.com), the island’s first parish. It details the island’s history, chief attractions, and resources. Or you can just meander along, stopping at our favorite attractions whenever your appetite dictates.
A favorite is the tiny Ferme des Anges, where Anne Noël Deschamps turns out 50 legendary fruit pies a day right in front of your eyes. Basically a one-woman operation, Deschamps does everything from baking to delivery. Buy a slice, devour it on a picnic table overlooking the river, and if the pie is strawberry, sprinkler it with black pepper to bring out the flavor.
Cassis Monna & Filles is a pretty shop famous for its black currant alchemy – transforming the local fruit into an award-winning high-end Crème de Cassis. Here you can also buy aperitif wines, wine jelly, and other black currant products, plus sandwiches, salads and ice cream. The federal government has designated the shop as an economusée with a grant to operate part of the premises as a museum devoted to making wine.
Taste and buy the first cheese made in America at Les Fromages de L’île d’Orléans. Staff dressed in period costumes let you taste three cheeses derived from the original recipe-cottage cheese, doormat (mat) cheese and the aged or refined cheese. According to researchers, the characteristic taste of the cheese was derived from micro-organisms that developed on the reeds used by locals to make the mats on which the cheese was dried.
Love cider? At Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau, you can sample a flight of ciders including aperitifs made with maple syrup, strawberry juice, or black currant juice, ice cider or sparkling cider.
No island visit would be complete without a stop at the economusée La Forge á Pique-Assaut, where the delightful welder/artist Guy Bel creates unique candle holders, fireplace accessories, and commissions. Trained as a fine arts painter, he lost his job in Lyon because his employers said that he was “crazy” to paint landscapes with red sand. Only later did Guyrealize two things –that he was colorblind, and that his work was a big seller in Flagstaff because there the sand was actually red!
A little night music
A magical way to spend an evening is viewing the 40 minute outdoor audiovisual production The Image Mill 3D. Projected on the grain silos at the Old Port, the show cleverly portrays four centuries of Quebec City’s history through stylized drawings.
Quebec City was the birthplace of the Cirque du Soleil®. Its newest show, Les Chemins Invisibles™ (The Invisible Paths), is staged as a free street event under the Dufferin highway overpass in the lower town.
Prefer something a little more hair raising? Walking with raised lanterns, period-dressed guides from Les Visites Fantômes de Québec/Ghost Tours escort you through the city, spinning tales of executions gone awry, murders and crimes that give your Quebec City experience a chilling twist.
Quebec City is a walkable wonderland. But when a little romance is required, something less arduous like a horse- drawn carriage tour may better set the mood. Calèches de la Nouvelle-France (www.calechesquebec.com) offers three different tours priced from $10 to $240 per person.
Or let someone else’s feet do the pedaling by hiring a pedi-cab. Tours Ludovica (www.toursludovica.com/english.html) will pedal a couple around the lower town for $40.
Want to rev up the action? Rent a Harley from Prémont Harley-Davidson (www.premont-harley.com) and cover the city, L’île d’Orléans and other day trips under your own steam.
Although many museums offer inexpensive and insightful walk- about tours as part of their programs, you can really get your culture on with a private tour from a company like Tours Voir Québec (www.ToursVoirQuebec.com) which offer English-speaking city, food and countryside tours.
Get a perspective on where things are and what you might like to see by taking a non-narrated hop on- hop off nonpolluting éclobus, $1 each trip. Look for stops with the e sign. Check the schedule at http://www.rtcqdson.com.
If You Go
Check www.quebecregion.com for additional information.
Photos and text by Sheila Sobell and Richard N. Every, professional worldwide travel photojournalists. See what they recommend at www.writersobell.com.
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