My mother comes over from Germany once a year to visit me, and I try to take her somewhere neither of us has been before. Usually, that involves my dragging her to whichever place is next on my bucket list :-). This year, that meant heading to Québec City. I’ve had so many people recently tell me how wonderful it is there, I just had to go and see for myself.
A word on logistics: There are few direct flights to Québec, making it one of the more expensive destinations in Canada to fly into. We chose to fly with Porter Airlines through Toronto. We stayed at the Château Fleur de Lys , which is a lovely little boutique hotel in the upper town, very walkable, yet quiet. And here’s an interesting labor relations fact: Taxi drivers in Québec have successfully lobbied to not have bus service to the airport, making cabs and Uber the only way to get into town. We did an excellent walking tour of the old town, which I booked through Voir Québec.
Note that the old town of Québec, which consists of the upper and lower town, is very hilly with lots of stairs and narrow cobbled streets. A bus tour will not give you a good impression of the town since it won’t be able to squeeze into those streets. If your mobility isn’t great, use the funicular and take your time – it’s worth it.
My plan for the four days we were there was really just to poke around a bit and not attempt anything too crazy. I had the walking tour booked, but nothing else. My online research had yielded the Montmorency waterfall, a few miles out of the city, as a potential point of interest, as well as a chocolate shop/museum, and the old citadel.
First up, we both did our best to revive our French. You can definitely get by in Québec City with English, but some people will be happier if they can speak French to you. As Porter Airlines made their announcements in English and French, I was interested to learn that we had to switch off our “téléphones intélligents” while in flight. That’s seven (!) syllables for “smart phone”. I’m sure most people just use the English word, but Québec is big on protecting the French language.
After taking our obligatory photos of the Château Frontenac in the upper town, we headed down the breakneck stairs to the lower town, which has been extensively restored. There’s a certain Disney-like quality about it because everything’s so perfect, but still … très charmant!
We took the ferry across the St. Lawrence River to Lévy, mostly because it gives you great views of the Château Frontenac (which isn’t really a chateau, but a hotel built by a Canadian railway company back in 1893). On the way back, we made the acquaintance of M. Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Québec:
The next day – the coldest I’ve ever experienced in August – we headed over to the Citadel for what turned out to be the last changing of the guards for the year. The star attraction here is the goat mascot. Yes, you read that right. The original Batisse the Goat was a gift from the Queen of England in 1955, and the current one is the eleventh generation performing his duties during the ceremony. Each goat goes through extensive training, which is displayed in his remarkably good behavior during the 45-minute-long event (although I did catch him taking a nibble from the goat major’s uniform towards the end).
For a change of pace, we then left the old town to visit Erico Chocolatier. This chocolate shop boasts a tiny (free) museum and a hot chocolate menu. Just the ticket for an August day that didn’t make it out of the 40s!
Luckily, the next day turned out to be sunny and warm, which was perfect for our outing to the Chute de Montmorency, a waterfall higher than Niagara, but admittedly not quite as impressive. For the truly brave, there is a zip line across the falls, but we were quite happy taking in the view from solid ground. The stairs to the bottom of the falls have almost 300 steps, which is excellent for working off that Québécois comfort food.
Unsurprisingly, Québécois food is a little on the heavy side. Basically, whatever will stick to your ribs when it’s freezing outside for half the year. We enjoyed La Buche , which serves traditional Québécois food in a rustic modern setting.
The grande dame of traditional Québécois cooking, Aux Anciens Canadiens , was also a must. Their dining room is in the oldest house in the upper town, and as traditional as you’d expect. Dinner can get a little pricy, but there’s a prix fixe option that keeps things within budget. My only niggle was that about two thirds of the options on the prix fixe menu came with a surcharge.
Finally, we went to Chez Boulay on our last night, which specialized in modern Nordic cuisine. This was beautifully presented, lighter cooking using ingredients indigenous to Québec and the far north. Apologies for the poor lighting, but I think the pictures speak for themselves. Highly recommended!
On our last day, we ambled around the Marché du Vieux Port and I bemoaned my inability to import all the cheeses and meats into the US. If you vacation in Québec City and you’re in self-catering accommodation, definitely come here for some shopping.
And with that, we hopped in our Uber and made our way back to the airport. Not before taking some “égoportraits”, of course.