A writer sharing travels, experiences, a love of festivals & events. Life is a journey and I hope to inspire others. Visit my blog at https://www.travelwithirenke.blogspot.com
Published May 2nd 2017
Quebec City sits on the north bank of the St Lawrence River in Eastern Canada's mostly French speaking Quebec province. With a colonial past dating back to 1608, the city has much history to be admired in its buildings. It has the only fortified city walls remaining in the Americas (north of Mexico), thus dividing it into two distinct areas – historic Old Quebec inside the wall gates and the more modern downtown city area outside the gates.
One of many charming streets, this one leads to the funicular railway
Historic Old Quebec is the most fascinating and colourful area of the two with its cobblestoned streets, European architecture, cafes and restaurants, gifts and boutique shops. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985 and deservedly so.
A guided walking tour is a good way to learn about the history whilst giving you a good orientation. Our walk covered the lower part of Old Quebec and wound its way through many narrow laneways where lovely flower boxes upon window ledges (very European) add to the pretty factor of this part of the city. Place Royale is a square where French founder Samuel de Champlain erected a fort, storehouse, trading post and residence. It's a step back in time with the stone buildings of these and the adjacent church, the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires (the oldest stone church in North America, built in 1688).
Nearby, on Cote de la Montagne, is an enormous wall mural. The Fresque des Quebecois depicts the story of Quebec City and pays homage to historic figures, authors and artists. This is one of a number of frescoes dotting the city for visitors to admire.
A number of options will get you from the lower part to the upper part of Old Quebec. The dicey way is via an old staircase, nicknamed The Breakneck Stairs. A better option is the also very steep, but less frought with danger, funicular railway. We took the easy way via bus. Cars are allowed up top (but there is not much parking), however, motorcycles are not allowed inside the walls of the old city unless the person/s have a reservation at a hotel within the walls. Once there, it is very much an area to explore on foot.
When you reach the upper area of Old Quebec, a must-see on any trip to this city is the Chateau Frontenac. It's a Fairmont hotel and National Historic Site of Canada that dominates the skyline here. Perched atop the headland, it is a grand landmark with spectacular views of the St Lawrence River.
Chateau Frontenac, unfortunately with a little scaffolding at the top when we were there
Appealing to wealthy travellers, it has 600 rooms on 18 floors with much history and stories to tell. Originally being built for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company in 1893, it has been used as a movie location for Alfred Hitchcock's 'I Confess' film as well as being the spot for the World War II Allies' conference. We took a tour inside this charming hotel, guided by a lady in colonial costume. Grandeur and elegance abound with chandeliers and gold trimmings. The pink room was a favourite with its walls and furnishings in various rosy shades, its mood lighting and fireplace, not to mention the views outside. It was also a favourite of the likes of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when they were in town. Others that have stayed in the hotel include King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
For more history, La Citadelle is another prominent landmark and an intact fortress built in 1820 through fear of an American attack that didn't eventuate. It is still in use by the military and is the official residence of both the Canadian monarch and the Governor General of Canada. It is also a tourist attraction with guided tours of the Citadelle and museum, and has Quebec's only Changing of the Guard ceremony (from 24th June to Labour Day in September).
Peruse the upper section further for unique shops, art being sold in laneways, museums, statues and ornate fountains. Just outside a set of gates is Fountain de Tourny with its 43 water jets, spouting frogs and graceful figures. Prettier at night when it is illuminated, you can find it right in front of the Parliament House.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner options are plentiful in Old Quebec. An evening dining option we took up was at Cafe de Paris, just up the road from Chateau Frontenac. Very French and intimate with stone walls and a fireplace, our meals of salmon and chicken fed our stomachs nicely whilst music from an accordion player provided a fun atmosphere.
Quebec City is also home to over 100 parks and gardens, offering a variety of activities and sights. Parc du Bois-de-Coulonge (created by British and French royalty) is known for its gardens and bird watching whilst Parc Chauveau (the city's largest park) is popular for hiking, canoeing and skiing.
Battlefields Park is full of history with 50 historic artillery pieces, structures and statues that include Joan of Arc on horseback and the Martello Towers. The Plains of Abraham within the park were the scene of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham which took place in 1759 when British soldiers took fire and defeated the French in a clash that lasted only 30 minutes. Today, the park's museum features a multi-media exhibition on this battle and the siege of Quebec. Other displays feature archaeological artefacts found on the site.
When in Canada, you must try Canadian maple syrup. It is world renowned and a visit to a maple farm (10 minutes away) was a highlight for us. At Erabliere le Chemin du Roy (aka the Sugar Shack), we learnt about the production of maple syrup, including the tapping and extract from the trees. Afterwards, we headed inside the barn-like farm building to enjoy a huge Canadian breakfast with the works. Everything from bacon and eggs to potato and pancakes plus more, with plenty of top ups, had us full to the brim. We left with maple leaf-shaped products from the gift shop – bottles of maple syrup and a pillow that came in handy on the bus. Open year round, there is often traditional folk singers and entertainment playing. Our trip was during summer but in winter you can also enjoy sleigh rides here through the woods.
If you have more time, other things to see nearby are:-
Montmorency Falls Park –only 15 minutes out of town, it has a gondola, scenic stairway, suspension bridge and a double zipline for your adrenaline fix, giving breathtaking views of the falls from different perspectives.
Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre – this oldest pilgrimage site north of Mexico has glorious stained glass, mosaics and paintings, along with stone and wooden sculptures adorning the basilica. It has been credited by the Catholic Church with many miracles of curing the sick and disabled.
Valcartier Vacation Village – it's Eastern Canada's largest theme park with both indoor and outdoor water parks, a treetop adventure course and whitewater rafting in summer whilst in winter it becomes a snow playground with skating, snow tube riding and an ice hotel (the only one in North America), Hotel de Glace.
Parc National de la Jacques Cartier – a vast and mountainous plateau, crisscrossed with glacial valleys and rivers, it is popular for its hiking, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, camping and snowshoeing.
With so much fun to be had and so much beauty, Quebec is worth putting on your bucket list.