Travel Quebec

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Travel Quebec
TRAVEL
A
s unfairly maligned as ‘boring’
Belgium (which is anything but,
btw) poor old Canada has shivered
in the shadow of the good ol’ USA
like Solange with Beyonce, Dannii
behind Kylie, or Emma Bunton
with, well... anyone.
While America is a land of big ideas,
shocks and delights – safer, fairer, kinder,
cuddlier Canada has been unfairly maligned
as the Kimberley Walsh of the North
American family. Yet, even as I walk home
in the early hours through the centre of
one of North America’s biggest and most
exciting cities – with no police in sight,
yet feeling completely at ease and secure –
Montreal part of the French heart of North
America, Quebec, is far from a safe bet.
French Canada is seriously weird. And what
more could a gay traveller want?
Quebec is like France through a looking
glass – a vision of what could have been
for the majority of North America if one
of the many Louis’ had pulled their socks
up. Quebec City was lost to France in
1759; Montreal, the Gallic island twin of
Manhattan, a year later – events which may
well have helped prod la France towards
la revolution. Cut off from the motherland,
French Canada mosied on – surviving as
an island within the predominantly Anglo
Saxon and Hispanic North American sea.
Quebec is about more than France, though.
The UK and Ireland all played their part in
the formation of this unique culture – not
to mention the nations which came later;
Vietnamese, Moroccan, Ukrainian.
Continuing with the seriously odd –
Quebec’s national dish is the amazing,
the sublime, poutine. Now you could be
forgiven for thinking this confection is just
posh chips and gravy – but the Quebecois
treasure it as their own invention. At its
most basic, it’s a big steaming mound of
French fries, luscious thick gravy and cheese
curds. Cheese which squeaks when you bite
into it, and which goes deliciously melty and
stringy when engulfed in the thick poutine
sauce. There are as many varieties of poutine
as there are – well hot dinners. La Banquaise
in Montreal [labanquise.com] offers some of the
best. Try La Kamikaze with spicy merguez,
hot peppers and Tabasco sauce, or L’Asterix
with sour cream, smoked meat [a Montrealer
speciality] mushrooms and pepper sauce.
Yum! Perfect to make even the coldest night
time walk home warmer.
While Montreal has all the zing of a major
metropolis, Quebec City – the historic
heart of French Canada, is like a Gallic
York transported to North America. In the
QUEBEC
THE WEIRD AND WONDERFUL HEART OF FRENCH CANADA: QUEBEC CITY
AND MONTREAL – BIRTHPLACE OF GOURMET CHEESY CHIPS AND GRAVY
WORDS: ANDREW FRASER
last decade or so, there has been a massive
explosion in the artisan food movement here
– with some incredibly good cheeses and
inevitably, amazing bread. The climate isn’t
best suited to wine production, but Quebec
treats its ice ciders with all the gravitas
that France treats its Bordeaux. Made from
frozen apples, plucked from the tree in
their icy state, this is brilliantly elegant and
complex stuff which more than compensates
for a lack of domestic vin rouge.
Quebec City doesn’t have a big gay scene,
but it does have the brilliant Le Drague –
where boys with a beautiful mix of French
handsomeness, stylishness and North
American muscularity go wild to a neverendingly bamboozling array of French drag
queens channelling Diana Ross. God knows
what they were saying but it was funny in
any lingo. From there we headed out into the
countryside for some whale watching and
moose observing in the glorious Canadian
wilds. This is an epic land bursting with
vivid colour as we entered the early weeks
of autumn. The whales, in particular,
which come to the baie St Catherine for an
all-you-can-eat swim-up seafood buffet, are
a particular delight. Beautiful creatures,
elegant despite their size. We stay in the
gorgeous Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu
– with hot tubs over-looking the ocean in
my room and I learn to drive a golf buggy,
channelling my inner Grace Kelly.
But it’s in Montreal that I find my real
Canadien home-from-home. I’m staying at
the glorious boutique Hotel Gault on the
edge of the Old Town. The Gault is housed
in a five storey building built in 1871. This is
a grown-up hotel, with an almost-churchlike air of tranquillity and calm. Vast French
windows flood each suite with light. If
there is a more beautifully designed and
conceived hotel in North America, I am yet
to find it. It’s walking distance to Le Village,
Montreal’s delightful gay quarter which is
packed with cabaret clubs, discos, saunas
and some proper old-school gay boozers like
Le Stud – which, despite its hot and heavy
title, is actually quite a sweet little hang-out
with karaoke most nights and ultra-lovely
bar staff willing to give you the low-down on
what’s going down locally. Safe, sexy, sultry
and salubrious – Montreal and Quebec
embody the best of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon
cultures. There may be times when you
forget that you’ve left Europe at all. It’s
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North America, but not as you know it.
Vive la différence!
WHERE TO STAY
GAULT HOTEL
Montreal is cool as fuck. And if you want
a hotel which reflects this, then the Gault
has to be the one. Not cool in an annoying,
try-hard way, the Gault appears effortless in
its stylishness and simplicity. A real haven
and a gorgeous bolthole for those looking for
a romantic break – it has a Canadian sense
of calm and enduring class which makes it
worth booking for an extra night, just so you
can spend a whole day in bed here without
missing out on this city. hotelgault.com/en
FAIRMONT LE MANOIR RICHELIEU
Perched over a beautiful bay in Charlevoix,
this is a great place to explore the Quebecois
countryside or indulge in an atmosphere
more old-France and old-England than old
England and old France.
fairmont.com/richelieu-charlevoix
FAIRMONT LE CHATEAU FRONTENAC
Within the walls of Old Quebec, Le Manoir
Frontenac recently underwent a multimillion dollar revamp bringing it back to
its original splendour. Think 1940s Paris
with Édith Piaf but without the Nazis. This
is a truly wonderful bolthole for a truly
gorgeous slice of Gallic chic in Quebec City.
fairmont.com/frontenac-quebec
WHERE TO EAT
CHEZ VICTOIRE
bar and cabaret and a super up-for-it crowd.
LE STUD
Montreal’s most chilled-out gay spot (and
that’s saying something in this horizontal
town!) Le Stud proffers hot French
Canadiens who look like they could wrestle
and beat a bear. studbar.com
There are few places better to sample the
unique flavours of old France and new
North America than this charming bistro.
The menu may be inspired by Paris, but
it liberally uses current must-have North
American ingredients such as sprouts,
edamame, hemp seeds and white balsamic.
Go for the Ravioli Carbonara with braised
bacon and Parmesan cream. Yum!
Chezvictoire.com
STOCK BAR
GARDE MANGER:
Get to grips with the tumultuous history of
the second biggest French-speaking city in
the world after Paris. pacmuseum.qc.ca
Restaurant founder Chuck Hughes won Iron
Chef America in 2011 with his make-yougo-weak-at-the-knees lobster poutine. It’s a
blackboard menu but all the crowd-pleasers
can be found there.
crownsalts.com/gardemanger
WHERE TO PARTY
LE DRAGUE
Beloved of Quebec’s gay kids and their cool
straight mates – Le Drague features a club,
It’ll cost you – and you can guarantee you
won’t escape the attentions of limbering,
limber dancers, but if gay go-go boys are
your thing then Montreal’s Stock Bar builds
them big, broad and beefy. stockbar.com
WHAT TO DO
MONTREAL MUSEUM OF ARCHAEOLOGY
AND HISTORY
THE TRAIN OF LE MASSIF DE CHARLEVOIX
FROM QUEBEC CITY TO BAIE SANT PAUL
Breakfast on mimosas and delectable
morsels as the gorgeous, bucolic landscape
slides by. lemassif.com/en
GO WHALE WATCHING IN BAIE STE CATHERINE
Get up close with those almighty beasts at the
mouth of the St Lawrence River. dufour.ca/en
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