Up at the crack of dawn and out onto the Quebec cobblestones for our morning walk, because we've got to be ready to be picked up at 9 AM and catch the train to Le Massif de Charlevoix. We wander past that shop with the beautiful handbag, again. Of course, the shop isn't open yet. Just as well, I think.
Le Massif de Charlevoix Train runs on its own little track built so close to the St. Lawrence River that it is sometimes flooded. Even on an overcast day like today, the views are amazing. We embark at Montmorency Station and roll peacefully past a handful of ancient little villages and the Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Reserve, where 175,000 migrating wild geese gather each September. Le Train only has two destinations: the towns of Baie-Saint-Paul and Malbaie, the latter 87 miles north of Quebec and a popular destination for skiing during the winter.
But you don't take Le Train just for the scenery, or even the skiing. Instead of riding in an ordinary seat, you're seated at a table. There's a reason for this. Le Train is not just transportation. It is also a gastronomic journey.
We begin with breakfast. Actually, we begin with a Mimosa, followed by croissants, jam and butter. Xingxing is rapidly developing a taste for French croissants and French butter, and I have no choice but to share. Then an amazing omelet, and wonderful little sausages. (Everything has a pedigree. The eggs come from a particular farm, as do the sausages) And a tiny pastry and coffee, of course. One of the things I like about Quebec dining is that the portions are so reasonable you don't feel guilty about eating everything on your plate. But then again -- as everyone knows -- French women don't get fat.
After breakfast, Xingxing curls up and goes to sleep under the seat, and I settle down to watch the changing vistas along the river. Sometimes we're so close to the water that if I opened my window and tossed out an apple, it would land among the floating birds.
We stop at Baie-Saint-Paul, also known as the Cultural Capital of Quebec. We'll spend three hours here, browsing the fascinating galleries and boutiques and perhaps stopping for a glass of wine at one of the many cafes. That's the plan, anyhow. But they're burying the power lines, and they've dug up the entire main street, which is now a vast expanse of sand, rock and earth-moving equipment. The fascinating galleries and shops are still there, but there are great chunks missing from what used to be the sidewalk and -- with Xingxing in a stroller -- the whole thing rapidly becomes a bit of a challenge.
So we walk along the river, instead. And here we find the delightful Mouton Noir, where the glass of Canadian red wine I enjoy on the shady, quiet riverfront terrace is so delicious that I order a second. There's beautiful, crusty French bread, too. Xingxing is in heaven.
Back on the train, we proceed north to Malbaie. This is where the journey ends, if you're lucky enough to be staying at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu. We aren't, but never mind. There's enough time during the stopover for Xingxing to walk around and do what dogs do. And we've still got our Four Course Gourmet Dinner to come. This begins shortly after we pass Baie-Saint-Paul again, with an exquisite salad of tiny beets and honey-caramelized pecans, dressed with cider cream and garnished with apple chips. This is followed by a second appetizer of rolled duck and veal sweetbread with a thyme aioli and a compote of lentils and citrus.
For my main course I've chosen grilled Charlevoix veal with organic prosciutto, which comes with perfectly cooked baby vegetables and rosti potatoes seasoned with rosemary.
Don't worry, Xingxing's got his own dinner -- the staff on the train kindly kept it in the refrigerator for him. However, there was many an envious glance at the veal, and I finally let him have a taste -- but just a little taste! I remind him that he is a dog, after all. He is not impressed.
Dessert is an extravaganza of four separate, beautifully presented miniatures: A seasonal berry trio in a chocolate cup, two tiny blueberry macaroons held together with chocolate ganache, strawberry brunoise and Mistelle Saboyan.
These fabulous meals are planned by Executive Chef Patrick Turcot, of the Fairmont Le Manor Richelieu.
The sun is setting. During the ride home, I doze. We get back to Quebec at 9 PM, which makes it a really long -- if thoroughly delicious -- day. We're both tired. Would I do it again? Absolutely!