Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC — Guillaume Tardif has witnessed dramatic and positive changes to his city in the past five years. Since the 400th-anniversary celebrations of the founding of Quebec City, art and creativity have flourished in this provincial capital that has never lacked for imagination. But funds and political will haven’t always been present. The quadrennial fest, though, sparked a flurry of spending on the arts that has led to an elevation in sculpture, dance, painting, design, music, and gastronomy, making exploring beyond the walls of the old city a must for visitors.
“There’s been a big boom in Quebec City and in the art scene since 2008,” says Tardif, a sculptor and visual artist. “It’s a very healthy economy for us and that means it is good these days to be an artist in Quebec City.”
Tardif is one of five Canadian artists who will be featured on the upcoming season of “Les Rendez-vous,” a series on ARTV, a CBC French-language broadcast property. His art installation incorporates three performance artists who mimic the motions of the waves as they take the ferry across to Lévis, a suburb on the south side of the St. Lawrence River. Tardif’s installation ran only for one weekend during the filming of the TV series, but the ferry crossing is still a trip to make. It costs just $3.25 (if you stay on board instead of disembarking at Lévis you don’t need to pay the round-trip fare) and the pleasant 10-minute crossing offers sublime views of the city from the water. The iconic Fairmont Chateau Frontenac looms over the metropolis as it has for 120 years. While the landmark beckons a majority of the more than 4.5 million tourists who visit the city each year, intriguing and worthwhile activities — including the ferry crossing — are found in Quebec City’s Lower Town.
A vibrant new scene merges almost seamlessly with the centuries-old architecture lining cobblestone streets that meander 300 feet below the famous Chateau and the touristy shops of Upper Town. The personality of Lower Town is enjoyed in the wonderful Hotel le Germain Dominion, whose modern, elegant decor tastefully weaves in amid the building’s walls that date to the early days of the 20th century. Once a bank and a bustling market, the property is now a splendid 60-room boutique hotel that gives you all the elegant touches that the Le Germain brand is known for — including an incredible night’s sleep in its plush king-size bed, with goose-down duvets and feather pillows. Complimentary cappuccino and tea is available at all hours while an honour bar is a friendly touch in this gracious city.
Meals and More to Savour in Lower Quebec City
While Quebec City has no shortage of fine hotels, the Le Germain is unique because of its location. It borders the old and the new. To the southwest is Quartier Champlain and the oldest section of town. To the northeast is the revitalized marina and the sensational restaurant Le Laurie Raphaël, which ranked 63rd on the 2013 Vacay.ca list of the Top Restaurants in Canada but deserves to be several spots higher.
Helmed by Quebec celebrity chef Daniel Vézina and his sous-chef son, Raphaël, the restaurant bursts with flavours and imagination. From a deconstructed soup and sandwich appetizer that combines a luscious gazpacho with fresh mozzarella, to a divine halibut served with corn topped with lobster bisque, to eggs stuffed with sea urchin and duck gizzard and delivered in a carton like you would find in a market, it is artistry that is playful without losing sight of the main goal of any meal — which is to satisfy. The cuisine, with plenty of touches of molecular gastronomy, is modern and so is the airy room, with curved lines, a beautiful patio, and modern music playing softly through speakers. It is a triumphant restaurant that deserves each accolade it has received and more than one return visit.
Le Laurie Raphaël is far from the only gastronomic delight in Lower Town, though. The hottest restaurant in the city is likely L’affaire est Ketchup, a tiny space that was featured earlier this year on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show “Parts Unknown.” The restaurant, which serves low-cost tapas cuisine, is in the most exciting part of the city, the district called Saint-Roch. Here, you will find trendy bars, boutique shops, a designer clothing outlet, a popular children’s store called Benjo, inviting cafes, and, of course, an eye-catching church. Saint-Roch’s epicentre is Rue Saint-Joseph, and L’affaire est Ketchup is on the eastern edge of the district. The street is lined with Parisian-style lamp posts, flower boxes that are so typical of Quebec City, and a cosmopolitan feel that will surprise visitors who feel this is a town to explore the past.
The present, as Tardif and others will tell you, is just as delightful. Even more so because of the unexpectedness of such contemporary flair.
More About Visiting Quebec City’s Lower Town
Where to Stay: The starting rate for a weekend night in September at Hotel le Germain Dominion is approximately $285. I am a big fan of Le Germain. I think the chain is a wonderful Canadian success story in the very tough hospitality industry. The Dominion is particularly delightful because of the quality of service and its outstanding location. To book a night, telephone 1-888-833-5253 (toll free) or reserve online at the hotel’s website.
Where to Eat: Le Laurie Raphaël, named after chef Daniel Vézina’s daughter and son, is a must for any foodie. The 10-course menu is a $115 and the five-course menu is $80, while a la carte dinner entrees range from $43-$47. For reservations, telephone 1-418-692-4555 or book online at the restaurant’s website.
Package to Consider: You can combine a night’s stay at Le Germain Dominion and dinner for two at Le Laurie Raphaël for $480. Click here for details.
Also Visit: The Museum of Civilization, next door to Le Germain Dominion. Currently featured is an exhibition on video games (Game Story) that will prove to be the best babysitter any parent could ever find. It runs until March 16, 2014. Also, adults will enjoy the Belle Epoque Paris exhibit (runs til February 23, 2014) that offers an interactive look at the 1889-1914 era of the City of Light that saw an explosion in ingenuity prior to World War I. Entry to the museum is cheap, only $15 per adult and $5 for children 12-16 (free for kids under 12).
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