Discovering Europe in Northern North America: An Old Town with Fresh Flair in Quebec City
Here and there in the US, you get a taste of the influence old Europe has on our cities and towns. a strip of cobblestone here, a vibrant French quarter there, or the occasional bit of Mission Revival stand out amongst New England’s Colonial style and the Midwest and West’s 20th century, thoroughly American look and feel. But to really feel that you’ve been transported to a historic European city, you have to head north—through New England, and into the former French territory that is now Quebec—more specifically, its magnificent capital, Quebec City. Canada is opening its border to vaccinated Americans on August 9th, and if a big trip isn’t in the cards, this northern province capital offers a European adventure that can rival whatever river cruises or castle tours “the continent” has to offer.
How to get there?
Before we talk practical means of transportation, by far the coolest way to get to Quebec City is the way Samuel de Champlain did—via the Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Several river cruise outfits offer routes from Detroit or Duluth to the Quebec Capital—giving visitors on their northern approach a sense of the remote grandeur of the city. More conventional travel options include flying into Jean Lesage International Airport; by car, Quebec Route 136 offers a straight shot from Montreal northeast to the capital; if you want to retain that romantic flavor of Europe on your travels, consider riding through the Quebec-Windsor Train Corridor.
Where to stay?
To fully immerse yourself in the historic atmosphere of Quebec City, consider staying along the narrow, cobblestoned streets of the Old City.
Hotel Nomad—formerly known as the Fleur de Lys—stresses the importance of discovery and adventure in a hotel stay. From the Hotel’s website: “Nomad evokes for us people with legendary hospitality, a slow journey synonymous with discovery and exchange, comforting stops, curiosity about other cultures and histories, but also the warmth of conversations between friends.” Hotel Nomad—located in the heart of the Old City—offers a reasonably priced stay chock-full of unique, artistic charm and within walking distance of Quebec’s richest historic sites.
For a slightly lower-key, less artsy stay, check out la Chateau de Pierre, also in the Old City. Simple, tastefully adorned rooms fill the floors above a stately communal kitchen and dining room. Directly across Avenue St. Denis from la Chateau is the stunning Pierre Dugua de Mons Terrace, from whose garden-filled heights you can look out across a skyline of steeples and seaway.
What to do?
To gain a deeper appreciation of the complex, rich histories of Quebec’s Old City, don’t miss some of the province’s finest museums. Just up along the St. Lawrence from La Chateau de Pierre sits the renowned Musée de la Civilisation, whose singular structure sprawls angularly across a city block, surrounding several exquisitely designed courtyards and sculptural piazzas. Inside, discover the “People of Quebec” exhibit, which chronicles the human activity in the Northeastern territory from the first peoples to the colonial period to recent independence. The museum’s relevance is hardly restricted to Canadian concerns, however: exhibits range from explorations of Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius, a study into venomous snakes, and a mind-bending gallery of historic doppelgangers.
While you’re in the neighborhood, trudge up to La Citadel de Quebec, a massive military fort that has been in use since 1608. The scale of the walls, battlements, towers and palatial living quarters is astounding, and a guided tour gives visitors a sense of the many eras of European rule and governance that continually transformed the city’s landscape and architecture.
But not all of Quebec City’s attractions are man-made, age old buildings and streets. Quebec is awash with natural treasures that easily rival the artificial ones. Take a ride (either by car or public bus) north an hour to the splendid Montmorency Falls, surrounded by the Parc de la Chute-Montmorency. This 270 foot waterfall in the Montmorency River is actually larger than Niagara Falls, and the Parc offers visitors an observation platform, adrenaline-producing cliffside trails, a picnic area and even a 1000 foot zipline!
If you’re in Quebec in the winter months, don’t miss the annually rebuilt Ice Hotel—the only structure of its kind in North America. 500 tons of ice and 40,000 tons of snow combine to create a lavish, 40-room frosty hotel, complete with a bar, chapel and ice slide. If you’re a skier in wintertime Quebec City, be sure to head an hour north to the exceptional Mont Sainte-Anne Cross Country Ski Area.
What to eat and drink?
To round out your European adventure in North America, consider dinner at the award-winning French bistro Chez Rioux & Pettigrew on Rue St. Paul. There, innovative takes on French classics highlight the best seasonal produce Quebec has to offer, as well as a smattering of expertly prepared seafoods. For a taste of some humbler, thoroughly Quebecois fare, have a perfect poutine at the aptly named Poutineville. For the foodies among you, book a table at L’Affaire est Ketchup, where a small kitchen and rustic atmosphere let you focus on the simple goodness of quality meat carefully prepared, and enjoyed with good company.
Beer lovers and their families will be in hoppy heaven at one of the city’s finest breweries (which is also part of an awesome brewery cooperative), La Barberie, where a full line-up of funky, delicious beers are served alongside a delicious food menu. Enjoy your fruit-forward ale on La Barberie’s lush garden-patio, accompanied by a live DJ and with the kids happily entertained by the brewpub’s in-house childcare service.
More of a wine crowd? Check out the 1608 Bar in the heart of the Old City, where a top-notch wine and cocktail menu pairs beautifully with a uniquely structured, riverside bar. Sip on a Saint Pepin or Frontenac Blanc made from native Quebecois grapes by the innovative Domaine Bergeville winery, or try fine French wines in a setting perfectly suited to them.
To keep the party going and get a taste of Quebec City’s English heritage, roll over to Pub St Alexandre where solid beer and classic English pub fare guarantee a good time, accompanied by live music, lively conversation, and live sports on the tv.
As the Hotel Nomad advises, Quebec City lets you flit between eras old and new, tasting the best of former centuries’ European imports and the finest innovations of Quebec’s vibrant cosmopolitan culture. Dig into the history, enjoy the natural wealth on which the city is built, and explore all the delicious and sensational surprises this city has hidden around every cobblestoned corner—whatever turn you take, your curiosity will be piqued, palate whetted and your travel-thirsty spirit soothed.