At the back of what seems like every issue of National Geographic Traveler Magazine, there’s an ad for Québec City with a photo of le Château Frontenac, which, I recently learned, is the most photographed hotel in the world. With good reason, too, since that was all it took to convince me to go.
In Québec City’s 400-plus years, it’s seen a lot of action–as a trading post where Native Americans and Europeans swapped furs and goods, as the site of battles between the French and English, as the home of two departed professional sports franchises… and much more. You can read up on the history here, if you’d like.
Today, it’s known as the closest you can get to Europe without actually leaving North America. It’s amazing how far from home the city seems–though its largest industry is tourism, everyone everywhere speaks French, and the narrow streets and plazas give it such a European feel. I highly, highly recommend it to anyone looking for a foreign-feeling escape without the high price tag–and anyone who wants to practice their French. The people are so friendly, and willing to wait patiently while you bumble through ordering your croissant, crepe or pie. Trust me. We tried.
How I got there:
Airfares to Canada from DC were insane, so we opted to fly to Burlington, VT, hang out for a day, and then drive up at night. We passed through the Highgate Springs/Saint-Armand/Phillipsburg checkpoint on I-89 (which, by the way, is open 24/7. I missed half the 10-minute Ben & Jerry’s tour trying to obtain that information).
Where I stayed:
Le Gîte du Hu-Art, which is outside the city, though not inconveniently so–considering we had a car. It’s set on Lake St. Charles, which is beautiful, and the B&B has kayaks you can use for free, though we didn’t have time. I also read that breakfast is spectacular, though it was refunded during our stay because the hosts were out of town.
(Note: “Hu-art,” apparently, means “loon” in French because of the sound the bird makes. We have not stopped having fun with this more than three months later.)
What I did:
We loved the double-decker, red-bus (“bus rouge“) tour of the city. The price was a little steep, though helped by the exchange rate–and worth it, considering the city’s distinct history and culture. Our tourguide was young, funny and bilingual, alternating between English and French as he gave the tour in both. And although you could hop on and off, we stayed on until almost the last stop, disembarking at Place d’Youville to check out the city’s gay pride parade.
You can get tickets for the bus tour at the tourist information center across from le Château Frontenac–it’s in the upper portion of the city, which you can either walk to or take the (completely unnecessary yet fun nonetheless) funicular.
Naturally, we also had to shoot photos of le Château, and I was tipped off that the Québec-Lévis Ferry offered some great skyline views. That turned out to be completely correct–though be forewarned that the ferry ride itself is basically just a five-minute trip across the river. Then, if you have a round-trip ticket, you have to get off and get back on, making the whole process take around 45 minutes. Worth it, though.
We made a stop at Epicerie J. A. Moisan, too, a specialty foods store where I picked up an inordinately expensive block of local cheese. Loved the feel of the shop regardless.
We also drove out to Parc de la Chute-Montmorency to see the falls there. We walked all the way down and then took the funicular back up to the car (which was a rip-off, but it was burning hot outside). Every view was pretty spectacular.
And before heading home, we drove out to see the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.
Other than that, we mainly just ate, drank, wandered, and admired the beautiful buildings.
Where I ate:
Our first day, we ate and people-watched at the Parisian-style Le Cochon Dingue, where all the breakfasts came with lattes or hot chocolates.
And the second day, we hit up the farmers’ market–le Marché du Vieux-Port–and literally scarfed a chocolate croissant (pain au chocolat), a maple/salted butter crepe, and half an apple pie between us.
Dinners consisted of fondue one night and beer and poutine at Korrigane–a super chill brewery outside the touristy confines of the old city–the other.
Where I drank:
Aside from the beers at Korrigane, drinks at le Château Frontenac were another highlight. Jake had guessed the menu at Bistro Le Sam would feature some kind of maple bourbon cocktail, and when he discovered he was right, he had to get one (see: the Not So Rusty). It was pretty much the best cocktail I’ve ever had.
What I missed:
La Citadelle de Québec was another place we heard about for views, but after trying to get in twice, we threw in the towel. On our first day, we arrived at closing time, so we came back the next morning–only to learn that in order to enter, you have to be part of an hour-long, $16 tour, being as it’s still an active military base. No thank you. I just wanted a photo. (Just in case, we googled the view from there to make sure it didn’t top our ferry view, and we decided it didn’t.)
We could easily also have stopped at several of the tour bus sites to explore–including Parliament.