Weekend: Quebec City
Finally, tucked away down on Rue Couillard is my favorite Québecois café–Chez Temporel. I stumbled onto this student-soaked haven years ago, with its steamy windows and generous bowls of café au lait. “Any revolution starts at the Temporel,” says our knowledgeable guide, and God knows I’d sign just about any petition if I could sink my teeth into another gooey croissant-and-cheese sandwich.
Gliding down into Lower Town via funicular is like descending into the soul of a little French village. Take a sharp right onto one of the oldest and prettiest streets in North America, Rue du Petit-Champlain, or go straight onto Rue Sous-le-Fort, a postcard-perfect street with several high-end shops. At Atelier la Pomme, dueling designers refashion recycled clothing and get crazy with fur. If your inner Daniel Boone needs a boost, La Chasse-Galerie offers serious knives, fur hats, leather jackets, and slingshots with little carved bear heads.
Just around the corner, Rue Notre-Dame takes you along to Place-Royale, a French-medieval-style stone square (rebuilt from the original plans) lifted straight from central casting. From here, heading north, you can visit the offbeat Museum of Civilization, which on any given day may have an exhibit on, say, space aliens, in addition to a very thorough permanent display on the history of the city.
Or stroll along Rue St-Paul, a densely packed “antiques corridor,” and home to Le Café St-Malo, where a crazed French chef will cook you a “bouillabaisse to remember.” Farther down the street is my favorite upscale T-shirt shop, Le Roquet, where tight-fitting tees feature bandito cats and philosophical carrots.
Heading south again, a midday stop at Le Petit Cochon Dingue lets you check out the Christmas decorations (rolling pins), sample country-style soup with a slice of quiche, and take a gander at the fresh gateaux and tartlettes, including the tempting Québécois specialty, tarte au sucre (sugar pie).
A vertiginous climb back to Upper Town returns us to Rue St-Jean and Le Capitole, our extremely cool hotel, where our room is a cross between Greenwich Village studio apartment and Maine lighthouse. Our two-level nest has gargoyle-like views over the Old City, a three-volume set of Les Misérables for sale in the tiny living room, and a skylight over the bed, smack in the midst of a painted, stormy sky.
In the morning, we’ll take our customary window seat in the dining room, order up a bowl of café au lait, sample some fresh granola scattered over tangy yogurt, and watch the skaters across the street at Place d’Youville. It’s snowing. People walking by look fantastic, bundled in their down, fur, and leather confections. Later we might check out cross-country skiing on the nearby Plains of Abraham or stop into the Frontenac for a warming glass of anything, looking out over the frozen St. Lawrence. Whether we’re inside or out, it feels as though we’ve come in from the cold.