Looking for a quick weekend getaway to France without having to take an overnight flight? Look no further than Québec City, the French speaking capital city of the Canadian province of Québec. Québec City offers excellent restaurants, luxury hotels and Old World architecture and historic charm. Named as a UNESCO World Heritage site, here you will find well preserved buildings dating back over 400 years, cobblestone streets filled with horse-drawn carriages and dozens of beautiful old churches. Given the French heritage, Québec also offers excellent French-influenced restaurants run by creative young chefs that take advantage of the bountiful local produce and ingredients.
When to Go
Although spring and summer are fabulous times to visit, we think Québec City is best during early fall when the days are warm and evenings are cool and the fall foliage is ablaze with spectacular colors. We especially love the fall when wild game appears on restaurants menus and evenings are spent enjoying after-dinner drinks next to crackling fires.
What to See
For a short visit to Québec City, you are likely to spend most of your time in the historic Old City (Vieux-Québec), which is comprised of the walled Upper Town (Haute-Ville) and the Lower Town (Basse-Ville).
The Upper Town, which sits atop Cape Diamant (Cap Diamant), offers dramatic view of the St. Lawrence River and is filled with winding streets, historic buildings, cafes, and small boutique hotels. The area is dominated by the legendary Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac Hotel, a turreted castle hotel set on the highest point in Upper Town. The landmarked hotel opened in 1893 to serve affluent travelers crossing Canada by luxury railroad and draws many visitors to its opulent and elegant lobby and restaurants.
The old historic area of the Upper Town is filled with stone houses with steep copper roofs dating from the 17th and 18th centuries and beautiful churches, including the Basilique Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Québec and the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, a classic Anglican cathedral built in the early 19th century. Also located in the Upper Town is the famous La Citadelle, a star-shaped military fortress that is still used today by the Canadian military.
The Upper Town and Lower Town are connected by sets of steep staircases and a popular funicular. The Lower Town offers a maze of cobblestone streets, shops, renovated historic buildings with featuring boutique hotels, art galleries, restaurants and bars.
In the center of the Lower Town is the Place Royale, the original site of the first habitation in Québec. The square is named in honor of Louis XIV, whose statute adorns it, and is surrounded by well preserved buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Facing the square is the stone Notre-Dame des Victoires, the city’s oldest church dating from 1688, and the Maison Chevalier, an old stone house built in 1752 by a wealthy ship owner.
The Quartier Petit-Champlain, which is located at the foot of the steps leading to Québec's Upper Town, is filled with small shops and restaurants. The narrow streets of this quarter, combined with centuries-old architecture, make this one of the most scenic areas of Old Québec.
Not far is the antiques district, which is filled with old warehouses the have been converted into trendy hotels, boutiques and art galleries, the Vieux Port (Old Port) and the Marché du Vieux-Port (Old Port Market), a covered market filled with stalls selling local produce, artisanal gourmet products, flowers and local wines.
For a short visit, we highly recommend arranging for a private walking tour of the Old Town with David Mendel of Mendel Tours. David has a masters in art history and, as a resident of Québec’s historic district since 1976, he is very involved in preservation issues. He is also the author of a series of excellent guide books devoted to Québec City and its surrounding region, including Québec, World Heritage City and Québec, Birthplace of New France. Mendel Tours website
Where to Stay
Although the most famous hotel in Québec City is the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac Hotel, with over 600 rooms and tourist filling the lobby and public spaces, we prefer the boutique Relais & Châteaux Auberge Saint-Antoine located in the heart of Old Québec. Built on one of Québec City’s richest archaeological sites, the Auberge is made up of 3 historical buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as a wharf and battery structure that date back to the end of the 17th century. The 95 rooms and suites are furnished with antiques and contemporary pieces, some with fireplaces and large terraces. During the hotel’s construction, a number of new artifacts, some of which date back to the 1600s, were uncovered and many of these are displayed throughout the hotel. Auberge Saint-Antoine, 8, Saint-Antoine Street website
Where to Eat
There is no shortage of excellent restaurants in Québec City. Here you will find traditional French dishes, as well as French-Canadian specialties; however, in recent years, talented young chefs have transitioned to more market-driven menus that meld many different cooking styles.
Restaurant Légende – Located on the ground floor of the Hotel des Coutellier in the Old Port area, Restaurant Legende’s dining room is warm and inviting combining blonde wood and stone accents. Frederic Laplante’s highly seasonal menu uses exclusively local ingredients and features excellent fish and seafood, as well as game in season. The restaurant encourages diners to share plates (with most dishes offered in half-portions) and offers excellent wine pairings. Restaurant Légende, 255, Saint-Paul Street website
Chez Muffy - The signature restaurant at the Auberge Saint-Antoine, Panache, has recently been rechristened as a family-style, farm-to-table dining concept. Although more casual, the restaurant has preserved the warm atmosphere of the original. Set within a historic maritime warehouse dating back to 1822, the restaurant overlooks the St. Lawrence River and features the structure’s original stone walls and wooden beams. Executive Chef Julien Ouellet uses locally sourced organic ingredients and emphasizes low cooking techniques, such as braising, rotisserie and grilling, to produce a twist on classical French and Canadian cuisine. Some standout dishes include a caramelized Cipollini tart, Québec mussels, and Gaspé Peninsula lobster. The restaurant's wine list includes over 700 different labels and its cellar houses over 12,000 bottles. Restaurant Chez Muffy, 8, Saint-Antoine Street website
Le Clocher Penchés – We love this small popular restaurant located in the trendy Saint-Roch area. The café offers bistro cuisine in an elegant casual setting. We particularly love their weekend brunch. Don’t miss their French toast with seasonal fruits, creme fraiche and maple syrup, their home-smoked salmon on a bagel and their version of eggs benedict. Le Clocher Penchés, 203, St-Joseph Street E website