Discovering QuÉbec City
From bustling bakeries to vintage boutiques, local resident Valerie Carrier shows us her favourite neighbourhood hotspots in the Mazda MX‑30 EV, the perfect urban companion to seek out sustainable gems.
Over 400 years old and covering nearly 500 square kilometres, Québec City is the birthplace of French North America. At its beating heart are six unique neighbourhoods, centred around the historic fortifications of Old Québec and down along the banks of the St Lawrence River.
It is these neighbourhoods that we have come to explore for the weekend with our local guide, Québécois artist and actress Valerie Carrier. Our plan is to explore the best sustainable shops and restaurants while taking in the idiosyncratic sights and sounds each neighbourhood has to offer. There’s no better way to glide unobtrusively through each district than in the Mazda MX‑30 EV: Valerie puts the all-electric mid-sized SUV into Drive and quietly joins the locals and tourists alike for a weekend of discovery…
Valerie begins in the best known and her favourite of the boroughs, Old Québec, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. “The trick is to come here at dawn on the weekend, before all the tourist buses clog up the roads. Then you have the most incredible views over the St Lawrence River to yourself as the sun rises. It’s really special.”
The roads are empty as Valerie drives back through time, coasting silently under a grand stone bridge in the ramparts and up to the imposing old-world Château Frontenac on Cap Diamant. “I love the history and architecture, but mostly I come for the artists on the Petit-Champlain. Everything is meticulously handcrafted, and you never know what you’re going to find.”
Navigating Old Québec’s famously narrow streets, Valerie welcomes the MX‑30 EV’s 360-degree-view parking camera. “It’s a massive help guiding me into tight spots. I like that it just supports you; I have control but it’s like it’s teaching me how to drive better.” For a time, Valerie is all but alone as she strolls peacefully along the normally teeming Terrasse Dufferin, breathing in crisp dawn air, haloed by the waking sun.
Saint-Roch is another of Valerie’s favourite areas. “There’s an honesty to it and a great diversity of people,” she explains. It is perhaps less polished and more modern than the rest of the city, but with grit comes enterprise.
Frederic Dutil is an urban beekeeper and co-founder of Apikol, which brings together onsite hives and a meadery distilling various alcohols, including gin, sparkling mead, floral vodka and sweet brandy, made from the honey of its 200,000+ bees. It is a beacon of sustainability and Frederic explains to Valerie that his objective is to educate people about the importance of pollinators.
Watching the bees busy themselves is thirsty work. Luckily, Saint-Roch is known for its nightlife. After parking safely for the evening, Valerie stops for a quick drink at La Barberie, a much-loved brewing co-operative, before venturing into the Rue Saint-Joseph street festival. It’s also a nice moment to watch the elegant, minimalist exterior of the MX‑30 EV enjoy some admiring glances. Gourmet stalls and cocktail pop-ups line the sidewalks, and a high-spirited band plays on the steps of Saint-Roch Church as Valerie meanders long into the night sampling ornate chocolates and chatting with other artists.
The next day, Valerie heads back into town. A colourful bohemian neighbourhood, Saint-Jean-Baptiste is flanked by Old Québec and Montcalm. The e‑Skyactiv electric motor makes not a whisper as Valerie glides through its vibrant streets before tucking into a parking spot opposite the grand Épicerie Européenne.
She orders a dense black shot of espresso and a delicate pistachio cake, and sits outside the handsome art deco exterior to enjoy a spot of people-watching. Fortified with caffeine, Valerie heads inside to browse the shelves for Italian treats, pasta, pesto and charcuterie before loading up the MX‑30 EV with savoury treasures for dinner—a task effortlessly completed, thanks to the Mazda’s freestyle doors.
Next, Valerie heads for Saint-Sauveur (nicknamed Saint-Sô by its residents) and the neighbourhood is packed with fragrant patisseries and cool boutiques. After driving the length of rue Saint-Vallier Ouest a few times to take in the sights, Valerie glides neatly into a spot outside Boulangerie Louis Marchand and joins the locals amicably lining up outside on the street.
Inside, flour-dusted bakers dance back and forth with trays of sticky pastries still steaming hot from the oven. Valerie opts for a raisin-studded maple brioche and refills her cork-insulated coffee cup for minimal waste. Fittingly, the MX‑30 EV’s floating console cup-holders are also made from sustainable cork, which, along with the interior fabrics fashioned from recycled plastic and vegan leatherette, underline Mazda’s commitment to the environment.
Saint-Sauveur is a trove of characteristic independent stores and Valerie is keen to explore Lucia F Vintage. “Older clothes tend to be better crafted and it’s the most sustainable and creative way to shop,” she says. “Everything here is unique.” Several more vintage stores later and it’s clear that a purchase is not necessarily the object of the exercise for Valerie. “I find it really inspiring just to see all the prints and materials. It fills me with inspiration,” she says.
Home to world-famous director Robert Lepage’s theatre company Ex Machina at Le Diamant theatre and Palais Montcalm, the handsome city square Place D’Youville is watched over by the serene bronze Les Muses statues, each representing a different discipline—music, oratory, poetry, architecture, sculpture and painting.
A pack of skateboarders streams by, reflected in the MX‑30 EV’s sleek paintwork. Valerie waits patiently, marvelling at the clash of old and the new. “This is what I love about the city; it’s such a mix of people and ideas.”
Valerie makes one final stop at her favourite refill shop, La Récolte, on the way home. La Récolte is a delight for the senses, row upon row of exotic dried fruits, heavenly scented handmade soaps and coffee bean dispensers—all part of La Récolte’s zero-waste philosophy. Valerie fills up her containers with more treats—including rich olive oil and dark roast coffee beans—before departing for the final neighbourhood of Limoilou.
On Sundays, Valerie loves to visit Limoilou. It feels like a distinct city with large residential areas and elegant leafy parks, but you can never quite forget you are in Québec City. Even the humblest suburban streets are embellished with gleaming turrets and spiralling iron staircases that nod to its old-world heritage.
Winding down a series of leaf-dappled S-curves, Valerie is impressed by the car’s performance. “I have to keep reminding myself that it’s electric. It really doesn’t feel any different to a gas engine,” she says. “I don’t have to feel guilty when sitting in the traffic, knowing the motor doesn’t run and doesn’t pollute.”
Valerie plugs the MX‑30 EV in to charge at the Grand Marché de Québec, a contemporary indoor market housing around 100 local producers. In every direction, punnets of plump crimson plums and fresh local produce can be seen. Valerie assembles a picnic of artisanal cheeses, rustic bread and burgundy-hued grapes before driving the now fully charged MX‑30 EV out to Cartier-Brébeuf park to enjoy the fruits of her labour.
Words Jenni Doggett
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