Fall is my favourite time of year in Ontario and…
Want to walk in the shoes of royalty?
A stay at the iconic Chateau Frontenac in Canada’s historic Quebec City will have you feeling rather regal. After all, it’s where Queen Elizabeth II stays when she’s in town, as did her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Other notables include: Princess Grace of Monaco, Prince Andrew, and celebrities like Sir Paul McCartney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Angelina Jolie.
I began to think I should perfect my royal wave for my arrival at the castle. Alas, perhaps my people forgot to alert the media, as there was no paparazzi waiting. But there was a friendly and bilingual bellman who treated me like royalty as he ushered me into the posh lobby.
Looking around the aristocratic lobby, it’s clear that the lady has had a little work done. Indeed, the 120-year-old Fairmont property has recently undergone a $75 million face lift, transforming the public areas and about two-thirds of its rooms. The goal was to add some contemporary sizzle to the hotel, while respecting the hotel’s history.
And what a history it is. The site is where the French and British governors held court for over 200 years. The hotel was built in the late 19th century as a railway stopover for well-to-do travelers. It was so luxe that many of its rooms had fireplaces and bathrooms – – quite the indulgence for the time.
It was a time when the glitterati could be seen promenading along the Dufferin Terrace, overlooking the Saint Lawrence River and touring the other charms of the city.
The Chateau Frontenac has also hosted its share of world leaders. The D-Day invasion of France was planned here during meetings in 1943 and 1944 between U.S. President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill.
The last time I visited the hotel was as a journalist to cover the ‘Shamrock Summit’ in 1985, when U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney famously sang “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”.
Today, the castle, with its turrets, copper rooftop and domination of the city skyline, is known as the most photographed hotel in the world.
Over 300,000 guests stay in the hotel’s 611 rooms each year. I stayed in one of the standard Fairmont rooms which has yet to be renovated, and, while comfortable, the look of the room is somewhat dated, as is the practice of charging extra for Internet access.
If you’re looking for the real royal treatment, you may want to splurge and stay on one of the Gold floors. Here, the updated rooms are decorated in soothing neutrals and gold, and come with plenty of extras including a private lounge with panoramic views of the St. Lawrence River and the city, and your own personal concierge.
As part of the makeover, the hotel’s spa was moved to to the same floor as the gym, indoor pool and an outdoor sun terrace overlooking the city, which looks like a lovely spot for summer champagne sipping.
The effort to put some modern sizzle into the hotel shows up most in the dining spaces.
Bistro Le Sam, named for explorer and city founder, Samuel de Champlain, is an informal space becoming known for its creative cocktails, and its ‘High Tea with a Twist”. I didn’t get a chance to try the tea, so I look forward to returning to investigate the ‘twist’.
The landmark Champlain restaurant features an impressive ceiling-high wine wall, and a chef with 3-star Michelin credentials.
After an active, and somewhat chilly day wandering the city, I opted to settle in by the fire at the 1608 Wine & Cheese Bar (so named for the year the city was founded). The Bar offers over 400 kinds of Quebec cheeses sourced from its unique Cheese Room, used to store and age the cheese.
My mixed board of cheese and charcuterie, with various garnishes and sauces, and a glass of red by the fire was a perfect end to my day exploring this charming city.
The service at Bar 1608 was very attentive, but it was a small thing at the breakfast buffet the next morning that demonstrated an extra edge in the effort to make guests feel pampered. I put a smoothie in a glass bottle on my table and returned to the chef’s station to pick up a made-to-order omelette. When I returned, in what had to be less than 30 seconds, the smoothie had been poured into a glass, and the bottle removed from the table. I’ll bet the Queen never has to open a bottle either.
While we may never be royals, at the Chateau Frontenac, we can live that fantasy.
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