Quebec City blends European elegance with new world charm. The beautiful city is rich with civic pride and steeped in history. Easy to navigate, its affordable restaurants and hotels, stunning views and historical and cultural sites draw visitors to the French-speaking city year-round. Despite having less than 500,000 residents — less than a third of nearby Montréal — more than 2 million visitors flock to the picturesque city each year. Boutiques and cafés line the streets, horse-drawn carriages clop along cobbled avenues past heritage homes, musicians do their darnedest to serenade passersby and the St. Lawrence River rushes on, indifferent, behind it all.
Utterly walkable, Old Quebec packs nearly 100 restaurants into its tiny streets. Quebecois cuisine could best be described as French with local ingredients, and it goes far beyond the maple syrup for which the province is so justifiably renowned. There's a laudable focus on local cheeses, game and produce. Traditional fare includes tourtière with its flaky, buttery crust and seasoned meat filling, crêpes, croissants or rich cretons pork spread (try it on toast for a hearty breakfast). Snacks include fresh, salty cheese curds sold in plastic bags at neighborhood corner stores or dépanneurs. And if you visit during the "sugaring off" season from late February to May, don't leave without heading out of town to a sugar shack to see how maple sap is harvested and to eat a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, baked beans and other maple-drenched treats.
Quebec City has the sophistication of a much larger city, but can be fully appreciated in just a few days — as evidenced by the sheer array of luxury accommodations. Historic buildings in the Old City have been repurposed as boutique hotels, such as Auberge Saint-Antoine, Hôtel Le Priori and Le Saint-Pierre. There are also several grand old hotels, including the Chateau Frontenac, which are bargain priced compared to counterparts in many European cities.
Major credit cards are accepted at most hotels, restaurants, stores and attractions. If you need cash, you can get Canadian dollars at ATMs all across Québec City. Enjoy your trip!
QUEBEC CITY, CANADA DAY 1: PLACE-ROYALE, FAIRMONT LE CHÂTEAU FRONTENAC AND QUARTIER PETIT CHAMPLAIN
Almost all boutique hotels in the Old City offer an inclusive complimentary breakfast of bagels, cold cuts and pastries. If your accommodations lack this amenity, break the fast at Café de Paris' attached l'Omelette restaurant, with a full range of eggs and pastries served all day. Then head off to explore the walled city and the heart of Old Québec by foot. The area was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, but this 400-year-old city is a living, working place. Start at the Place-Royale, where explorer Samuel de Champlain constructed his first building in 1608. The area was the city's financial center in the 1800s, but during the last century it lay derelict and slummy, so boutiques and businesses migrated elsewhere in the area. Just a couple of decades ago though, the city rebuilt sturdy stone , Norman-style edifices using building plans from 1700, (adapted to Canadian winters with sloped or mansard roofs with deep overhangs) and businesses flocked back.
The most iconic structure in the heart of Old Québec overlooking the St. Lawrence River is the vast Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. It has 618 rooms and the building casts a broad shadow across the upper town. The hotel was constructed in three stages: the first in 1896 and the last in 1986. It's worth following behind one of the costumed tour guides or at least strolling through the lobby before walking along the terrace — a huge promenade that runs along the river in back of the hotel. There, street performers busk away, and at the end of the deck, the Glissades de la Terrasse, a toboggan ride in winter, becomes a 270-foot water slide for daredevils each summer.
Before taking the Brokeback Stairs, a steep flight that leads from the Château Frontenac down to the lower town, stop into the little Musée de l'Amérique Francophone. Alternatively, you can hop on the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec, located directly next to the Brokeback Stairs at the back of the Château Frontenac, for the 45-degree, glass cable railway with its panoramic views.
The rest of the afternoon might be pleasantly spent wandering, stopping in at little shops such as the Coop Vert Tuyau. A showcase for the works of local artists and artisans, Vert Tuyau — literally meaning a 'green pipe' — is a small store bursting with inventive, ecologically friendly items. There are handbags made of recycled cassette tapes and quilted belts that look much like modern-day versions of those originally worn by early Québec settlers. Also to be found are simple, but beautiful patchworks made of colorful hand-me-downs.
The Quartier Petit Champlain looks much like it might have centuries ago with its narrow winding streets and one-floor, 18th-century stone construction edifices. The area houses a wide array of small boutiques, jewelry stores, zany fashion houses, European-style restaurants and bistros.
Stop by La Fudgerie, which makes a wide array of fudge-based goodies that include long sausage-like fudge bars that — from a distance — might make you think you were entering a butcher shop.
Even if you haven't splurged to stay at Hôtel Le Concorde — a luxury establishment near the Québec Citadelle — you can dine at Ciel!, the revamped revolving restaurant. A full rotation takes 90 minutes, so enjoy the ever-changing view while digging in to broiled lobster, black sausage or succulent veal cheeks. The banana cake with maple whiskey mousse is the perfect excuse to stay for a second revolution.
Or, splurge on dinner at one of the bastions of regional cuisine, L'Échaudé, Légende or Initiale, which both offer an intimate setting for sophisticated fine dining with commensurately savvy wine lists. Be sure to try the local foie gras and farmstead cheese at either restaurant.
to Day 2