Worth the effort: Travel: Old Quebec City strong on history, sceneryWritten by Art Weber | | email@example.com
Old Quebec City reeks of history.
Not old as in stale. Think venerable. Well preserved. Exceptional. Quaint. Fascinating.
Canada’s seventh most populous city, one of the oldest and certainly the most European of all North American cities, is so well-preserved that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sure, there are plenty of museums strategically placed throughout Quebec City, but you don’t need to visit one to appreciate the experience. Old Quebec is history.
“The whole city is an open air museum,” said Michelle Demers, an expert guide with Quebec City Tourism. “Everything is very compact.”
Translation: Park your car and walk.
The narrow streets are wonderfully Old World and perfect for strolling — and a nightmare for the unwary to drive. Walking is better anyway. You can peer into shop windows, feel the history firsthand, be tempted by sidewalk cafes and stop and listen to street musicians. It’s all under the looming presence of the giant Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, the iconic Quebec structure built in 1893 and arguably the most photographed hotel in the world. It’s a great choice to overnight in one of the Frontenac’s 618 guest rooms, though there are other wonderful accommodations as well.
It was a stroke of strategic genius when French explorer Samuel de Champlain, the founder of New France, decided in 1608 to settle at the place along the St. Lawrence River called Quebec — the Algonquin word meaning “where the river narrows.” The site featured high cliffs that commanded views of everything that passed on the St. Lawrence River. It was destined that Britain and France would wrestle over its control.
Quebec would stay French until a great battle on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 took France out of the equation and left the British in control.
Except you wouldn’t know it today. French is the language and culture of choice virtually everywhere, though American tourists will find many Quebecois speak more than adequate English.
The Old City is still defined by its nearly three-mile-long walled fortifications, originally built in the early 1600s and improved by both the French and the British. Built to hold out enemies, the wall also marked a division between settlement and the frontier wilderness that, even today, can be found mere minutes from the city.
The grandeur of national parks, roaring rivers and great waterfalls, mountains and daunting ski slopes is just a stone’s throw away. Imagine strolling old neighborhoods and dining in fine restaurants, while being virtually next door to stunning natural beauty that is the home of moose, wolvws, mountain lions and lynx.
The city and nature meet on the tables of some of Quebec’s finest restaurants. Menus sport offerings like elk, caribou, trout and venison. Farm-to-table dining is favored resulting in selections that include surprises like sea buckthorn and bilberries. Extend the wild experience at Restaurant La Traite in Wendake, home of the Huron-Wendat Nation. The restaurant showcases First Nation cuisine and its menu has all of those plus eel and seal, all prepared with more than three dozen traditional native spices — black spruce and the like. La Traite is five-star.
For more information, visit www.bonjourquebec.com. Air connections to Quebec are readily available out of Detroit and Windsor. Canada’s VIA Rail system can be picked up in Windsor or other points including Toronto and Montreal, though timing of train departures may dictate overnighting along the way. Allow about 14 hours for the trip while traveling by car.
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