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Travel News: Ice Cold Romantic Getaway | Travel News

by Staff

The view of Chateau Frontenac from our beautiful room at the Auberge Saint Antoine was a stunning backdrop to the white winter wonderland in the magical Old Town section of French-speaking Quebec City, Canada. This all started last year when, for the first time in 46 years, I forgot my anniversary. The expression of disappointment on my wife’s face was palatable. Obviously, for January this year I had to come up with something very special. And that’s a major undertaking as we have also worked together for 49 years, so it is very difficult to surprise each other. 

But luckily, and with great difficulty, I was able to hide the arrangements made. At one time I even had to come up with a plausible explanation of an advertising print-out on my desk about Quebec. Fortunately, my plan came to fruition without discovery until I presented the idea. A week later, we were on our way from Maine to the Canadian border on a sunny, wintry morning with snow and ice on breathtaking secondary roads, along lakes and the majestic frozen St Lawrence River. Monster tires on the brand-new Hybrid Jeep Wrangler from Budget-Rent-a-Car ate up the snow on the road. The vehicle was not nearly as comfortable or quiet as many choices of SUVs but contributed to the feeling of being young again for the occasion. 

Quebec, Canada is the largest province in the country. The name derives from” Kebec,” in the Algonquin Indian language. “The point where the river narrows.” Winding north after Quebec City it widens to a staggering 62 miles wide at Sept-Iles some 400 miles further north.

The laws of Quebec require that all children learn to speak French in school, and English is taught as a second language. Almost 95% of Quebec City is French speaking and even in Montreal, a Quebec Province city five times as large, about 75% consider French their first language. The Old Town is a combination of ice- and snow-covered narrow alleys, cobblestone streets and wooden stairs on numerous levels. Squares seemingly lifted out of the 17th century are bordered by little bars and cozy restaurants, creating a very European ambiance. Quebec City was founded in July of 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, a Frenchman who followed in the footsteps of his family as mariners and fur traders in the New World. Some 10% of the Quebec Province is home to fresh water and with three million water outlets it holds a staggering 3% of the Earth’s reserves. Almost half of that water comes from the watershed of the St. Lawrence River. Canada is only second in the world to Sweden when it comes to freshwater supply. Our room attendant proudly informed us that Quebec drinking water was far superior to bottled water, but they did provide their own signature filtered water as well.

Crossing into Canada. 

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 Our rental Jeep was perfect for the snow. 

William Price was born in 1789 in England and at the age of twenty traveled to Canada where he apprenticed into the lumber business from family friends. 

In the first years he produced wooden masts for British naval ships trying to circumvent the blockage from Napoleon at the time. The family name is prevalent in Quebec City as he got involved in many economic enterprises and local politics. Today, the 16th & 17 floors of Landmark Price House (Edifice Price) function as the official residence of Quebec’s Premier. 

Between 1928 and 1930, this skyscraper built in the Historic District of this UNESCO city by the Price family, created a lot of discord between the city’s leaders because two buildings of considerable historic value had to be destroyed to make space for the “Pride of the influential Price Family.” Although constructed in record time and within budget, it never became the showpiece of financial success the family of William Price III had hoped for. It was already too close to the Great Depression and nearly ended in bankruptcy but eventually ended up being owned by the city in 1983. In 2005, two extra floors were added. At the celebration of the 40th anniversary in 2009 tightrope artist Ramon Kelvink walked 755 feet on a rope from the 13th floor at the Price Building to the 15th floor of the most famous building in Quebec City, the Chateau Frontenac, situated at a higher level with spectacular views of the river. This castle, with 610 rooms, was constructed in 1883 by the rail barons of Canada. It is probably one of the most photographed hotels in the world.

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There is a wide variety of cozy bars and restaurants. 

Originally, I had thought of staying there but instead followed a recommendation of a client who had stayed at a hidden gem in the lower part of the old city, Auberge Saint Antoine. 

The sixth generation of the Price family, led by the wife of Tony Price, Martha Bate Price, and their children formed a company with plans to create a small luxury hotel out of an almost forgotten property from their last remaining 19th century warehouses at the St. Lawrence River docks. During the reconstruction, an archaeological dig uncovered numerous artifacts that are today displayed in the hotel that also houses a small museum. Guest rooms have been given names in accordance with artifacts displayed there. The result has created a unique, historical, and romantic atmosphere throughout the property. 

Today, it is a member of the Relais and Chateaux hotel chain and is a perfect fit in this group representing a wide variety of 580 fabulous restaurants and hotels of mostly European families and owners in 68 countries. The lobby still has a touch of the old warehouse stone it was built with, and a large fireplace overlooks the long bar downstairs and a room where afternoon tea is served. The magnificent restaurant with wood-beamed ceilings, stone walls, and cast-iron stairs was originally called “Panache.” But in honor of Martha “Muffy” Price, the matriarch of the family and daughter Lucy, who introduced the modernistic European atmosphere and flair, it was re-named “Muffy.”

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Squares dating back to the 17th century. 

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Over 10% of Quebec Province is home to 3% of the world’s freshwater supply. 

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 Chateau Frontenac, one of the most photographed hotels in the world. 

Alex Kassatly, General Manager of the hotel, is originally from the Middle East where his family engrained him with their wealth of culture and hospitality. 

He worked as a student waiter at Le Chateau Champlain during the 1976 Olympics and followed that by an impressive education, including amongst others, the Hospitality Program at Cornell University. It certainly shows. The service at the property is impeccable, starting with the reception, concierge and bellmen and continuing with room service and wait staff in the restaurant.

The Chateau Frontenac is the most famous hotel in Quebec City, but for those seeking off-the-beaten-track luxury with fabulous service the Auberge Saint-Antoine is a perfect choice. When we crossed the border on our way back, and the border patrol agent asked our reason for entering Canada, I responded that I had taken my wife to Quebec City to celebrate our anniversary. He immediately replied, “Oh, a little romantic getaway,” and it was the perfect setting for just such that!

Ewout Rijk de Vries and his wife, Jill, brought America Travel Arrangements to Marco Island 40 years ago. They specialize in high end small adventure tours and small safari groups for clientele all over the world but also are experts on high end cruises with the help of longtime assistant and friend Michelle Wegman. In combination with his writing and photography, Ewout has visited 100+ countries. Please direct your comments or questions to [email protected] as he likes to hear from readers.

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