After years of pining, I recently had the opportunity to explore the picturesque town of Quebec City. I have long drooled over the photos of European style shops and stories of warm people and delicious food and I wasn’t disappointed. Everything I had heard about the city not only lived up to the hype but also far exceeded it. I have a lot to share about this quirky place, but first I want to share the images that encapsulate the experience of visiting for me.
1. Chateau Frontenac – Whether or not you actually stay at this iconic hotel, it is hard to imagine the Quebec skyline without its constant presence. Originally built in the 1890s for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, the hotel is the epitome of Gilded Age extravagance. Today the grand hotel still captures the grandeur of an era I thought was long lost and to visit is to really feel like one of the upper classes. Walking around town I found myself constantly searching for the turrets and gables of the castle, finding comfort whenever they made an appearance. Even though just about every tourist brochure of the region includes this photo, it’s with good reason. It truly is one of the five images I will remember most from my visit.
2. Food – Being in Quebec is a lot like being in Europe, a phenomenon I’ll write about in the next few weeks. Nowhere is this better seen than through the variety of delicious foods offered around town. Mornings start with a café au lait and warm chocolate croissant, not unlike every morning I have ever spent in France. The rest of the day is filled with meats, cheeses and of course desserts that rival the best food stalls of Brussels or Paris, much less North America. The 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 will always remember about it.
3. Old Port – Sure it’s touristy and sure it’s what is expected of a first time visitor to the city, but it’s also a magical part of town. On our second evening we took the 130-year-old funicular (they’ve remodeled, don’t worry) from the boardwalk in front of the Chateau Frontenac down to the Vieux Port, the Old Port. As I walked out into the street I was met with a scene from a travel calendar. I hate the word, but the streets oozed charm and quaintness and the Christmas lights adorning every window, shop front and lamppost took me to the middle of an Alpine village and not a medium sized city in Canada. This same sense of magic is there at all times of day, from window-shopping in the afternoon to enjoying a delicious dinner at a Belgian style bistro in the evening. Like many older sections of towns around the world, the Old Port of Quebec has seen a renaissance in recent years, something I hope only continues to develop what can be best described as the must visit neighborhood in town.
4. Plains of Abraham – Canadian history is not my forte, not in the slightest. But even I knew the importance of a visit to the Plains of Abraham near downtown Quebec. In 1759 on the large grazing land, the French lost in battle to British forces allowing them to take over Quebec and subsequently all of Canada. What surprised me most about this battlefield was its proximity to the city; it’s in the middle of it. For whatever reason I always assumed it to be in a remote, far removed part of the province. Even though the 18th century battle wasn’t a long one, it is nevertheless a somber experience to walk around the large fields. It’s also an important experience for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of Quebec and Canada.
5. Skyline – On my last morning in town, I bundled up and walked through the Old Port to the large ferry waiting at the nearby docks. One of the best kept travel secrets in town is to take the Société des traversiers du Québec ferry from Quebec to Levis on the opposite shore. The ferry ride isn’t about the destination though necessarily, but for the views en route. At only $6.40 round trip per person, this is the best and cheapest way to see the entire skyline of Quebec City as it was meant to be seen, from the water. Long before the railroad came along, Quebec was an incredibly important port city for furs and other goods. The view of the skyline was meant to immediately impress visitors with the city’s wealth and grandeur, both of which survive to this day. It’s not hard to imagine what it must have been like to navigate the Saint Lawrence River all of those years ago and to see this gleaming city on a hill.
These are five photos that really define Quebec City for me. Have you been? What images first come to mind for you?