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Just back from Quebec

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5 December 2013 by Alex Stewart

Terhi Millar travelled to Québec in Canada recently and explored Montréal and Québec City as well as the luxurious Sacacomie Lodge. The trip was full of highlights but her top three were as follows:

Montréal sightseeing

"Our guide, Ruby, met us at the hotel for a three-hour city sightseeing tour. She was full of information and told us interesting facts about the city; for instance, Montréal is the only island city. It's also the most Mediterranean city in North America, meaning that the lifestyle is similar to the laidback Mediterranean way of life with no rushing around.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Montreal

We also learned that Montréal is Canada's kissing capital - fear not though, you are meant to shake hands when you first meet someone and on second meeting, two kisses on cheeks! The European feel of the city didn't stop there. The food and time taken to enjoy it is very important for Montrealers. We were taken to one of Ruby's favourite food markets, which was full of local seasonal produce. Québec is known as 'the garden of Canada' and therefore produces plenty of vegetables, fruit and dairy products.

Being harvest season and Halloween when we visited, many of the stalls were decorated with pumpkins of all sizes! We also made a stop at Schwartz's, a cosy deli specialising in salt beef (http://schwartzsdeli.com/ ) and you should definitely stop here for a lunch. The salt beef is made with a secret family recipe and marinated for 10 days to reach that lovely melt in your mouth texture. Another classic Montréal delicacy is bagels and you can find several bakeries made in massive wood fired ovens.

Schwatz's Deli, Montreal

Montréal is in fact the largest French speaking city outside of France and you can certainly see the French influence in town. The metro system, for example, is modelled after the Paris Metro, with ornamental entrances to the underground. Eagle-eyed travellers may also spot that lamp posts vary depending where you are in town - this was, and still is a sign of different parts of town."

Staying at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Québec City

Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

"Our base for the last night was the grand Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel in Québec City. The hotel is located on top of a hill overlooking Québec City and the Saint Lawrence River and is truly a landmark hotel. The property feels genuinely world class, not only because of its location, but also because of the general atmosphere and service, which is second to none. The rooms are very spacious and boast views of either the river or the city. The hotel's breakfast room overlooks the Saint Lawrence River so make sure that you allow plenty of time for to enjoy the views over your pancakes."

Visiting Sacacomie Lodge

"Sacacomie Lodge in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts was definitely one of the highlights on this trip. Sadly we didn't have time to stay overnight, but following this short visit, I'm definitely planning a return trip to stay there soon. Located halfway between Montréal and Québec City, near Mastigouche Wildlife Sanctuary, this hotel is made for those who want to be in the middle of nature.

View from Sacacomie Lodge

Immediately upon walking into the hotel, you're met by a lobby featuring a huge fireplace. This rustic theme continues throughout the hotel, which has been built in a log cabin style. Many of the rooms overlook the Sacacomie Lake, offering beautiful wilderness views.

The hotel also offers exciting day excursions including snowmobile treks, huskie trips, tobogganing and wildlife safaris in the summertime. Perhaps what stood out for me the most though was their wellness and spa area. The hotel has a beautiful in- and outdoor wellness area consisting of swimming and plunge pools, hot tubs and saunas. Even the saunas have windows so that you can admire the view!

This hotel is one of the best wilderness getaways I have been too and I would recommend it warmly for anyone looking for a getaway in order to revel in the wild, whilst still enjoying the comforts and pampering of a first class hotel!"

Stay at Sacacomie Lodge in winter

Recommendations and advice for visiting Québec

"My top recommendation would be to visit in the wintertime. Summer time is the peak season in Québec, but I would venture out in the winter months instead and head to Montréal and Québec City to experience the Canadian winter. If you're into skiing, there are many good places for a spot of downhill skiing, but Québec also offers great non-ski activities.

Combine a visit to Montréal with a week's skiing on Mt Tremblant, Québec's premier ski resort

I'd also recommend sampling local restaurants. I'd describe the cuisine as a mix of French and American. The local Québécois delicacy is 'poutines' which is made with French fries, topped with a light brown gravy-like sauce and cheese curds, which is served in many restaurants. In Québec City, make sure you eat at Le Lapin Sauté, which is located in the old part of Québec City and serves classic rustic French cuisine; they're known for their rabbit stew, which is a perfect winter warmer.

The history of the region is very interesting and both Montréal and Québec City were more European than I expected. The Canadians really made an impression too - they were so friendly and welcoming! If you've been to Scandinavia or the Alps in the winter, you should consider Québec next time. The combination of vibrant cities, culture and top class hotels, with the option of getting back to nature, trying a range of winter activities and enjoying great food, make this a wonderful destination with something for everyone."

Explore Montréal and Québec City in winter

Discover the winter wonderland of Québec

Places to stay in Québec

Montreal Ritz Carlton, Montreal, Canada

Fairmont Queen Elisabeth, Montreal

"We stayed at the Fairmont Queen Elisabeth in Montréal, which is a centrally located 5-star hotel. The rooms were very spacious and the location couldn't be better. Montréal has a large network of underground tunnels and in the basement of the hotel you'll find the main railway station with services running to Québec City, elsewhere in Canada and New York as well.

The hotel has an interesting history as well - this is where the iconic photo of Yoko Ono and John Lennon in bed was taken. To celebrate the couple, the hotel now has a Yoko Ono & John Lennon suite available.

Breakfast was plentiful with lots of options, including honey made in hives housed on the hotel roof. All in all, it's a great place to stay when in Montréal."

Ritz Carlton, Montréal

"Perhaps the best hotel in Montreal, the Ritz Carlton is a stylish, world-class hotel. The hotel first opened in 1912 but has been recently completely renovated and brought into the 21st century, with all the mod cons you'd expect in a contemporary 5-star hotel.

The public areas have been kept as they were but in the rooms you'll find electronic gadgets and luxuries like a television in the bathroom, heated bathroom floors and so forth. The hotel's restaurant, Maison Boulud, is a beautiful 'place to see and to be seen' when eating out and many famous locals can be seen lunching here. The restaurant has an airy conservatory as well as several fireplaces where you can cosy up in the winter."

Hotel 71, Québec City

"Hotel 71 is located on the "Wall Street" of the old town in Québec City and is housed in the old head office of the national bank. The hotel only has 60 rooms so it feels cosy and intimate. You'll find wooden floors and high ceilings in rooms, many of which are decorated in Nordic style. The location of this hotel is excellent allowing you to explore the chocolate box old town easily."

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