My grandmother loves to ask me about my travels. She will remind me—as she’s done dozens of times before—that she never had much opportunity to travel, but that she did pack her bags just once for a journey to Quebec City. It is a particular pleasure for me to make the same trek to French Canada, where I recently planned a program for one of our clients in the city where she had her big adventure.
Upon arrival, visitors drive along the St. Lawrence River, moving from the rural outskirts into the suburban hills, and then into the city before passing under the main gate. Quebec City is one of the few cities in the world that remains fortressed, although there is no security checkpoint. The gate remains as a reminder of the strength that the province of Quebec was founded upon.
The city is split into two parts: Upper and Lower Quebec—and at the crux of both: Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac
. A veritable castle, the Chateau Frontenac can be seen from quite nearly anywhere in the city. In addition to its recent sleeping room renovation, the hotel also boasts a unique sustainability initiative that looks after bees which have become endangered. The Fairmont hosts the winged creatures in beehives set atop the hotel. In return, the bees produce honey that is consumed on-property and sold in their gift shop.
Lower Quebec is down a steep hill from the Chateau Frontenac, just a two-minute ride down the funicular. There, quaint twinkle-lights line Petit Champlain, a street punctuated by adorable little shops and patisseries. This section of Lower Quebec was purchased by a cooperative of 50 craftsmen, artists, and merchants in 1985 in order to prevent the real estate from being purchased by some American investors. Following the quaint cobblestone path, it’s evident that this street has been a labor of love since it was established.
In this scenic neighborhood restaurants, souvenir shops, and local artisan markets abound. While my colleagues and I were exploring the area, we ducked into rue du Tresor. This amazing little street has shuttered safes set into the walls. Local painters come every day to open their shutters and sell their works on the sidewalks to passing visitors. The sound of street musicians echo throughout the narrow cobblestone streets. Here, authentic French Canadian treats, such as queues de castor (“beaver tails,” pastry decked out with your choice of spread and toppings) or tire d’erable (maple taffy, often sitting at the end of a popsicle stick) can be enjoyed while strolling along the St. Lawrence River.
With its roots in France, Quebec’s traditional cuisine was inspired by the difficult early years after it was settled. Enduring harsh winters and having many mouths to feed but little to eat, the Quebecois needed hearty dishes with real substance to build their new nation. Quebec City is replete with cozy eateries and Five Diamond grand restaurants in which to experience traditional flavors, including poutine, game, such as rabbit and duck—and of course, all things maple. The majority of commodities and produce used in Quebec City is harvested just minutes away on the Island of Orleans. Quebecois chefs definitely know that the best way to your heart is through your stomach!
Our guests experienced Quebec outside its fortressed walls on excursions that took them into the countryside. These included:
- Montmorency Falls - A breathtaking site that rivals Niagara Falls. Staircases and a cable car adjacent to this historic natural wonder allow onlookers to experience the falls from varying perspectives for a splash of inspiration all their own.
- Gourmet “Flavor Trail” Excursion - Our guests experienced the flavors, history, and culture of the region’s first settlers with a visit to Island of Orleans, in the St. Lawrence River, where farming and agriculture are still practiced as a way of life. The visit included a vineyard, an eco-friendly apple orchard, and a period home where many culinary delights awaited.
- Lawrence River Cruise - Narrated by a guide costumed as a French Canadian explorer, our cruise along Quebec’s famed waterway provided a unique discovery of the history of Quebec City, the river, and its surroundings, including Montmorency Falls from a different perspective.
The Quebecois are hospitable and welcoming. By custom, they greet you with a kiss on each cheek and a warm embrace, or a tight-gripped, genuine handshake. They are proud to share their city. One evening, we hailed a cab. The driver was about to drop us back at the hotel, but made a turn and said, “I want to show you something—here, I will turn off the meter.” He detoured to show us the smallest house in all of Quebec City, sandwiched between two old-world buildings. He was genuinely pleased to share his little-known (forgive the pun) tidbit with us.
I always leave Quebec reluctantly. Business contacts are now friends and when I’m home, I find I miss them and this remarkable city. There’s so much more I’d like to explore there. Quebec’s official motto is “Je me souviens,” which translates to, “I remember.” My grandmother could never forget the indelible impression left upon her by this region, and I know that I won’t forget it either. I’m so grateful for every opportunity to explore the crown Jewel of French Canada and to create memories… just like grandmother used to make.