No place in Canada (or North America) is more like Europe than Quebec City, Quebec. While French is the official language, nearly everyone is bilingual and American`` English is widely spoken. Both languages are taught in the schools. But its more than just language, its the culture -- the architecture, the gardens and fountains, the public art, the hospitality, the charm, and the food (especially the food). Like Paris, there are small cafes and bistros that offer tasty croissants and other fine pastries. Virtually every one has tables on the sidewalks where you can sit and enjoy your espresso while you observe the passing scene. Very Parisian.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to dine at one of the city’s leading French bistro restaurants l’Echaude www.echaude.com/en Our opening course was a wild mushroom soup followed by entrees of calves liver and duck confit. The food and service were both suburb. It was raining when we left, but fortunately our hotel the Auberge St. Pierre www.auberge.qc.ca/en was only steps away. A fine establishment in the European tradition with a great location, we enjoyed our stay.
The business center of the Old City is a very walkable area and has numerous art galleries, antique shops, fashion boutiques, book stores, jewelers, chocolatiers, and other welcoming shops. Near the center is a impressive bronze statue of Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635), "The Father of New France", a French navigator, cartographer, soldier, and explorer. He founded New France and Quebec City on July 3, 1608 (12 years before the Plymouth Colony and a year after the first Jamestown Settlement). Nearby, there’s a colorful three story high mural on the exterior wall of a building that depicts the history of Quebec from its founding to modern times.
The city is built on two levels. The Old City, the place most visited by tourists, is below a high cliff and closest to the river. There are seven stairways to the Upper City and an annual contest where runners race up and down all seven. Fortunately, there is also a tramway connecting the two sections of the city and several streets.
The British tried to oust the French from Quebec in 1690 but failed. When the envoys delivered the terms of surrender, the Governor General famously rebuffed the British declaring "I have no reply to make to your general other than from the mouth of my cannons and muskets." However, the British return in 1759, and following a three month sedge, defeated the French in 15 minutes in surprise attack at the famous Battle of the Plains of Abraham. It lead to the creation of Canada. You can visit the battlefield, now a beautiful park. In 1775, American colonial troops (under the command of Benedict Arnold) tried to drive the British out, but they too were defeated.
Quebec City is the Provincial Capital, the seat of government for Quebec. The impressive Parliament Building was completed in 1886. Its Second Empire architectural style was popular for prestigious buildings at the time both in Europe and America. It resembles Philadelphia City Hall somewhat, another Second Empire building. In front of the building is a beautiful fountain, reminiscent of Paris, donated to the city by a local department store owner a decade ago. Across the front of the building are a number of bronze statures of prominent Quebec leaders from the past. Throughout the city there are many fine examples of public art (think Paris).
The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is a luxury hotel in the Upper City that dominates the skyline. It was one of a series of "chateau" style hotels built for the Canadian Pacific Railway to encourage luxury tourism and attract wealthy travelers to its trains. The hotel is near the Dufferin Terrace, a walkway along the edge of the cliff, offering extraordinary views of the Saint Lawrence River.
A major attraction, just east of the city, are the Monmorency Falls. The falls are 275 feet high (98 feet higher than Niagara Falls) and 150 feet wide. They are located at the mouth of the Montmorency River where it drops over a cliff and enters the Saint Lawrence River opposite Orleans Island. The falls were named for Henri Montmorency, who served as viceroy (governor) of New France from 1620 until 1625.
There are staircases that allow visitors to view the falls from several different vantage points. A suspension bridge over the crest of falls provides access to both sides as well as a spectacular view. There is also an aerial tram that carries passengers between the base and the top of the falls. Each summer an international fireworks competition is held here with the falls as a backdrop. In the winter, mist from the falls freezes creating spectacular piles of ice that a few adventurous people scale for sport.
Orleans Island, located between two channels of the Saint Lawrence River east of the city was the site of the first settlements. The island retained its traditional rural way of life until 1935, when construction was completed on the two lane bridge connecting it to the mainland. In spite of this, the island has maintained its pastoral image and historic character, with more than 600 buildings classified or recognized as heritage properties. In 1970, the entire island was designated a National Historic District. Today the island is a mix of year-round and vacation homes and farms. It is a popular destination for day trippers and bicyclists.
Orleans Island, known as the "Garden of Quebec", is still an essentially rural place famous locally for its produce, especially strawberries, apples, potatoes and wine. Sugar maple outlets offer maple syrup and other sweet products. We visited the Bilodeau Apple Orchard and enjoy its delicious sparking “ice cider” made from apples frozen before they are picked. The island attracts more than 600,000 visitors each year to its numerous bed-and-breakfast inns, regional cuisine restaurants, roadside fruit stands, art galleries and craft shops.
For further information on Quebec City view www.quebucregion.com
Senior Travel Editor