LOST IN QUEBEC CITY -
Narrow cobblestone streets stuffed with charming vendors, galleries, sidewalk cafes, picturesque churches, historic inns and wonderful restaurants, have helped Quebec City earn the moniker, "Paris without the jetlag." Add beautiful architecture and colourful vibrant squares full of musicians and artists, and you might end up wondering why anyone would bother travelling the extra distance to Europe?
Quebec City, "where the river narrows," is the capital of the province of Quebec and one of the oldest cities in North America. Situated on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, it was founded in 1608 as one of the first significant settlements in Canada, and it was here on the Plains of Abraham that the colony of ‘New France' fell into British hands in 1759.
The district of Old Quebec was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. A beautiful stony arch forms the entrance through the fortifications into this historical place, and its narrow roadways invite exploration. I spend a whole sunny afternoon blissfully lost in its warren of lanes, meandering through evocative alleys, ducking into eclectic galleries and enchanting shops, wandering past mouth-watering bistros, brasseries and boulangeries, and getting a sense of history everywhere I look, from the endless statues and plaques, to the great museums and sites like Battlefields Park and the Citadel.
I stumble upon the Place Royale, the square in which Samuel de Champlain founded this settlement. The cobbled courtyard is filled to the brim with history. Here is Champlain's fort, trading post and home, and also the oldest stone church in North America, Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, which was built in 1688. While musicians and street artists entertain, tourists jostle to get a photo of the Fresque des Quebecois, a wonderful mural depicting the story of Quebec, with life-like paintings of historic figures, and Quebec's famous writers and artists.
After wandering around in a delightful daze for a few more hours, I get my bearings when I look up to see the Chateau Frontenac looming above. Looking as much like a castle as a luxury hotel, it has gloriously dominated the city's skyline for over a century. A Funicular, (outdoor lift), whisks people up the steep grade to the grand hotel, or you can stay fit by trekking up the many stairs.
Just outside the walled battlements of the old city is the magnificent Parliament Building, inspired by the Louvre Palace in Paris. On its walls are 26 bronze statues honouring Quebec's historical figures. Horse drawn carriages pick up passengers at the Fountaine de Tourny for a tour of the old city. For me it will be a little more energetic. I rent a bike to navigate the paved cycle paths that lead out of the city to the Parc de la Chute-Montmorency. Once you arrive at the park, you can take a cable car up the mountain to take in the awe-inspiring views of Montmorency Falls. If you are feeling adventurous, try the Via Ferrata climbing route that scales the sheer wall beside the massive waterfall, and then zipline back over the crest of the chute.
Another quick 30 minute drive from Quebec City the next morning has me in the Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier. Here you can enjoy some easy white-water canoeing or rafting, and do some hiking in search of moose. After such strenuous activity, I have a good excuse to relax at the Siberia Station Spa located just on the outskirts of the city, with its hot and cold pools, waterfalls, steam baths and saunas, and some amazing riverside relaxation stations. The Spa experience is based on the Scandinavian concept of thermotherapy, where you alternate between hot, cold, and resting treatments. The process is said to relax muscles, reduce stress, improve sleep, eliminate toxins, and strengthen the immune system.
It has just made me hungry – but no worries, there is a wide range of cuisine options in Quebec City, from hip and trendy, to cosy and traditional. In Old Quebec is the charming Bello Ristorante. The food here is exquisite Italian presented in a unique Québécois style. For the beer lover, La Korrigane is a microbrewery where you can relax with a pint, and enjoy some great pub food.
I find a unique dining experience at the revolving Ciel! Bistro-Bar located on the top floor of Le Concorde Hotel and, with its magnificent panoramic views, I am able to see where I have really been the last few days. I enjoy an excellent dinner, whilst looking down on the winding roads, stone buildings, colour and activity that give this wonderful old city so much character.
Here, in Old Quebec, there is nothing better than just letting yourself get lost.
IF YOU GO:
Québec City Tourism www.quebecregion.com
PHOTOS: by Jamie Ross
1. The narrow streets of Old Quebec
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