A Living Francophone Museum
By Kelly Villasuso
When I set out on a recent trip to Québec, I did so specifically looking for the answer to a long-harbored question: Can a Canadian city of French origin that had been under British rule until 150 years ago, (an anniversary they are celebrating vigorously throughout the country this year), truly be my gateway to an immersive experience in Francophone culture without ever leaving North America?
With my trip a fait accompli, it is with one part joy — Québec City is so close — and one part sadness — so much time has been wasted — that I share the answer to my question: Oui il peut (Yes it can)!
Not only did I discover the ease with which I could satiate my love of things I had traditionally associated with the French motherland across the pond, such as language, art, wine, and food, I discovered a people as passionate about preserving their French heritage as they are about cherishing their uniquely Québécois culture.
I also discovered a city in which 409 years of history proudly unfolded before me as I strolled the narrow, cobblestone streets within its fortified walls — the only remaining fortified city in North America north of Mexico. As I ambled in and out of the surviving doors to the city (Porte St. Jean, Porte St. Louis, Porte Prescott, and Porte Kent) and historic landmarks, passed through the lively squares and sacred battlefields, and traversed from Haute-Ville to Basse-Ville by foot or funicular, the very heart of this centuries-old city pulsed around me, offering up its treasures like a living museum.
The reverence for the rich past of this UNESCO World Heritage city could be seen in so many ways, such as the way in which Vieux Québec is painstakingly tended day and night, or the way in which the stories of its turbulent and triumphant past flow freely from the tongues of tour guides (the likes of Madame Michelle Demers) and regular Quebecers, alike.
However, I also found the Québécois veneration for the past was artfully balanced with a desire to be au courant, particularly in its culinary and hospitality offerings, such as restaurant Laurie Raphaël (whose exquisite food, exceptional wine and superior service rivals the best in the world and should not be missed) and Auberge Saint-Antoine.
Auberge Saint-Antoine Is Past Perfect
Located in the Îlot Hunt (Old Port) in Québec City, Auberge Saint-Antoine has made an art of sharing the past … perfectly. While the luxurious Auberge literally envelops the physical remains of a wharf, a cannon battery, and countless archaeological findings of significance in its three historical buildings, I personally found it does so reverentially and beyond comfortably.
The artifacts discovered throughout the eight years of construction of Auberge Saint-Antoine, some of which dated back to the 1600s, were all catalogued and restored by Québec City’s Conservation Center. These artifacts linked the hotel to every stage of Québec City’s three-and-a-half-century progression, serving as inspiration to the Auberge proprietors, the Price family, and now reflect “an element of surprise” as you wander throughout the hotel and see these treasures artfully displayed.
As I rode the elevator to my room on the fifth floor, I felt as though I was traveling back through centuries of history. Each of the six floors in the Auberge is associated with an archaeological layer, such as 1660–1725 or 1880–1925, and every room tells a unique story of the life and times of a former resident during that period. For instance, my room was La Chambre d’un Tailleur (The Room of a Tailor) and, in addition to being incredibly well-appointed, came complete with hand-cut buttons on display from Mr. Gaudiose Montreuil, the tailor himself.
The experience at Auberge Saint-Antoine was so thoughtful and immersive, I often felt as though I was spending une nuit dans le musée (a night in the museum). However, the five-star service and modern amenities of the Auberge, including its gorgeous restaurant, Panache, and its spa, gym, and movie theatre, quickly reminded me I was in an award-winning Relais & Château property.
With its proximity to the St. Lawrence River and the Old Port, Auberge Saint-Antoine is a prime location to stay during Canada’s 150th anniversary events scheduled in Québec City throughout the year, including the Tall Ships flotilla scheduled to embark on Québec City between July 18 and 23, 2017.
Where to Stay
Hotel Le Crystal–An all-suite, five-star luxury boutique hotel conveniently located near the museums, the Old City, and restaurants. 1100, rue de la Montagne, Montréal, QC • 1-866-599-6674 • www.hotellecrystal.com
Montréal … La Destination des Arts
For some, Montréal is a gateway to the Province of Québec and Canada. However, I found Montréal is worth much more than a stopover, especially in this the year of its 375th anniversary and Canada’s 150th. Everywhere I turned, Montréal was a convergence of old and new; French, British and Québécois; chic and bohemian; traditional and nouveau — from art to architecture, performances to poutines.
As Canada’s proclaimed cultural hub, I found some of the city’s street art, as well as the interactive exhibit in Au Sommet Place Ville Marie, nearly as intriguing as the exceptional exhibits in the Montréal Musée des Beaux-Arts and Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal. The city truly offers something for everyone and, because one percent of every public building’s budget must be dedicated to public art, it is all very accessible.
I also happily discovered that Montréalers’ love of the arts extends to the culinary sort, too. With the most restaurants per capita in North America outside of New York City, the city truly seems to be bursting at its seams with options covering the full culinary spectrum, such as the fine dining at Chef Daniel Boulud’s Maison Boulud at the Ritz-Carlton or a hot, more local establishment, Vin Papillion Wine Bar.
Whether you go for a music festival, an avant-garde film festival, or special exhibit, to eat your way through its plethora of culinary options, or simply to immerse yourself in the energetic vibe of this young, old city, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Montréal is Canada’s mecca for all the arts.
Where to Stay
Ritz-Carlton, Montréal –The prestigious AAA Five Diamond Ritz-Carlton Montréal is the original Ritz-Carlton and dates to 1912. This iconic hotel is the grand dame of the Ritz-Carlton family, as well as of Sherbrooke Street.
1228 Sherbrooke St. West, Montréal, QC • 1-514-842-4212 • www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/canada/montreal