Exploring La Vieille Capitale, Quebec

Understanding Quebec means exploring La Vieille Capitale. Quebec City is one of Canada’s premiere cultural enclaves, where the best in art, cuisine, and the outdoors come together in one unique French Canadian package. La Vieille Capitale is synonymous with all that makes Canada authentic; Quebec City glistens during the Quebec Winter Carnival – the perfect time to explore an ice hotel – and shines in the summer, when the streets of La Vieille Capitale buzz with energy.

1 Côte de la Citadelle, Québec, QC G1R 3R2, Canada
Atop Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond), at the city’s highest point, the Citadelle overlooks Old Québec, the St. Lawrence River, and the Plains of Abraham. There have been defensive structures here as early as the French period—in fact, the location of Québec City was chosen because Samuel de Champlain saw the strategic advantages that Cap Diamant offered. The fortifications you see today, however, date to the 19th century: They were built after a failed attempt by Americans to conquer Québec City during the War of 1812. Students of World War II history may be familiar with the Citadelle as the site of the Québec Conferences, when Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Canada‘s prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, met to plan their countries’ strategies during the war. The Citadelle is still an active military base; the museum inside is devoted to the 22nd Regiment, which makes its headquarters here.
1 Rue des Carrières, Québec, QC G1R 4P5, Canada
Set high above the St. Lawrence on Cap Diamant, overlooking Old Québec, this imposing yet inviting landmark is as much a lodging as it is a tourist attraction, borne out of its reputation as the most photographed hotel in the world. Opened in 1893 by the Canadian Pacific Railway to drum up luxury riders for its trains, the castle-like Fairmont Le Château Frontenac feels every bit as grand today as it must have when Roosevelt and Churchill secretly hatched plans for the invasion of Normandy here in 1943—and it continues to be the hotel of choice for A-list celebrities and other notables. A $75 million renovation in 2014 updated the 611 rooms with a more contemporary feel, draping spaces in chic furnishings and soothing shades of gray and cream, plus butter-yellow or soft turquoise accents. The spa features seven treatment rooms adjacent to an indoor pool, whirlpool, steam rooms, and a gym, but the hotel has become a destination for its food: Champlain restaurant is helmed by acclaimed young chef Stéphane Modat and offers a modern take on Québécois cuisine alongside magnificent views, while 1608 Wine & Cheese Bar highlights local wines, cheeses, and charcuteries.
9530 Rue de la Faune
Quebec really knows how to throw a party. It may be cold, but the Quebecois absolutely love it. The Hotel de Glace is just one example. Covering 32,000 square feet, this glistening example of “ice engineering” is just too much fun to pass up. If you’re feeling adventurous, make a reservation and spend the night, all of the rooms are themed differently with unique ice carvings in each room. The hotel will provide you with arctic-style sleeping bags designed to keep you warm well below zero. If perhaps you would like a libation, there is a bar that serves signature drinks. I sampled a Hotel De Glace cocktail that consisted of vodka and ice cider served in a shot glass carved from ice. After dark, the hotel comes to life with beautiful colored lighting that really highlights the structure. For a bit more fun for you adrenaline junkies, you will find a climbing wall made of ice, the gauntlet is now thrown down. For more information visit the hotel’s web site at http://www.hoteldeglace-canada.com. Photograph by www.xdachez.com
8 Rue Saint Antoine, Québec, QC G1K 4C9, Canada
Occupying a 17th-century wharf and cannon battery alongside three other 18th- and 19th-century buildings in Québec’s Old Port, Auberge Saint-Antoine is a history buff’s dream. During the restoration and construction of the Relais & Chateaux property, an extensive archaeological dig unearthed artifacts dating back to the 1600s, many of which are on display in 95 individually designed room, which are decorated in a soothing palette of cream and gold offset by splashes of regal scarlet. The warehouse where Chez Muffy is located dates back to 1822 and has wonderfully preserved stone walls, as does the on-site cinema. But it’s not all old-world charm. The airy health club offers spa treatments using Canadian skincare line G.M. Collins, and the hotel’s gourmet food truck hosts summer pop-up events in the nearby Vignoble de Sainte-Pétronille vineyard on Île d’Orleans.
34 Rue Saint-Louis, Québec, QC G1R 4P3, Canada
Aux Anciens Canadiens in Upper Town is a venerable favorite among Québec City’s restaurants. It opened in 1966 though the building it’s in is almost three centuries older than that, having been built in 1676. It’s easy to find—the red-roofed house looks as if it were moved from the Québec countryside into the heart of the city. As it happens, it was the other way around: After the house was built, the city grew up around it. Inside, there are five different dining rooms, all equally cozy and inviting, especially if you are visiting in the winter. The menu focuses on solid, excellent traditional dishes, many featuring game: bison stew, red deer fillet, grilled stag, and bison and wapiti tenderloins. And for dessert, try the maple syrup crème brûlée. The $20 three-course prix fixe menu comes with a glass of house wine and is a good option if you are on a budget, though be aware that there are supplemental charges for many of the dishes offered.
699 Rue Saint-Jean, Québec, QC G1R 1P7, Canada
Opened in 1871 as a general store, J.A .Moisan is now specialty foods store. When I’m in Old Québec, it’s my go-to place for items for a picnic lunch or lazy dinner. Stepping inside J.A. Moisan, you’re greeted by old world charm—a dark, wood-filled room crammed with foodstuffs. I feel like I’ve been transported back to the 1870s. There are two sets of entry doors. I always enter in on the right side because those take me straight to the deli counter. There I will find the delicious pates, terrines, and cheeses that my epicurean heart pines for. With restraint, I pick out a few items. Into my picnic bag will go a baguette, a box of crackers, some fruit, and drinks. But what picnic lunch would be complete without dessert, and who makes better desserts than the French? Seriously. Just around the corner from the deli counter is the desserts counter. As I near it, I always seem to hear Madame Mille-Feuille calling me, and if they have Napoleons, I have to have some. I confess that there have been days when one dessert goes into the picnic bag and the other is devoured before I even leave the store. J.A. Moisan has a small cafe section with a few tables. Before I leave, I head to the shelves stocked with “produit d’erable” which, in my mind, translates to yummy stuff made with the goodness of maple syrup. I pick up a few items for my own pantry and as gifts for friends. If you’re a foodie visiting Old Québec, J.A. Moisan is worth a visit. Bring a big bag!
179 Grande Allée Ouest, Québec, QC G1R 2H1, Canada
This sprawling museum is located in four buildings near Battlefields Park—the most recent of them, the Pierre Lassonde pavilion, opened in 2016 and was designed by starchitect Rem Koolhaas’s OMA. The 25,000 works in its permanent collection cover the history of art in the province, beginning with the French colonial period and including artists who are still active today. The museum also holds one of the world’s most important collections of Inuit art, with some 100 pieces—mostly carvings in stone, whalebone, or ivory—on display at any one time. Temporary exhibitions focus on both local and international artists. If you have time for a sit-down meal, Tempéra Québecor—helmed by Marie-Chantal Lepage, one of Québec’s best-known chefs—is near the entrance of the new pavilion, with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the grounds and the Grande Allée.
49 Rue d'Auteuil, Québec, QC G1R 4C2, Canada
Old Québec City looks and feels like a charming town in France that was transported to the shores of the St. Lawrence River more than four centuries ago. Step foot in Old Québec City and you’ll be surrounded by quaint, historic stone buildings flanking narrow streets paved with stone blocks. Everywhere you go, you will be reminded of the region’s Francophone heritage but this is not France, it’s Canada and the native Indian tribes have put their stamp on the Québécois identity. The result is a wonderful fusion of two cultures. French is the language spoken but the accent is uniquely Québécois. There is plenty of divine French food to be savored but I also scarfed down more than my fair share of Québec’s quintessential foods, poutine and tourtière. I loved strolling through galleries specializing in native Indian art. By the time I got home, I had gained a few pounds and developed an obsession with Inuit soapstone sculptures! Old Québec City is undeniably a place that you will want to explore on foot. After you end your stroll through Place-Royal and Quartier du Petit Champlain, walk up to Terrasse Dufferin and gaze up at the famed hotel, Château Frontenac. Then head to the ramparts of the Citadelle to take in the views overlooking the St. Lawrence. Old Québec City is a beautiful city with old world European charm that beckons you to slow down. If you live on the east coast of the US, a visit to Old Québec City makes for a perfect long weekend escape!
5300 Boulevard Sainte-Anne, Québec, QC G1C 1S1, Canada
Under 20 minutes by car from Québec City (or, if you are feeling ambitious, less than an hour by bike, with most of the ride on a well-maintained path), Chute-Montmorency (Montmorency Falls) is the area’s most impressive natural wonder. If you visit the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec before you go, the sight will look familiar: Montmorency has long been a popular subject for local painters. Think Niagara is impressive? The cascade here is a full 99 feet higher—272 feet to the Horseshoe Falls’ 173 feet. In winter, spray from the falls freezes into a hill at its base, known as the Sugarloaf, and snowshoes are available for rent if you want to explore the nearby trails. In the summer, there’s a zip line for those in search of an adrenaline bump. Year-round, a cable car carries passengers to the top of the falls, providing bird’s-eye views en route.
205 Boulevard des Cèdres, Québec, QC G1L 1N8, Canada
The place to be right now and every February is Québec; specifically at the 60th Winter Carnaval de Québec. And if you’re a fan of winter fun and ice buildings, this bit of info is for you. Bonhomme, the larger-than-life Carnaval mascot lives in the Ice Palace.The structure at 300 tons of ice and at 40 feet tall, is made of 40% more ice than 2013’s palace and includes individually sculpted rooms of the “King of the Party” Bonhomme. Carnaval goers are invited to explore his foyer, kitchen, bedroom and dining room, all so stylishly decorated with items sculpted from ice. The mysterious Bonhomme creates the joi-de-vivre each winter for the Québequoise and visitor. Almost a cult figure and certainly a celebrity, his persona can ignite hysteria at some of the drink-fueled nightime concerts he attends during Carnaval. In his Ice Palace, discover “ bits and pieces of Bonhomme’s private life and his creation workshop where all of his crazy ideas come to life!“ says the proud Carnaval Committee. Certainly based on the excitement he generates, this new glimpse into his “ life” in the Ice Palace will delight his adoring fans. Carnaval opens for 2014 January 31st when the world’s largest winter celebration launches a huge fireworks show, and concludes February 16th. The entire schedule of events throughout Québec is online. It is the biggest celebration in the snow you’ll have all winter, Bonhomme guarantees it.
Quebec City, QC, Canada
The province of Quebec is notorious for its quaint, picturesque villages. The compact forests and the thousands of lakes in the Laurentides region certainly make for the picture-perfect Canadian postcard, including the beautiful lakeside chapel in Saint-Alphonse or the wholesome locals of Old-Town Saint-Sauveur. On the other hand, the rolling hills of the Eastern Townships are as bucolic as it gets: villages like Hudson, with its gourmet market, microbrewery and century-old houses have a slight England feel, as does nearby Sutton. However, the ultimate wintery escape from Montreal surely is Quebec City, with the snow-capped Château Frontenac, 400+ year old historic center and festive winter Carnival every February.
Rue des Carrières, Québec, QC G1R 5J5, Canada
Overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the Terrasse Dufferin (Dufferin Terrace) runs along the top of a cliff, some 200 feet above the Lower Town, and is presided over by the grande dame hotel Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. The terrace was constructed in 1879 and is named after Lord Dufferin, governor-general of Canada from 1872 to 1878, who is credited with saving the old city walls after zealous city planners began to tear them down. The terrace is some 1,400 feet long and makes for a pleasant place to stroll, or sit, if you are visiting Quebec City on a sunny day. The funicular that descends to the Lower Town is found at the northern end of the terrace, near a statue of Samuel de Champlain.
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