Stepping Back In Time in Quebec City

Step back in time at Quebec City's Auberge Saint-Antoine Hotel, one of the city's best-kept secrets. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Step back in time at Quebec City’s Auberge Saint-Antoine Hotel, one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

When most people think of Quebec City, they inevitably picture the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac. From its lofty vantage point overlooking Quebec’s Old Quarter, it has become an icon of Quebec City. But just down the hill, in the heart of Vieux Quebec – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is the Auberge Saint-Antoine, one of the best-kept secrets in the country.

The Auberge Saint-Antoine is located in historic Vieux Quebec - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The Auberge Saint-Antoine is located in historic Vieux Quebec – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Located in the oldest section of Quebec City, the Auberge Saint-Antoine is integral to the history of Quebec City. The hotel integrates three historic buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, plus a wharf and battery structure that date back to the end of the 17th centuries. A modern lobby and reception area links these very distinct buildings together, and even in this elegant space, care has been taken to ensure the lobby and bar don’t look out of context.

The warm and inviting lobby of the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The warm and inviting lobby of the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

To that end, the lobby incorporates earthen walls designed to look like the whitewashed walls of old. Reclaimed wood in the form of massive pilings has been added as accents to the main Reception and Concierge desks. And throughout the lobby, designers have strove to ensure a connection with the world outside, through wooden accents on furniture, lighting pieces designed to mimic tree branches, and ample wood and stone elements that are seamlessly integrated into the floors.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

You’re also likely to notice the historic artifacts that have been placed throughout the hotel in backlight, lightbox-style enclosures inserted into the walls. These artifacts were recovered from the very grounds that the Auberge stands on, with ten different digs occurring over a ten-year timespan. Everything from bottles to cutlery to eyeglasses was recovered from the site, and is now on display in the hotel, making it something of a living monument to the people that had come before us.

Out of 5,000 artifacts unearthed from the property on and surrounding the Auberge Saint-Antoine, over 700 are currently on-display in the hotel. Together with the hotel’s spectacular design, these artifacts create a sense of place that is missing from many modern, more nondescript hotels.

Artifacts unearthed from beneath the ground that the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Artifacts unearthed from beneath the ground that the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This individuality applies to the other rooms in the Auberge as well. No two rooms are alike, and each boasts its own unique archeological artifact, along with a description about what it is, and where it came from.

The 95 guest rooms and suite feature all the luxurious touches you’d expect from a hotel affiliated with the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group, and the Auberge delivers, with rooms offering Bose sound systems, luxurious beds, plush robes and luxury bath amenities, electronic toilets, and even heated flooring and no-fog mirrors in the vast majority of rooms.

The living room of Suite 325 in the Maison Hunt building at the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The living room of Suite 325 in the Maison Hunt building at the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

For three nights, I occupied one of the beautiful suites in Maison Hunt (or Hunt House in English) – one of the oldest sections of the property. There are only six suites here, and though they might lack heated flooring and mirrors, nothing beats the coziness of these unique suites.

The bedroom is cozy and comfortable. These rooms recently underwent a renovation. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The bedroom is cozy and comfortable. These rooms recently underwent a renovation. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

My room – 325 – was one such suite. With its exposed beams and elegant wall-mounted accent lights, this suite only got cozier by the day. The weather in Quebec was chilly during my stay, with high winds and rain that lashed the French windows. Fortunately, my suite had a gas fireplace that heated the sitting area and the bedroom nicely. Coupled with a Diana Krall CD playing on the in-suite Bose sound system, it didn’t take long for me to become so relaxed that I didn’t want to leave.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The only thing I found even remotely annoying about my room were the “night lights” placed underneath the two bedside tables. Motion-activated, they would turn on when you swung your legs out over the bed, or when you walked in front of them when the room’s lights were turned off. Unfortunately, they bathed the room in harsh, fluorescent light that had a tendency to startle rather than soothe. Fortunately, they were easily remedied by reaching under the table and simply unplugging them.

The bathroom of Suite 325. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The bathroom of Suite 325. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Nicely lit closets! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Nicely lit closets! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Individuality is king at the Auberge Saint-Antoine, and so is service, which was exemplary, kind and personable to a fault. Want to practice your French? The friendly staff will engage you in conversation en francais. Not so good with the French? Don’t worry – the entire hotel staff switches effortlessly to English upon hearing you utter the first English word.

There are also some genuine surprises that make this property a romantic, effortless getaway. Valet parking at the hotel is a surprisingly-affordable $25, which meant that I didn’t have to battle driving my rented Fiat 500 through the streets of Quebec any longer than necessary. Live music takes place in the Café-Bar Artefact off the main reception lobby on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and the bar features an impressive list of hand-crafted, original cocktails that are unique to the hotel. My recommendation? The Queen of Hearts. Just trust me!

Why not try one of the Auberge Saint-Antoine's custom-made cocktails - like this one, featuring chambord and Quebec maple syrup. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Why not try one of the Auberge Saint-Antoine’s custom-made cocktails – like this one, featuring chambord and Quebec maple syrup. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

If you’re looking for the ideal date-night, you might want to look into reserving the full-blown, 98-seat movie theatre that’s located on-site. I tried to do this during my stay, but it had been booked for a conference before I got there. Not to worry: I selected a DVD from the hotel’s book of thousands of titles in multiple languages, and one of the technicians brought a DVD player up to my suite and hooked it up to the flat-panel TV in the bedroom. Total time from start to finish: less than 10 minutes. Absolutely amazing!

What sets the Auberge Saint-Antoine over the top, apart from the stellar service and the luxurious accommodations, is Panache.

Welcome to Panache. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Welcome to Panache. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I’m 33 years old – that’s not so old. But Panache’s accomplished Chef is actually younger than me. In his mid-twenties, Chef Louis Pacquelin is focused on “going back to basics” – creating simple, classic and delicious cuisine that focuses heavily on utilising local Quebecois and Canadian ingredients.

One of the cooler aspects of writing about travel is that I get to try a lot of different meals in a lot of different dining venues around the world – but I have never had anything that comes close to the seven-course meal I enjoyed at Panache.

From drinks...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

From drinks…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

...to food...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

…to food…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

the entire Panache experience was sensual. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

the entire Panache experience was sensual. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Spread out over an enjoyable four hours (this is fine dining – you don’t rush fine dining!), individually created courses highlighted the best of Panache’s cuisine, paired with wines that ranged from local to New Zealand to France and back again. One of the most memorable dishes was turnip, done five different ways. Duck foie gras. Duck two ways. A selection of local Quebec cheeses.

Everything, without an ounce of exaggeration, was over-the-top good. I have high standards from establishments bearing the Relais and Chateaux name; my fear now is that I may never have another meal as good as the one I enjoyed in Panache. Seriously – best meal I’ve ever had.

This seven-course meal is obviously the crown jewel of Panache’s dining lineup, but the daily lunch menu is priced from just $20, and a la carte dinner starts from $35.

Main course: duck two ways. Note the green onion and citrus salt accents. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Main course: duck two ways. Note the green onion and citrus salt accents. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The décor in Panache is the icing on the cake: it’s set in a riverside warehouse constructed in the 19th century that is beautiful in the daytime, and absolutely gorgeous by night.

The Auberge Saint-Antoine was recently named the second-best hotel in the entire country by Travel + Leisure magazine, and it remains the number one hotel in Quebec City. Conde Nast Traveller called it one of the best hotels in the world between 2003 and 2014. The Robb Report recognized it as one of the top 100 hotels in the world in 2013.

Live music in the Cafe Artefact. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Live music in the Cafe Artefact. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I understand why. This is a very special place. It offers guests an authentic luxury experience that is filled with Quebecois charm and Canadian influence. The staff take immense pride in their work. Though I was only there for three nights, I personally met guests – at the Price Family Cocktail that happens once per week at the hotel as a sort of mixer for guests and staff – who will only stay at the Auberge Saint-Antoine on their visits to Quebec City.

I’ve been to hotels that have more bling. I’ve stayed at hotels that have larger rooms. But I’ve never stayed at a hotel that has this alluring combination of place, luxury and service before. And you can bet, when I journey back to Quebec City next year for Canada-New England cruise season that I’ll be staying at the Auberge Saint-Antoine.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our Trip Report from Quebec City and the Auberge Saint-Antoine has come to a close – but our next report kicks off this week! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

 

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