This year our family has decided to take a family vacation in Quebec (La Belle Province). Our daughter had a soccer tournament in Montreal and after a few days there, we found ourselves in Quebec City.
The jewel of Quebec.
There really are no other words to describe her… she is a gem on the St. Lawrence River. She is one of a kind. Perhaps there are other words to describe her: she is beautiful, pristine, spectacular, affordable and breathtaking… and French. Oh, so, very French. Every Canadian should visit Quebec City at least once in their lives – I truly believe this. I understand the charm that she holds for many Americans that come to see her. It is like being in an European city without leaving the continent. It is a 1h40 minute flight from New York City, Toronto. You can drive from Montreal (as we did) in about two hours.
Photo Credit: Office du tourisme de Québec (Jean-Guy Lavoie)
Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, Quebec City is known as the cradle of French civilization in North America. Quebec City is the provincial capital of Quebec a predominantly French speaking ‘nation within a nation’. The history of French settlers coming to Canada and finding themselves in the middle of an English nation is a long and intricate story. Suffice to say, it keeps the politicians and journalists employed. At times it keeps the nation holding its collective breath but to be honest with you, none of that comes into play when you visit this historic city as a tourist.
The highlight of a trip to Quebec City is Old Quebec which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The designation is justly deserved as you walk around the cobblestone streets of Old Quebec you will come to see why it will be one of the most memorable trips you will ever make, I promise you.
The facade of the Assemblée National is full of statues of the most important figures in Quebec and Canada’s History – including Explorers, Politicians, Religious and Secular leaders
I grew up in Montreal and I have always loved the cobblestone streets and old stone buildings that you find in Old Montreal and the Port of Montreal. However, I can honestly say that you get that and more in Quebec City. I could not believe how big Old Quebec town is. There are two parts to Old Quebec: upper and lower town. The upper section includes the iconic Chateau Frontenac overlooking the St. Lawrence seaway. It consists of many small hotels, shops and restaurants, as well as apartments lofts and businesses housed in these historic buildings. The boardwalk adjacent to the Chateau Frontenac provides access to the funicular (cable car) which descends to the lower town. If you choose instead, you can walk the picturesque streets or take any one of the 11 different sets of stairs.
Warning to the wise, If you are visiting Quebec City be prepared to do a lot of walking and climbing of stairs in this area. Wear comfortable shoes. Cobblestone streets don’t lend themselves to high heels. But you also need to know that you have to do the walking or you will miss too much. Mind you, if you want a unique experience, you can also take a calèche (carriage ride) through the old town. It is a bit pricey at $95/hour but you get a personalized tour – all guides are bilingual.
The weather was very hot when we were there but the walking is not a problem as you can take a break in a quaint cafe or a friendly pub. Sitting on a patio, just watching the world go by, has to be one of the most pleasant pastimes of all time. The view is S-P-E-C-T-A-C-U-L-A-R so take it in.
We decided to take a visit of one of the oldest provincial legislature buildings in Canada. The Quebec National Assembly (or the l’Assemblée nationale)
The grounds were meticulous and full of lovely planters and gardens. If there is one thing that we noticed with my mom (she is a big time gardener) the city was decked out in the most beautiful flower arrangements possible. Huge hanging baskets, giant colourful container planters in the intersections or median, gardens and window boxes.
One of the unique things that we saw in the front gardens of the Quebec Legislature were big container planters filled with edible plants. That means they were growing zucchinis, peppers, tomatoes, sweet peas, pumpkins… all of the containers had veggies or herbs in wonderful combinations not just pretty flowers. I have never seen this before in any public gardens. The best part was that you could pick them – how great is that? There was a small sign by a small vegetable plot that said this is a sharing garden so please help yourself. Very unique.
We decided to take a FREE 30 minute guided tour of the Quebec legislature in French (these tours are available in both official languages but our schedule worked with the French version better). I have to admit, we did well but there were only a few phrases I had to ask about. Our tour guide was very obliging and answered all our questions. He was full of great information and humour. It is well worth taking the time to take the tour. A guided tour is the only option. You cannot do a self-guided tour for security reasons. Speaking of which, you must go through security so be prepared.
Built between 1877 and 1886 it has lovely stained glass windows of the founding of Quebec City (July 3, 1608) and impressive paintings of a lively discussion in the National Assembly. The chandeliers in both the upper and lower chambers were impressive and glittering. The Public Gallery in both chambers were situated above the floor and gave a great view of what would be a lively debate, I’m sure.
Le Parlementaire Restaurant is a stately restaurant that you can visit for lunch during the summer and for breakfast and dinner during the fall and winter. This is a fine dining restaurant not a fast food cafeteria so make sure you dress appropriately. Well worth the visit so don’t miss it.
The Tourny Fountain. Photo Credit: Office du tourisme de Québec (La Maison Simon)
As you exit the building, head down to the Tourny Fountain (my daughter referred to it as the Frog Fountain because of all the very cute bronze frogs). The fountain was a gift to Quebec City from La Maison Simon (my favourite store) for its 400th anniversary. The fountain reminds me of European fountains that you find in the core of small cities and towns as a central gathering place.
If you turn around and look at the Assemblée National you will see the many bronze statues of those that played integral roles in the founding of the province and the country. Wolfe, Montcalm, Champlain, Cartier… all there to remind you of your grade 5 history class.
You can find out more about the Quebec (City) Region:
You can find out more about the Province of Quebec tourism:
This is one in a series of post about our family vacation in Quebec in the summer of 2014. Follow the #BonjourQuebec and #DPROFamilyVaca hashtags. This series covers shopping at Simons, site seeing, The Montreal Jazz Festival (coming soon), The Fireworks Festival (coming soon) and hotel reviews. Stay tune for all the different posts in this series.