Enchanting is not a word I use often. But, from…
It’s impossible not to be utterly enchanted by Quebec City. A city that oozes European cachet, romance, and fine cuisine, you’ll be so charmed, you’ll want to date it.
Quebec City sits on a bluff overlooking the St. Lawrence River in the Province of Quebec, Canada. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is the birthplace of French civilization in North America, dating back four centuries. Today, French remains the predominant language spoken, although English-speaking visitors won’t have any problems communicating in the tourist areas.
The old city was especially beautiful on my visit, as it was getting all decked out for the holidays – – decorations which will stay in place for the winter, when the city hosts its annual Carnival. Nothing like a well-dressed date!
Here are some of the best ways to get acquainted with this old-world treasure:
Wander the Best Street in Canada
In 2014, Rue du Petit-Champlain (photo above), in the city’s Lowertown, was voted Canada’s most beautiful street for its bewitching mix of culture and history. Lined with bistros and original shops, I loved walking along this cobblestone street, soaking up the heritage of the old buildings with their gabled roofs. It feels like stepping back in time in France.
Take the Funicular
If you’re up for some exercise, there’s a stairway, known as “Breakneck Stairs” leading to Uppertown. Or you can take the funicular. In operation since 1879, it offers a wonderful view of the neighbourhood and the St. Lawrence River, as you ascend to Dufferin Terrace and the Chateau Frontenac.
Visit the Chateau Frontenac
An iconic landmark, the Château Frontenac was built over 100 years ago as a luxury stopover for railway passengers. A resting place for the rich and royal, the guest list has included King George and Queen Elizabeth, Monaco’s Princess Grace, and Alfred Hitchcock. The hotel exudes old world elegance, with its wood-paneled ceilings in the lobby and a soaring hallway chandelier. Stop in at the 1608 Bar to savour some wine and local cheese while enjoying the views of the St. Lawrence.
Stroll Dufferin Terrace
As part of any old world tour, a promenade along this 671-metre long boardwalk beside the Chateau Frontenac is de rigueur, just as hotel guests did 100 years ago to show off their finery. While the winds here can be brisk, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking vistas from the gazebos that line the terrace.
Enjoy the View from the Ferry
For views of the city skyline, take the ferry from Quebec City across the St. Lawrence to Levis. For only $7 for the round trip, it’s a perfect way to watch the sun set and the city light up. The return trip takes about one hour.
Take a Tour in a Horse-Drawn Carriage
How many cities do you know that still have hitching posts along the road? Look for the posts, and that’s where you’ll find a horse-drawn carriage for a tour of the old city. Locally, it’s known as a calèche. While the tours are pricey, they cover the key city highlights, with narration by the driver.
Admire the Notre Dame Basilica
The Notre-Dame de Québec Basilica-Cathedral, a national historic monument of Canada, is the oldest Catholic parish in North America. The Basilica dates back to 1647 and has had a tumultuous history of bombardment and reconstruction. Many of the art works remain from the time of the French regime, and it is the final resting place for four governors of New France.
Walk the Walls
Quebec City is the only remaining fortified city in North America north of Mexico, with close to 4.6 kilometres of walls and gates to explore. The fortifications, themselves, are considered to be a national historic site. They include the Citadel, an impressive star-shaped fortress with a commanding position on a plateau above the river.
Shop at North America’s Oldest Grocery Store
This, the oldest grocery store in North America, is truly a delectable bit of history. Founded in 1871, J.A. Moisan is known for its selection of fine food, products made in Quebec (preserves and fine cheeses) and foodstuffs from around the world. With its old-fashioned decor and music from another era, it’s reminiscent of an old general store from the movies.
Get a Glimpse of Quebecois Culture
You can’t miss the huge “Fresque des Québécois” in Lowertown. The mural recounts the history of the City. In the windows of the painted building, you’ll see some 15 historic figures and nearly a dozen of Quebec’s leading writers and artists.
Step Back in Time
Place Royale is the site where Samuel de Champlain built a fort and trading post after his arrival in 1608 – – the first permanent French settlement in North America. The square is also home to Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, the oldest stone church in North America, built in 1688. You can learn more about it at the Musee de la place Royale on the square.
This is my favourite spot in the city, a place to linger and imagine what life was like for the French settlers who walked here.
Speaking of favourite things, no visit to Quebec City would be complete without indulging in the fabulous food. An excellent example is Panache in Auberge Saint-Antoine. Nestled in the thick stone walls of a 19th-century warehouse, the restaurant serves a modern take on traditional French cuisine. The dinner I had there was exquisite, as was my stay at the hotel overall. It was easily a highlight of my visit to this charming city.