There’s probably not a more romantic city for strolling than Québec City in autumn, but I am sure the charm of this city will grab you in any season.
I arrived via bus from Chicoutimi (near the Saguenay Fjord, where I’d just been) at Gare du Palais—the main train station in Québec City. Built in 1915 by Canadian Pacific and renovated 20 years ago, the station has 4-5 million people pass through every year!
I was so surprised to find here the quiet and chic L’Aviatic Club favored by lawyers from the nearby courthouse. The Asian seared scallops over parsnip purée were so delicious, as was my petite glass of pinot noir. Many Québec restaurants offer a 3-oz or 5-oz pour with indicating lines marked on the glass.
Later, my husband Highroad Cam met me at our hotel after driving 8 hours from Connecticut. The Hilton on Parliament Hill has spectacular views overlooking the citadel of Old Québec (Vieille Ville), the St. Lawrence River and the Laurentian Mountains.
Our beautiful corner room (1216) at the Hilton had floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides and looked out upon the famous and imposing Fairmont Le Château Frontenac Hotel, built in 1893 by Canada’s railway companies to evoke the romanticism of the 14th and 15th century chateaus of the Loire Valley.
After a quick cappuccino, we were ready for our tour with Francois of Tours Voir Québec, who had rented a car. Francois drove us to the historic Montmorency Falls Park and scenic île d´Orléans—a landscape paradise complete with vineyards and sunflowers. We stopped at Ste. Petronille Vineyard and sampled some ice wine in their beautiful tasting room. One could easily spend a week just at île d’ Orléans!
Back in Québec City, Francois ditched the car to show us the old town by foot. The cobbled streets of the 400-year-old city and close proximity of most of the historical sights make it a favorite city for walking. Having knowledgeable Francois Vidal, a history buff, of Tours Voir Québec accompany us on our fantastic walking tour made it better yet. He shared the city’s interesting and complex history as we made our way to the Plains of Abraham. It was once a farmer’s (Abraham) field and now, it’s a national park and concert venue.
Québec City was fought over by the British, the French and the Americans due to its highly prized location on the St. Lawrence River and access to the Atlantic Ocean, which made it a key place for fur trade to Europe. The fortified wall that protected and still surrounds Old Québec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the only citadel in existence in North America.
The next day, Cam and I were on our own and started the day with breakfast at the top of the Hilton in the executive suite—cappuccinos and croissants on the 23rd floor. If you are really hungry, and not interested in the view, try the buffet breakfast in Allegro restaurant.
Starting at the Hilton at the top of the city, on Parliament Hill overlooking Vieille Ville (old town), we walked down to Rue Saint-Jean and shopped at the oldest market on the East coast—J.A. Moisan (also a B&B). We walked over to the Royal 22nd Regiment Museum and since it was a Sunday,(every day in the summer except when it rains) saw the changing of the guard, dressed in traditional red uniforms with tall bear skin hats, leftover from British rule.
The British are trying to find a faux alternative to using bear pelts for the hats as each one requires an entire Canadian black bear’s skin. We then visited the parliament building displaying the Québec coat of arms with three motifs: the fleur de lys (French), maple leaves (Canada) and the lion (Great Britain).
Everyone speaks French in Québec, making it hard to believe that you’re not in Europe, and the French flair of the boutiques and restaurants is irresistible. The streets are safe and there are always outdoor performers. We saw several world-class acrobats, singers and dancers. We were also lucky to see Cirque du Soleil’s free nightly performance called Les Chemins Invisibles—spectacular!
In Vieille Ville we strolled and shopped on du Petit- Champlain and settled on Le Lapin Sauté for a lovely September al fresco lunch. I enjoyed the best French onion soup. Cam and I drank a bottle of local rosé cider flavored with strawberries and raspberries. We shared the croque migneron—grilled cheese Québécois style, similar to the traditional croque monsieur but with the strongly flavored local migneron de charlevoix cheese.
We took the ferry across the St. Lawrence River to Levis (20 minute ride, $6.50 round trip) to get a view of the Québec skyline and came back to visit several of the many attractions in Place Royale, the 400-year-old square in Québec where the trendy restaurants and galleries are, and once the main market place and square where public executions took place! And then the funicular ($2) back up to Le Chateau Frontenac. After our long day, we went back to the Hilton to enjoy their outdoor/indoor pool and sauna and get ready for dinner!
From the Hilton, we took the elevator to the parking garage and cut through the very interesting and historic St. Matthew’s Cemetery, where thousands of people were buried from 1772-1860! I love old cemeteries, and you can do a self-guided tour of this one with its iPhone app. When we passed through the cemetery, we were at the top of Rue Saint-Jean,, where there is a myriad of quaint restaurants. We chose the cozy and moderately priced Hobbit Bistro for dinner that night.
I enjoyed their yellow and red beet salad with goat cheese and their extensive wine selection. Cam had the Argentinean skirt steak and a Québécois beer. For dessert, we went right next door to Tutto Gelato. My chocolate hazelnut gelato was possibly the best thing I have ever tasted! The rest of the evening was spent strolling and people-watching and when our feet ached we went back to the lovely Hilton.
Cam and I did and saw so much in two days, and of course, I can’t wait to go back and experience winter here. But anytime of year, you can’t go wrong with Québec City.