1. Old World Charm of Old Quebec City
What if I told you there’s a way to visit France without having to cross the Atlantic Ocean? Do you like quaint little villages and French food? Look to your north…way north, about an inch on the map from Lake Placid, New York or Bangor, Maine. Old Quebec City, in the Canadian Province of Quebec is the place you’re looking for. The historic French colony sits near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, the gateway to the Great Lakes.
Just like New York City in New York, there’s Quebec City in Quebec. Overlooking the western bank of the St. Lawrence, Old Quebec City sits surrounded by an imposing two-hundred-year-old citadel and fort, complete with massive stone walls and entry gates. Just beyond the canon bastion a boardwalk and promenade span the waterfront offering especially scenic views of the river and old shipping port.
2. Historic Buildings Are Everywhere
Like a mythical stone castle, the Victorian-style Chateau Frontenac looms over the boardwalk and old town. It’s worth a walk-through even if you can’t afford to stay there, just to see the varnished mahogany wood and polished brass in the bar and restaurant that overlooks the river. It was modeled after famous chateaus in France’s Loire Valley, and built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1893.
The Petit Champlain Quarter is within walking distance, as is most of the walled city. The European-style square is ringed by specialty boutiques, a sixteenth-century church, as well as some of the oldest houses in North America. Shops and bars and restaurants have been tastefully built into two-hundred-year-old buildings.
Any place inside the walls of Old Quebec City is walkable. Cobbled streets, stone staircases and even a funicular take you from sea level to the town’s highest points. Scattered among the unique shops and eateries are beautiful wall murals. One, in particular, is like a big window, offering a look at the century-old businesses that operated inside the multi-story building.
3. French Food Is a Must
Sampling the local fare is one of my favorite things to do when exploring someplace new, and because of my French heritage I eagerly anticipated trying some Old Quebec City specialties. We found a quaint Airbnb just inside the main gate. Undeniably, a perfect location from which to venture out on foot to check out the neighborhood. Our first walk ended quickly. We literally stumbled over a sandwich board on the sidewalk advertising the BE Club Bistro Bar.
A peek in the window led to poking our heads in the door. The aged patina of natural wood beams and hand-carved stone walls basically drew us in. It was perfect, and besides the bartender we were the only two people in the place. Menus sat on simple wooden clipboards and a chalkboard had the daily specials scratched onto it. The bistro offered four local craft beers, two of which suited us perfectly. For our first taste of Old Quebec City we ordered the poutine.
Poutine to Remember
I don’t usually eat poutine at home, mostly because of the crappy ingredients used by short-order cooks who don’t know what they’re doing. After tasting the BE Club Bistro’s poutine I’ll probably never eat it anywhere else again. They used crispy and plump hand-cut fries with generous portions of Montreal Smoked Meat and local cheese curds. My wife had to pull the plate away from me so I wouldn’t eat more than my share. We both had food orgasms.
We loved the bistro so much we went back on at least two more occasions for other delicacies like Foie Gras, maple-glazed salmon with risotto, and French bread pudding with local vanilla ice cream on top. The bartender let me snoop around and I found an amazing stone and glass wine cellar in the basement. There are plenty of other good restaurants in Old Quebec City and I tried a traditional meat pie at one of them, but it wasn’t as good as what my meme used to make.
4. Old Quebec City has Amazing Citadel and Fortifications
The massive stone wall that surrounds the old town is worth seeing up close and climbing on. There are stairways and access points at the city gates and along the wall itself. Walking along the top of the fortifications offers views of the inner city and the riverfront below. Canon bastions once used to protect the colony are positioned in strategic places around the wall. No matter which direction you walk, you’ll eventually come to the old fort (citadel). Tours are available if you wish to see what military life was like two centuries earlier.
Additionally, there are plenty of things to do outside the old town like river cruises and as well as an impressive waterfall nearby. There was a JazzFest that was just setting up on the day we left. Tickets included five different stage areas in and outside the walled city where you could enjoy world-class entertainment.
5. Check Out the Street Life
Communication was not a problem in Old Quebec City. English is widely spoken to tourists and there are plenty of free Wi-Fi hot spots. The locals are generally helpful and friendly. If you’re from the U.S. your American dollars undeniably trade at a healthy premium to the Canadian currency. Charge cards are widely accepted everywhere.
Strolling along the cobblestone streets lined with old stone churches, neatly painted houses and colorful flower boxes, you’ll swear you’re in a European village. There are walking and sightseeing tours inside the old city and out, but to get a real feel for the old-world charm try to get lost on foot. Sooner or later you’ll run into the wall and find your way home.
Experience French Culture in Old Quebec City
There is no excuse to miss Old Quebec City, eh? It’s a walled city and can’t get any safer, your American money is like gold, and you get a chance to experience French culture and especially tasty food without traveling to France. Bon Voyage!
If you enjoyed this travel blog post you can read more from Edmond Gagnon at: www.edmondgagnon.com