By Grace Halsell
There's a surprising new destination for travelers who want more for their dollars-it's Canada!
I found I had more money in my purse as soon as I crossed the border. For 68 American cents I had a Canadian dollar. Although Canada's currency has fallen more than currencies of other industrialized countries, travelers are still in a stable atmosphere. Canadians act as though pretty much nothing has happened. That's because their economy is otherwise relatively healthy.
Tourists are the clear winner in the diving loonies, as Canadian dollars are called. And for anyone like me, living in Washington, D.C., Canada is a destination easy to reach. Boarding an Air Canada plane at National airport, I was, after just shortly more than an hour, disembarking in the dynamic island city of Montreal, Quebec-and mingling among French-speaking Canadians. 'Why go to Europe?' a friend remarked. 'Canada is as beautiful. It's also closer, safer and cheaper.'
In Montreal, I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to visit its famed Casino, one of the largest and busiest in the world. It boasts five floors of gaming tables and slot machines, as well as elegant restaurants, including Nuances, which made Mobil Travel Guide's 5-star list.
From Montreal, I set out to visit some of Quebec's small villages, which reminded me of earlier travels in Provence where one experiences some of the finest gourmet dining in what otherwise are little known towns. Only a short distance from Quebec City, yet in a quiet, pastoral setting, one comes to the small village of Saint-Antonine-sur-Richelieu, known for its superb restaurant 'Le Champagne.' It's housed in an authentic chateau, where one dines like the royalty of yore, with sparkling chandeliers, immaculate linens, glassware, and waiters in tuxedos and white gloves. The French pride themselves on their preparation of tender lamb, so I knew I wouldn't go wrong with an entree of that-preceded by fresh asparagus which meant, in this case, it was home grown. As the managers of the restaurant were trained in France, they brought the fine techniques of cooking and service with them to Quebec.
From Chateau Saint-Antoine, it's an easy drive on to a country inn called Auberge Godefroy. It's half-way between Montreal and Quebec City, and ten minutes from the heart of the confluence of three rivers, and the village of Trois-Rivieres. At this first-class inn, the traveler might want to relax with a dip in its spacious indoor swimming pool, then go for a massage (with the exchange rate, it costs about $35 U.S. for an hour). There's also a golf course, as well as a marina. For travelers with U.S. dollars, the Canadian hotels now are less expensive than those in the States. At Auberge Godefroy, double occupancy prices started at US$59.
If you like atmosphere, you'll enjoy Manoir des Erables, within walking distance of the town of Montmagny and the St. Lawrence River. I found an abundance of Old World charm in the Manoir, built in 1812 and named for the maple trees on the grounds. Owned and managed by Jean Cyr, the inn has 23 rooms and suites, each furnished with a Jacuzzi or fireplace. It's become famous in Quebec for its excellent food, with its chef, Martin Boucher, boasting award-winning ribbons both in Quebec and France.
One day, in the inn's charming parlor, Owner Jean Cyr, a man in his 40's who likes to hunt, showed me mounted trophies of a 920-pound moose, as well as deer, wild boar and caribou which are found less than 100 miles from the Inn.
Coming from the States, where distances usually are not great between towns, one is surprised to learn that only a relatively short distance from the U.S.-Canadian border, there's a vast region of largely unexplored territory, inhabited by few, if any, people and an abundance of wild animals.
Quebec province alone has 14 public wildlife reserves, majestic unspoiled land with affordable activities including camping, swimming, wildlife observation and fishing. For his guests, Jean Cyr can arrange hunting packages in the fall, and in summer, the Inn offers package tours to suit a client's desires, be it sea kayaking, bicycling, golf or tours to nearby islands, such as Grosse Ile and its memorial to early Irish immigrants.
After relaxing in the countryside, I was ready to enjoy Quebec City, which seems almost as French as Paris. It's a city, again like Paris, made for walking. And history doesn't seem so much in museums, as underfoot, all around you. I strolled along a high terrace overlooking the St. Lawrence River where I saw ships from around the world, including a large freighter from Russia, as well as private sailing vessels.
The French pride themselves on having a focused desire to prepare and serve the best of all possible meals. I found this same dedication in many Quebec restaurants. And in the hotels, such as the small, but eloquent, Le Dominion Hotel in Quebec City, I was impressed by the management's impeccable taste in linens and attention to detail.
From my windows, I gazed on the history surrounding me. I imagined the transition from original fishing encampment to a fur-trading post, to the birthplace and capital of New France, to a festival-loving city that modern Quebec City has become.
To visit, U.S. citizens need only proof of citizenship.
It's a free call away for further information: 1-800-363-7777.