Since breakfast has been included with our package at the Manoir des Erables where we have been staying, we’ve had a chance to be treated to some really great meals to start out our days. Barb will tell you that one of my favourite breakfasts is French toast so it isn’t much of a surprise that I’ve had this twice so far in the past two days.
One Horse Open Sleigh
This morning after breakfast we wanted to firm up some plans for the next two days as we will be leaving for home on Sunday morning. One of the other things that I had scheduled through the Manoir was to go for a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Overall the people at the Manoir des Erables have been very helpful in making bookings for us as well and just making many phone calls to places to see if they were open or had the facilities that we were looking for. We definitely give them all top marks for hospitality.
We had dinner on Thursday night at a local place called the Auberge Belle Epoche and from the looks of it, Belle Epoche and Manoir des Erables seem to be the two places in town that regularly compete for the honour of the best restaurant. On the walls of both establishments are honours and commendations from all kinds of organizations like the Canadian Auto Club and the Quebec Tourism board. Barb and I had an excellent dinner at Belle Epoche – both of us having an extremely well prepared duck dinner but we both agreed that the deserts may have been the highlight of the meal. Barb had a crème brulée which came in three separate cups – one “regular”, one chocolate and one café flavoured crème brulée. My desert was a delicate chocolate mousse with just a hint of Gran Marnier liqueur.
On Friday morning we woke up to find that the blizzard from the previous week had returned again. The only difference was that it was a lot warmer and as a result it was really just wet snow that was coming down. After breakfast we head out towards a small town called Cap St. Ignace which was about a 20 minute drive down the road. According to the directions given to us from the people at the front desk at our manoir, it was to be in Cap St. Ignace that we would find the farm where we would have our sleigh ride through the country.
Finding the farm of Monsieur Guimont turned out to be much harder than we thought. We were to make a series of lefts and rights down this country road and then find “the first green and white house”. We ended up finding what we thought was the right house and after getting no answer moved on to subsequent houses and was redirected two or three times by various neighbours.
Sidebar: we have learned first hand that a rare Quebecois dialect exists with many of the neighbours of M. Guimont. This dialect is so rare that none of our limited French skills were of use to communicate with them.
In the end, we found M. Guimont in the very first farm house that we went to and found him to speak very good English. M. Guimont dusted the snow off of his red sleigh and went into the barn to bring out his horse Bella and proceeded to hitch her up. By this time Barb and I were pretty much soaked as the wet snow had taken its toll but nonetheless we proceeded out on our country sleigh ride with enthusiasm.
During our sleigh ride through the woods around M. Guimont’s farm, he talked to us about all kinds of things like maple syrup harvesting (popular in many parts of Quebec) and in general life in a small Quebec town. He was a personable guy and we both enjoyed listening to him talk about how things were in this part of the country.
After we got back to his farm, he unhitched Bella and she immediately went back into the barn on her own – obviously familiar with the routine.
One the way back to the manoir to dry out, we ended up getting stuck in the snow in the driveway of the manoir. On two or three occasions either Barb or I ended up having to get out and help push the car to get out of the snow. To say the least it isn’t something that we normally have to do living in Vancouver.
A Full Winter Resort Day
On Saturday morning we headed south after breakfast towards the town of Sainte Paul-de-Montminy. This small town (about an hour away), was the location of a winter resort called the Appalaches Lodge. As the weather had turned warmer and was now about +1 or 2 degrees, it made for an easier time getting there although there was still lots of ice on the road so it still required lots of caution.
Once we got to the Appalaches Lodge, we had a quick bite to eat then found the building where all of the equipment rentals were done. The first activity on our agenda was to do some ice skating on their outdoor rink.
Both Barb and I hadn’t had a pair of skates on for almost 10 years so it was pretty tough going for the first while – each of us not sure if we were going to fall and pull the other one down with us. What made matters worse was that with the warmer weather the ice condition had a lot to be desired and there was lots of soft ice if not slush altogether. Doing any sharp turns or stops on these rough patches would almost certainly end up with you falling on your butt.
Nonetheless, Barb and I had a good time on the ice and since we were the only ones there, didn’t have to worry about how good (or bad) we looked and just were able to have fun.
After we returned the skates we picked up some snowshoes (or raquettes as they are known in Quebec) and did some hiking though the woods around the resort. Many of the marked snowshoe trails go back and forth over this frozen creek across bridges covered with snow. Again, as we were pretty much by ourselves, we were able to really enjoy the serenity of the outdoors.
By the time that we returned our snowshoes, Barb and I were pretty tired from hiking up the hills in the deep snow. Walking in snowshoes takes a lot more energy than walking regularly but it was still lots of fun as the weather was good and the scenery amazing. Since it was only about 3:00 by this time and we had made dinner reservations at the resort for 7:00, we decided to drive back to the town of Sainte Paul-de-Montminy to see if we could find a café or something to get something warm to drink.
As it turned out, finding a café or something turned out to be much more difficult that expected. Sainte Paul-de-Montminy was probably a town of a few thousand people (if that) so finding anything other than houses took some doing. We had to drive around for about 20 minutes until we finally found a small restaurant open by the side of the highway. An order of chocolat chaud and frites (hot chocolate and French fries) later, we were ready to get back on the road again.
We got back to the resort and hung around by the fireplace for a little while until we were ready for dinner. Dinner at the resort was kind of self-serve cafeteria style with a fixed menu. To be honest, while the dinner was ok, it was probably one of the less memorable meals of our Quebec Adventure.
After dinner we had a few drinks and watched the entertainment of a local Quebecois singer who performed a number of traditional songs. What was interesting was when we were listening to him sing how pretty much everyone else in the room knew all of the songs that he was singing. He played his music using either a guitar or fiddle while seated and would stomp his feet on a wooden platform all the while to keep the beat. During some of his songs he handed out some wooden spoons that are typically used to keep rhythm by tapping them between your thigh and hand. All in all, the evening was a fun and entertaining end to our Quebec Adventure as tomorrow morning we would be returning back to Vancouver.
An Icy Goodbye
As we got back to the manoir quite late on Saturday night returning from the Appalaches Lodge, we woke up earlier to pack up and get ready for our return trip home.
I had heard rain against the window all night long but wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I first looked out of the window on Sunday morning – everything in sight was covered in ice. Everything.
Not only was the entire place completely covered in ice, but it got worse when about 5 minutes before we were planning on going down for our last breakfast the power went out. Apparently the power going out is not that unusual in an ice storm as the weight of the ice on the power lines typically cause them to snap.
We were able to have our breakfast as normal (by candle and daylight) and had to settle our final bill “manually” as all of the manoir’s computers were down. All in all, everything went by without too much problems and we said our goodbye to the great people at the Manoir des Erables for all of their hospitality.
Getting into our car to leave, on the other hand, took some work. Just getting into the car alone took about 20 minutes as I had to chip away the ice just to get the trunk and doors open. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t pouring rain at the same time and in those few minutes I got totally soaked.
The drive down the highway started off well enough as the highway was clear and really just wet conditions to deal with. This situation seemed to worsen with each kilometre as we headed back towards Quebec City and the snow started to fall. And fall. And fall.
At some points during that drive along the highway we couldn’t see more than a few car lengths ahead of us with the driving snow blinding our vision. We had to bring our speed down considerably for most of the trip but we made it to the airport without any issues. Our return flights home all went off without any problems although the airline did manage to lose Barb’s luggage when we arrived in Vancouver. Hopefully they will be delivering it today and of course not having luggage for the return flight home is always less of a problem than when going on a trip.
Our Excellent Quebec Adventure Summary
With very few exceptions, our trip to Quebec was a great experience and Barb and I had lots of fun. Being from Vancouver, it is likely that most people who live here have a certain impression about Quebec and the Quebec people – mostly obtained from the news about political matters. Contrary to this impression, there was never anything other than warmth and friendliness that Barb and I experienced from the Quebec people. I think that a lot of the political situations that create a negative perception about Quebec are in the most part just that – create by politicians and the day to day lives of the people that we have met with do not portray any of this.
We had a great time in Quebec City for the Winter Carnival and its European flavour was just icing on the cake to us. The Manoir de Erables in Montmagny was an incredible find and being able to spend some time outdoors in the Appalaches Lodge skating and snowshoeing was a great treat. We will always remember the wonderful dining experiences that we had in many different places throughout our trip.
Barb and I have already talked about retuning to Quebec some time – probably to Montreal and maybe in the fall to view the changing colours of the leaves in the forests.
Although this was one of our shorter Adventures, we will rank this trip up amongst our favourites.