Paule doesn’t need a script or a schedule. She knows Québec City inside-out and creates informal, flexible and highly personalised local experiences in her charming hometown. Today, we’re both in a freewheeling mood so we’ll brave the rain, take a walk, check out the sights, and see where we end up.
It doesn’t take first-time visitors long to realise there’s something unique about Québec City. A big part of this uniqueness, of course, is the Frenchness; the novelty of being so close to the US border and finding people who can barely speak English. But it’s not just language that sets Québec City apart. It’s the only fortified city in the US and Canada, and the walls have a powerful Europeanizing effect. Paule took me to the Plains of Abraham where in the eighteenth century the French battled the British for control of eastern Canada. The British victory resulted in the demise of New France, but the French language has never left this corner of the continent.
It’s not exactly a challenging walk down the hill from the Plains of Abraham, yet we felt we had done enough exercise to earn our first snack of the day. Paule was in the mood for something typically Canadian and introduced me to the Beavertail from Queues de Castor, an indulgently unhealthy piece of fried dough covered in chocolate, cream and syrup. At least the resulting sugar rush had a positive impact – it powered us towards our next meal.
Québec City is famed for its tourtière (meat pies) and Le Buffet de L’Antiquaire has a reputation for cooking up the best pies in the city. This is serious Québécois comfort food, although after half a Beavertail and half a meat pie, I wondered if our plans to eat poutine – Québec’s ‘national dish’ of fries, curd cheese and gravy – were a bit optimistic.
After overdoing things on the pie front we explored the charming backstreets of the Old Town. It felt like we’d entered a French village.
As we followed the old walls, Paule told me about the city’s rich history. But rain was pouring thick and fast. We needed a warm place to retreat to. Did Paule know any well-hidden bars?
Of course she did. At Temps Partiel, a grungy bar in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste district of the city, I’d hoped for a typically Québécois cocktail but had to settle for something that’s found across Canada. The Bloody Caesar is a Bloody Mary made with Clamato, a watered-down tomato juice made with clams. It’s fair to say that Canada’s national cocktail isn’t for everyone…
With time running out, we decided we needed more food as a matter of urgency. Casse-Croûte Pierrot is one of those off-the-beaten-track places you’d never find without the help of a local such as Paule. It’s in Lower Québec, a taxi ride from the Old City, and Paule’s friend Karine joined us for the feast. We scoffed our way through two piles of French fries, cheese, meat and gravy.
I can’t recommend visiting Québec City highly enough. And when you’re there, look up Paule for a unique insight into this beautiful town.