Birthday bliss in queenly Quebec
By Sian Lloyd, The Mail On Sunday
Forget West is best. In Canada, if you want a feast, go East. That's precisely what my husband Jonathan and I did this summer.
We wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday on July 3 in style and, since Quebec City was marking its 400th anniversary on the same day, we decided we'd celebrate together.
What could be better - fireworks, food and festivities a la francaise, and my mere 50 years seemingly so very few compared to the four centuries of history and culture boasted by this classy Canadian lady?
We kicked off with a day in Montreal, staying at the splendid Fairmont Queen Elizabeth. The hotel is home to the John Lennon and Yoko Ono Suite (Room 1742), where they staged the second of their famous bed-ins in 1969 and recorded Give Peace A Chance.
Each year on December 8, the day John Lennon was murdered in 1980, two dozen roses are left anonymously by the door of the suite.
How they get there remains a mystery. Less of a mystery is the Give Peace A Chance cocktail created for us at the Voyageurs Bar, where we were told: 'The gin is British for John, the sake is Japanese for Yoko, the grenadine signifies love and the lemon symbolises that sometimes love is bitter.' We certainly gave it a chance.
Next morning, after stocking up with good-value trendy T-shirts at American Eagle and raiding a nearby MAC make-up counter (there's one in most department stores and their prices are half those in the UK), we drove the 80 miles west to the quaint village of Montebello on the Ottawa River. We were to stay three nights at the Chateau Montebello, the world's largest log hotel, midway between Ottawa and Montreal.
Chateau Frontenac is one of Quebec's most famous landmarks
The resort has played host to heads of state and Hollywood stars. But my husband was on a mission.
He was there for the Land Rover Experience Driving School. And, boy, was it an experience. He tackled every obstacle under the sun, scrambling up rock faces that even cats wouldn't attempt.
You can do Chateau Montebello at your own pace - sit back and escape, or go all-out on the activities front. It has everything - cycling, tennis, golf, canoeing, fishing, the Plaisance National Park, great food and a fabulous new spa with gorgeous views over the river.
We booked the couple's suite, Salon la Source, and loved the maple-sugar body scrub - though we wondered whether the bears would go for us that afternoon when we went on safari with a guide in the nearby Kenauk reserve. However, we lived to tell the tale of black bears roaming free in the forest.
We were sad to check out but as soon as we arrived at the Fairmont Tremblant two hours later we knew we were on course for another great stay. Ever the action man, Jonathan went off to do Acrobranche, a tree-to-tree aerial adventure that he just loved, while I took one look at it and trotted off to the spa and swimming pool instead.
The food in Quebec province is something else. We'd sampled some great local produce in the Montebello area - gutsy game, ice cider and wine, cheeses and chocolates stood out, along with restaurants such as Le Cafe du Bistro and La Table de Pierre Delahaye - but in Tremblant we enjoyed a meal that simply dazzled the palate.
Q Restaurant in Hotel Quintessence was a treat after a long day's hiking in Parc National du Mont Tremblant. And what a treat - Quebec forest mushrooms, foie gras terrine with vanilla ice cider jelly, Canadian elk, local wild trout, saute of fresh strawberries and red pepper, wild raspberry souffle and, best of all, apricot pastries in linden flower tea.
We sat in the window overlooking the lake at sunset and just wanted that meal to go on for ever.
But the week was drawing to a close, the big birthday beckoned and Quebec City had invited the world to 'come celebrate'.
So we did.
The city of Quebec is like a giant openair museum. Everywhere you turn there's street theatre, artists and music. You can walk all day and never tire of the winding, cobbled streets, the frescoes and French fortifications, the architecture, boutiques and bistros, sidewalk cafes, historical parks, the Old Port area - and lots more.
There's also always the everpresent mighty St Lawrence River and surrounding mountains.
No wonder it's a Unesco World Heritage Cultural Site. It's as if a slice of Paris had been mixed with a pinch of Prague and a dash of England, set down in North America and sprinkled with apple and maple goodies.
The celebrations were in full swing when we arrived at the Chateau Frontenac, a castle-like structure towering above old Quebec and claimed to be the most photographed hotel in the world. We couldn't wait to join the festivities.
Our first challenge was to find a good viewing spot for a mega-projection, on to enormous grain silos down in the port, of the history of Quebec City. This was the largest outdoor projection ever created and was awesome.
They certainly have vision in this corner of Canada. The Museum of Modern Art is housed in a former prison in the Plains of Abraham and, most importantly, has a fabulous restaurant with a terrace boasting possibly the finest view in the city, overlooking Battlefields Park and the St Lawrence River.
The roof and facade of the Museum of Civilisation had been turned into a living tapestry of flowers and foliage, in celebration of the human adventurer.
The Faremont Tremblant's pool is perfect for a spot of inactivity
It was the work of Franco Dragone, who has produced many of Cirquedu Soleil's extravaganzas and Celine Dion's Las Vegas shows.
Our sojourn in Quebec was way too short. The food was superb - think French finesse but American portions. The people are friendly and very proud of their beautiful city. And rightly so. It's one of the great cities of the world. I felt privileged to be there for my 50th, to help this grande dame celebrate her 400th.
We now want to go back in winter and see how she looks when there's a mantle of snow around her.
Canadian Affair (www.canadianaffair.com, 020 7616 9999 or 0141 248 6777), the UK's largest tour operator to Canada, offers tailor-made holidays to the country from £655 per person for seven nights, including return flights, one night at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, Montreal, two at the Fairmont Tremblant, two at the Fairmont Chateau Montebello and two at the Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City.
For more information on the Quintessence Hotel in Tremblant, go to www.hotelquintessence.com
For information on Quebec in general, visit www.bonjourquebec.co.uk or call 0800 051 7055.