DAY 3: Montmorency Falls and St. Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica
After a beautiful day in Québec City (you can read all about that by clicking here), it was time to move on. So we packed our bags and cooler and loaded up our little Nissan Versa. We knew we were heading towards Montréal but wanted to make the most of our travel day, and found two spots just outside Québec City that were said not to be missed.
Our first stop was Montmorency Falls. It was a little tricky to find the pathway leading to the falls since everything was covered in at least five feet of snow, but it was definitely worth the wet feet we got on the way. Montmorency Falls is even higher than Niagara Falls, so walking across the suspension bridge over top of the gushing water was quite an experience. The water on the top and bottom of the falls was frozen, but because spring was on the horizon, there were spots that had defrosted. Seeing the water make patterns underneath the ice was absolutely beautiful. After taking our share of pictures, and even jumping a fence for the best view, we took our frozen feet back to the car to warm up.
Feeling a wee bit peckish, we decided to stop at the IGA near the falls. Having gone over budget the day before (drinks at the Château Frontenac and Foie Gras Poutine aren’t cheap!), we wanted to keep lunch on the cheaper side. We had $11 in cash and challenged ourselves to see what we could get with that amount. After much scouting of the store, we ended up with a very large baguette, two chunks of cheese, an apple, and a bag of cracker chips. We went over-budget by about 25 cents (the apple was surprisingly expensive), but we’re still considering this a win! We picnicked in the warmth of the car before our next stop.
Tip for this Spot: Do this exercise. See what you can get for yourself with a certain amount of cash in hand. It was great to see that with some imagination and effort, we could have an amazing, filling, and delicious meal for less than $6 each.
Our second stop was the beautiful St. Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica. What a surprise this was! In a town of only five hundred people stands this massive church, which was just as large, if not larger, than some of the cathedrals we’d seen in Spain just a few weeks earlier. There were more than a few audible ‘Oh my gods’ when first seeing the church, with its size being surprising in a town of only 500 people.
St. Anne was thought to be the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus, and believed to have performed many healing miracles, which is why she is now considered the patron saint of the sick and disabled. Her full story is depicted in beautiful mosaics all across the vaulted ceiling of the Basilica, which is visited by about half a million pilgrims each year. We spent some time walking around the church and taking in the stunning artwork and the breathtaking architecture. It’s become a bit of a tradition for Rose to light a candle for her father in the churches we visit, so after taking a moment to remember Steve, we exited through the gift shop and got back in the car.
Having been thoroughly WOWed by both the waterfall and basilica, we decided to power on to Hudson where we’d be staying with Rose’s aunt, Cathy, for a few nights. After a harrowing drive through Montréal during rush hour and more than a few wrong turns later, we arrived in the little Anglo-suburb and were greeted with an amazing dinner of eggplant parmesan prepared by Cathy (delicious, thanks Cathy!). We finished off an evening at a fundraiser for the local Hudson horse rescue and turned off the lights on what was arguably the most memorable day of our trip.
DAY 4: Hudson, QC
After three action packed days, we decided to take it easy on our first full day in Hudson and took in a gorgeous view of the Ottawa River from Cathy’s dining room table while we caught up on emails and other writing before heading out to explore Hudson.
Hudson is located about 60 kilometres West of Montréal with a population of just over 5000 people, but unlike many of the other suburbs in the area, it is a mostly English-speaking community with over 65% of its residents considering English their mother-tongue. While it’s very common for Québécois to speak both French and English, we were surprised when all of the stop signs said ‘STOP’ instead of ‘ARRÊT.’
The town-centre could be described as quaint, with a small theatre (where the fundraiser had taken place the evening prior), a few boutiques and vintage stores, a couple restaurants, and an IGA. We even stopped in at the local brewery, Brasserie de Bois Blanc, and had a few flights of beer to get a taste of all they had to offer, while also playing a few rounds of cribbage.
On our way back from the pub, we stopped in at the IGA and picked up a few groceries to cook dinner for Cathy as a thank you for letting us stay with her. With some ingredients and a bottle of wine in hand, we headed back to start cooking a Pad Thai meal that we had never cooked before (big mistake). There were a couple mishaps, including cooking WAY too many noodles and using the wrong ingredients in the sauce, but the end result wasn’t totally horrendous and the time the three of us spent together was lovely either way.
Tip for this Spot: Being able to stay with family or friends is not only a way to cut down on costs when travelling, but also lets you spend time with the people you love—but only if you’re a good house guest! Cooking dinner for your host is a great way to say thank you and will give you some quality time together. But take our advice and use a recipe you’ve cooked before…
DAY 5: Montréal, QC
Being so close to Montréal, we could not miss the opportunity to travel in and explore the city, so we drove to the Vaudreuil-Dorion station and hopped on the train to downtown. However, during our journey, the sky was getting increasingly dark and by the time we arrived, it was raining. But having come all this way, and since we were driving home the next day, we refused to let the bad weather get us down.
After a very cold, very wet thirty minute walk from the downtown train station, we arrived at Schwartz’s Deli. Since Montréal has a very large Jewish population, there are quite a few kosher-style delis but none so legendary as Schwartz’s, having fed celebrities like Jerry Lewis and Celine Dion (who is now a business partner). One usually has to wait in a long line for the opportunity to sit down for a sandwich, but thanks to the bad weather, we got inside the door within five minutes of arriving. We ordered two smoked-meat sandwiches, cherry cokes, fries, and a pickle to share. The meat was absolutely melt-in-your-mouth delicious, having been smoked for 10 days in the same smokehouse the deli has used for eight decades.
Tip for this Spot: Schwartz’s is absolutely worth a visit but enjoying the old-school deli vibes also means paying in the old-school way: CASH ONLY. There is an ATM inside, but to avoid those nasty fees, stop in at your bank before you go.
With our bellies full and our toes warmed, we headed out into the rain again towards Old Montréal, the historic neighbourhood with original architecture dating back to the 17th century. We’d had enough of the weather so we decided to get on the metro and as we exited the underground, we were greeted with the sight of–yes—another church, the Notre Dame Basilica.
With the weather as bad as it was, we thought this would be the perfect place to spend a little more time out of the rain. However we were appalled to see that the church had an $8 entrance fee per person. (Apparently we have strong feelings about churches being free to the public.) We considered not going in, but with few indoor-activity choices available to us on that bleary day, we ended up handing over the little cash we had and entered the cathedral.
And we’re so glad we did. With more audible ‘Woah!’s, we walked into the most colourful church interior we’d ever seen, with most surfaces painted blue, red, or gold. We marvelled at the artwork and stained glass windows, which we were interested to learn depicted the history of Montréal rather than biblical scenes like most other stained glass windows. Sitting down in a pew, we did a quick Google search to get a better sense of the symbolism of the statues in the sanctuary and around the altar and then sat for a few quiet moments just to take it all in. We lit another candle for Steve, and then took off to see more of Old Montréal.
Tip for this Spot: Don’t be like us. Rainy days are going to happen. So be prepared with an umbrella (which we didn’t have), appropriate clothing and footwear (which we also didn’t have), and a rainy day fund in your budget for the entrance fees to all those warm and dry places that weren’t necessarily in your plan but that will be a welcome refuge from bad weather.
The rain had cleared up enough to allow us a short walk around the historic district and we enjoyed walking around the old buildings and checking in with some little spots on a tourist map we’d found before having a little sit down at Le Petit Dep, a sweet little café-meets-general-store. With a coffee and a cake, we took a couple cute Grams and waited out the hour until our train was due to leave back to Hudson.
Thoroughly exhausted from our exciting (and chilly) day out, we opted for a cozy night in cuddling with Cathy’s long-haired daschunds. We toasted a very successful roadtrip, sipped on some wine, and binged a true crime Netflix series feeling quite pleased with our impromptu five-days away.
DAY 6: Travel back to Hamilton, ON
We ended our trip on a very high note with a quick brunch with Rose’s cousins, where she finally got the piece of tarte-au-sucre she’d been searching for the whole trip—a Québécois dessert that literally translates to ‘sugar pie’. Think pecan pie with no pecans. Feeling tired and ready to be at home, we started the long drive stopping only a couple of times at some OnRoutes along the way.
All in all…
This was a very successful trip. Not only did we have some time to appreciate a part of Canada that we hadn’t visited for a good long while, we also got to visit some family and connect with the city where Rose’s parents grew up. Although we were exploring the big sites and making our own memories, there was a certain sentimentality around the whole trip that made it feel extra-special.
We’ll definitely be making it a priority to do more of these spontaneous budget trips in the future. (If you haven’t read Adam’s piece on prioritizing travel, you can do that here.) And as always, if you want to keep up with us, you can find us on Instagram, Facebook, or by signing up for our mailing list below.