Why Quebec City should be on your must visit list this year

Exploring the sights and sounds of the largest province in Canada

By Stuart Forster

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Montmorency Falls
Montmorency Falls

Published: Thu 23 Feb 2023, 6:36 PM

The streets of Quebec City’s Lower Town are empty. A lone jogger bounds by, far more energetically than I feel capable of moving at six in the morning. Nonetheless, I’m glad to be out sightseeing, meandering between historic façades reminiscent of stone-built buildings in the port cities of Northwest France.

Normally, I’d be resentful of disruption to my sleep. But waking earlier than normal and heading out for a walk is proving ideal for photography. The soft sunlight at this time of the day, a cloudless blue sky and streets free from people are a perfect combination.

Dozens of fellow visitors were strolling along the busy Rue Sous-le-Fort yesterday afternoon as I found my bearings in this Unesco World Heritage Site. Other than the trash awaiting collection outside of souvenir stores and cafés, the street is now empty as I gaze towards the funicular that’s connected the lower and upper towns since 1879.

Statue of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of the city in 1608, on Dufferin Terrace in front of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel in Quebec City, Canada
Statue of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of the city in 1608, on Dufferin Terrace in front of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel in Quebec City, Canada

I’ll need to wait three hours if I want to ride that historic transport system up towards Dufferin Terrace, the broad boardwalk named after Canada’s Governor Gen presents elevated views over the Saint Lawrence River.

The funicular’s lower station is inside a house built for Louis Jolliet in 1683. A plaque on its façade commemorates his achievements as the explorer and cartographer who mapped much of the Mississippi River.

Souvenir stores and cafes on Rue Sous-le-Fort in the Lower Town of Quebec City, Canada. The Old Quebec Funicular (Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec) operates from the house at the end of the street.
Souvenir stores and cafes on Rue Sous-le-Fort in the Lower Town of Quebec City, Canada. The Old Quebec Funicular (Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec) operates from the house at the end of the street.

My phone’s access to digital maps and GPS make my exploration of urban points of interest much easier than Jolliet’s expedition. Checking the screen, I decide to continue away from the waterfront, though that means missing out on a ferry journey across to Lévis, whose riverside park — the Quai Paquet — is reputed to offer the best views of Quebec City’s skyline.

At this time of day there seems little point in turning left to view the windows of boutiques in the Quartier Petit Champlain. Instead, clomping up the steep staircase nicknamed ‘the Breakneck Steps’, I head towards the Upper Town.

A bronze statue of Samuel de Champlain, the city’s founder, gazes towards the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. The turrets and towers of the luxury hotel give it a castle-like appearance. That and its position on the city skyline explain why the property is said to be the world’s most photographed hotel.

Statue of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of the city in 1608, next to the Funicular Station on Dufferin Terrace in Quebec City, Canada
Statue of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of the city in 1608, next to the Funicular Station on Dufferin Terrace in Quebec City, Canada

In his right hand, Champlain holds a broad-brimmed hat. Four centuries ago, the European fashion for such headgear drove demand for the beaver fur used in making top-grade felt. The fur trade helped underpin the economy of New France.

In recent years, archaeologists have excavated the forts built to protect the French colony’s capital. During summer, it’s possible to visit their remains, and what’s left of governors’ palaces, in a crypt below Dufferin Terrace.

Above ground, there’s much to see too. This is North America’s only walled city north of Mexico. The ramparts were strengthened after the British wrestled control of the city from the French in 1759.

Pierre Lassonde Pavilion at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ) in Quebec City, Canada. The National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec opened the pavilion, designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, in 2016.
Pierre Lassonde Pavilion at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ) in Quebec City, Canada. The National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec opened the pavilion, designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, in 2016.

To reach the grassy parkland where the pivotal Battle of the Plains of Abraham was fought, I continue alongside the austere walls of the Citadelle of Quebec. A wooden walkway, the Promenade des Gouverneurs sweeps around the star-shaped fortress that welcomes visitors for guided tours.

As it’s still too early for that or to view the art collection of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, a museum commonly referred to by its acronym the MNBAQ, I continue to the provincial parliament. The ornate building bears bronze statues of key figures from Quebec’s history, including a depiction of Louis Jolliet.

Just inside the city walls, beyond the crenellated St Louis Gate, I pause to view the monument commemorating the wartime visits of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Quebec. During the First Quebec Conference, in 1943, the Allied leaders agreed to begin planning the landing of troops in France — resulting in the D-Day invasion of 1944. Key meetings took place in the Governor General’s residence, inside the Citadelle, and at the Château Frontenac.

Dufferin Terrace in Quebec City, Canada. The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel looks onto the wood promeanade with views over the Saint Lawrence River.
Dufferin Terrace in Quebec City, Canada. The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel looks onto the wood promeanade with views over the Saint Lawrence River.

As I head towards the famous hotel I hear people walking along Rue St Louis conversing in French, the mothertongue of 96 per cent of the city’s residents. Last night, my limited knowledge of the language was not a barrier to ordering food at Le Clan, a fine-dining restaurant on Rue des Jardins.

For breakfast today, I pop into Restaurant La Buche for a bowl of gruau de grand-père — grandpa’s oatmeal — sweetened with maple syrup, a regional speciality produced each spring. Along with a cup of strong coffee, it’ll be ideal for fuelling my morning’s sightseeing in this historic city.

Dish served at Chez Muffy, the fine-dining restaurant in the Auberge Saint-Antoine hotel in Quebec City, Canada.
Dish served at Chez Muffy, the fine-dining restaurant in the Auberge Saint-Antoine hotel in Quebec City, Canada.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com

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