1. French Not Required – Quebec is a complicated province. Thanks to a quirky history, the province is a bastion of French life in North America. French is the majority and sole official language of the province and about 80% of the population are native francophones. But don’t let this deter you! Speaking French certainly isn’t required and definitely is not necessary to get around the capital of the province, Quebec City. I speak French but my partner does not and he didn’t have any problems. Although you will hear plenty of French spoken around town, just about everyone I encountered also spoke English. Being bilingual is just a fact of life in Quebec and while not everyone speaks English, most of the people you’ll encounter as you explore town will. Most of the restaurants have bilingual menus and even if you don’t see them displayed just ask for one. What’s most important is that you shouldn’t let a non-existent barrier prevent you from exploring Quebec City. It’s an amazing city where you can experience the look and feel of a European town without leaving North America.
2. Chateau Frontenac – Ok, I’m sure you know about this iconic hotel and even if you don’t know the name I am sure that you’ve seen what is the most photographed hotel in the world. Built in 1893 the Chateau is the best example of the classic Gilded Age, railroad baron hotel in North America. But, there are a couple of things you might not know about this famous property. The first is that it’s no coincidence that the hotel looks like an Alpine castle. The present day luxury hotel sits on the site of an older castle, the Chateau Haldimand that was built in the 1780s to serve as the official residence of the colonial government. That chateau was demolished with the construction of the Frontenac. Also, most of the photos you’ve seen of the hotel include its famous green roof. It was green because it was constructed out of copper and not unlike the Statue of Liberty, the copper oxidized over time and turned green. In 2011 though a massive effort to replace the roof with new copper one began and today that famous green roof is gone and in its place is a shiny new brown version. The extensive, $7.5 million effort is now complete so make sure to stop by to see this newly revamped treasure because it won’t last forever. The green roof will return in about thirty years after this new roof has once again oxidized.
3. Visit a Waterfall – Sure Quebec City is a fantastic urban area with lots of museums, restaurants and shops but some amazing natural experiences are just a short drive away. About five minutes out of town are the surprisingly large Montmorency Falls. We walked up the path leading to the falls but heard them long before our first view. It was late November and the temperatures were already frigid; the first bits of ice had formed at the base of the falls. Standing at 275 feet high I was shocked to learn that Montmorency are actually higher than Niagara Falls and I wondered why I had never heard of them. During the summer months the surrounding park is a great spot for families to picnic and play some pickup football. Even though it was a little too chilly for a picnic when I visited, walking across the suspension bridge over the massive falls was an amazing experience and the views across the St. Lawrence are amongst the best in the city.
4. Fantastic Food Culture – Quebec benefits from a long and eclectic history, which has resulted in amongst other things a vibrant food culture. One of the best ways to quickly learn about the food offerings in town is through a food tour with the critically acclaimed walking tour company Tours Voirs Quebec. I went on a general walking tour with them, but one that also included some great food stops. One of my favorites was a visit to a local artisan chocolate shop Erico that features an always changing and always creative array of delicious treats. Also attached to the shop is a chocolate museum where visitors can learn all about the process of making those yummy bonbons. Overall, the culinary sensibility in Quebec is just different and like our European cousins special attention is paid to the quality of the food and not the quantity. Of course you can find Canadian staples as well, poutine and copious amounts of maple syrup are never far away. It’s this fusion of New and Old Worlds that I think makes Quebec such a wonderful culinary destination and is something I love most about it.
5. UNESCO – While it may not surprise you to learn that certain areas of historic Quebec City are UNESCO World Heritage sites, you may not know that the entire Upper and Lower Towns of Quebec City have been designated as World Heritage sites. As the oldest fortified town in North America, the number of historical sites is so vast and so important that the entire area was deemed worthy of perpetual protection. Quebec City is notable for a lot of reasons, but top among them is the fact that it is the only city in North America to have preserved its ramparts, gates and parts of the walls that still surround Old Quebec. Built on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence, the Upper Town has remained the religious and administrative center with churches and monuments and the Lower Town was and is the more commercial and industrial quarter. Together they form a unique urban ensemble that has preserved history while simultaneously modernizing; a feat few other cities have accomplished. One of the best things to do in Quebec City is to just walk around these historic parts of town, imaging the people who lived their and their stories that while untold, coalesce to form the fabric of the city we see today.
These are a few things I learned about Quebec City, what are some of your favorite things about the city?
I was in Quebec City as the guest of Quebec Tourism