Because you can’t always have Paris in the springtime . . . Posted by Tim Hildreth on Apr 26, 2016 in Culture
It’s no secret that Paris is my favorite city. If I could, I would go there every year. Unfortunately, it’s all the way on the other side of the ocean! And with a limited budget (and limited American-style vacations!), I have to content myself with a trip every few years. Fortunately I live within driving distance of one of the world’s other great French-speaking cities: la ville de Québec. Considered by many to be North America’s most European city, Québec is a must-see for any Francophile . . . whether you live nearby as I do, or if you have to travel a bit further to get there.
There is so much to do and literally something for everyone in and around Québec; far too much to cover it all in a blog post! But in case you ever get the chance to go, here are some of my favorite things to see and do (and to eat) in the city.
The old city of Québec (Le Vieux-Québec), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is divided into two parts: la Haute-Ville (the upper city, sitting atop a cliff rising up from the St. Lawrence River) and la Basse-Ville (the lower city). The streets of the old city are a joy to explore on foot and each one seems to have some secret charm.
La Haute-Ville is North America’s only remaining walled city, encircled by ramparts dating from the 1700’s. Walking into Vieux-Québec from the newer parts of the city, either through the Porte St. Jean or the Porte St. Louis (the two main entrances to the old city) is like stepping back in time. There are charming restaurants, shops, museums, and more to explore.
Le Château Frontenac and la rue du Trésor
No trip to la Haute-Ville would be complete without a visit to the Château Frontenac. Located atop a ‘falaise’ (cliff) overlooking the St. Lawrence and la Bass-Ville, the Château is just a hotel, but one that does have the air of a real ‘château’ (castle). And you don’t have to stay there to enjoy a taste of the fine life. There is a great tour on which you can learn about the storied history of the hotel (including pop culture tidbits about some of the famous guests like Celine Dion and Elizabeth II) and a great bar for a drink and an amazing view.
A short walk from the Château Frontenac is Rue du Trésor (“Treasure Street”) an open-air gallery where you can browse (and buy) artwork from local artists on display all up and down both sides of the short stone street. You can find art for every taste and every budget.
If you’re up for a “hike” you can walk down to la Basse-Ville by following a couple of steep-but-manageable stairs. If you prefer to ride, for a little bit more than $2 Canadian, you can take the Funiculaire du Vieux Québec, a sort of hillside elevator that will take you up (or down) in just a few minutes (wait time included). La Basse-Ville is where you will find Place-Royale and la Rue du Petit Champlain.
Le quartier / la rue du Petit-Champlain
If you head ‘à droite’ (to the right) on your way down the hill (or if you took the funiculaire) you’ll find yourself on the rue du Petit-Champlain. This charming street is full of shops, artist galleries, and restaurants for you to enjoy. Shop (or eat!) your way down one side of the street and then turn around and do it all again up the other side. The view up and down the street is worth the trip.
For a truly French dining experience, stop in at le Lapin Sauté. There are many great places to eat in Québec, but I can honestly say that this is one of my favorites. The restaurant is intimate with dark wooden walls and low, beamed ceilings, but when the weather is nice dinners spill outside onto the terrace. For a treat, consider starting your meal by sharing ‘la planche de charcuteries’, an actual ‘planche’ (board) loaded with locale sausage, pate’s, ‘pain’ (bread), ‘cornichons’ (deliciously snappy, tiny French pickles), and fruit compotes.
If you head ‘à gauche’ (to the left) on your way down the hill from la Haute-Ville, you’ll come to the charming Place-Royale, site of the oldest French settlement in the Americas. Established by Samuel de Champlain, the Place-Royale was at the heart of what has grown to be the city of Québec today. Here you will find the oldest stone church of the Americas, l’Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victoires (the Church of Our Lady of Victory), a bust of Louis XIV (for whom the place was named), a wonderful history museum, and of course, more shops!
For a different sort of shopping – or dining – experience, take a short walk from Place-Royale to le Marché du Vieux Port (the food market of the old port). Le Marché is a covered food market where you can buy just about anything you might want to take home for a dinner with friends or for an impromptu lunch along the river. Local farmers (‘fermiers’) sell fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, ‘des bouchers’ (butchers) have fresh meats (‘viandes’) of all kinds, you’ll find bread and ‘patisseries’ (pastries) ‘chez les boulangers’ (at the bakers), ‘fromages’ (cheeses), and so much more. Pick your way around the market and plan a picnic (but don’t forget to get enough to take some home for later!).
For more ideas: follow this link for a great resource for planning a trip to Québec . . . or for exploring the city from a far as if you were there!
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