Saturday, June 15, 2013

Canada’s oldest city, Quebec City is the capital of the French-speaking Province of Quebec. Perched above the north bank of the St. Lawrence River, some 150 miles east of Montreal, Quebec City celebrated its 400th birthday in 2008. The Upper Town, on a palisade, is linked to the Lower Town via one funicular and 11 steep sets of stairs. The entire Old Town area is eminently walkable, with many small parks, squares and open spaces, although the streets are narrow, winding and often quite steep. Quebec City has the distinction of being the Western Hemisphere's only walled city north of Mexico, and the area enclosed by the walls is wildly atmospheric. Some three miles of the original walls still stand.

French explorer Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec in 1608, and the extant ramparts, gates, and other fortifications serve as a reminder of its role in the wars between France and England for control of the Americas. Champlain built a fort and storehouse here, adopting its Algonquin Indian name kebec, meaning "place where the river narrows." The settlement was the early hub of Canada’s fur industry and the capital of France’s colonial empire in North America (New France) until 1760, after which it was the center of the new British colony until it eventually became part of an independent Canada. In 1796, Napoleon cut off Britain’s timber supplies in the Baltic region, and Britain looked to her new colony for vital ship-building material. Wood soon overtook furs as Quebec City’s main export. Quebec was then the upstream limit of sailing navigation for ocean-going ships. Each spring when the ice thawed, wood destined for British shipyards was floated down the St. Lawrence in great rafts for transport across the Atlantic.

The most recognizable symbol of Quebec City is a grand hotel, the castle-like Fairmont Château Frontenac, built by the Canadian Pacific railroad. The oldest part, containing just 170 rooms, opened in 1893. Today's more than 600 rooms are spread among massive towers and turrets, and the hotel completely dominates the skyline (see photo at top of post). It is an architectural newcomer, however, in a city in which many buildings date back to the 1600s.

An atmospheric street of the Upper Town, just a block from the Château Frontenac:

The star-shaped fortress (left) in the historic Upper Town was constructed after Americans attacked British Quebec in 1775/76. On the cliff face below lies the Promenade des Gouverneurs and the adjoining wooden Terrasse Dufferin (see photo of hotel, above), offering a superb vantage point 200 feet above the river for strolls that reveal commanding views across the St. Lawrence.

Accessible by steep stairs or funicular, Old Quebec’s Lower Town (above and right) holds the oldest surviving structures, as this was the first neighborhood of the city. Called Basse-Ville, this is where the town grew around the St. Lawrence River's harbor. Homes, shops, and ancient streets sprawled here at the base of the cliffs, centered around Place Royale (below), a cobblestone-paved square on the site of the garden of Champlain’s Habitation (1608).

Quebec City does its best to make its harsh winters enjoyable. There is a famed 17-day Winter Carnival every February, kicked off by parades and  balls. Snow-sculpting contests and various winter sporting events round out the itinerary. An Ice Hotel in proximity to the city is built from blocks of ice taken from the frozen St. Lawrence. I have had the displeasure of staying at the first (2001) Ice Hotel built in Quebec; open from January until the structure melts in the spring. Take a tour of the fascinating structure, but stay elsewhere, if you're a fan of indoor plumbing, central heating and the ability to sleep.

Other photos:

Houses of Parliament:

Gare du Palais (train station, built 1915):


All touristy, all in the same vicinity of the atmospheric Lower Town:

Le Lapin Sauté
52, rue du Petit-Champlain (just past Parc Félix-Leclerc)
Terrace at the corner; rabbit, duck specialities; good burgers, too
11:00a to 10:00p; open 7 days; 418.692.5325

Le Casse Cou
90, rue du Petit-Champlain
418-694-1121; small terrace; budget prices

Le Petit Cochon Dingue
24, boulevard Champlain

Bistro Sous le Fort
48, Sous-le-Fort (at the bottom of the funicular)
11:00a to 9:00p; 418-694-0852
Home of the Premiere of Quebec Province from 1920-1936

Outside the city walls, past Houses of Parliament:

Restaurant Louis-Hébert
668 Grande-Allee; 418-525-7812
Focus here is the food, not music or lighting effects


Upper town, inside the city walls:

Aux Anciens Canadiens
34 Rue Saint Louis; 418-692-1627 
Authentic Quebec cuisine; expensive and worth it

Le Pain Béni
Opens 11:30a; Prix-Fixe and a la carte; 418 694-9485
24, rue Sainte-Anne (facing Holy Trinity Cathedral)
Fine dining; indoors or terrace

Saint Alexandre Pub
1087, rue Saint-Jean; 418.694.0015
Blues/Jazz Wed.-Sun.; English pub open 7 days until very late


Trip details:

United Airlines Conf.: HGCPZZ

Mon/17JUN     UA5692     IAD-12:10p     YUL/Montreal-1:52p    1hr/42mn    United Express     7A/B
Mon/17JUN     AC8716     YUL-3:00p      YQB/Q-City 3:52p       0hr/52mn    AirCanadaExp-Jazz    n/a

Thu/20JUN     AC8719     YQB-4:20p     YUL/Montreal-5:12p    0hr/52mn    AirCanadaExp-Jazz    n/a
Thu/20JUN     UA3606     YUL-7:08p      IAD-8:54p                   1hr/46mn    United Express      12A/B

Hôtel Sainte-Anne (28 rooms) 418.694.1455
32, rue Sainte-Anne, Vieux Québec
Free WiFi, Mini-refrigerator, cable TV, Keurig coffee maker.
Restaurant w/seasonal outdoor terrace facing a pedestrian street
2 queen beds; conf. #58-13448-6332
CAD 199.00 + taxes (per night) incl. full cooked breakfast (served until 11:00a!)

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