Cobblestoned and historic, Quebec City offers Eastern adventure a world away from Vancouver's modern aesthetic
With its gleaming glass skyscrapers, ultra-modern Vancouver seems like another world when compared to the cobblestone streets of Quebec City, North America’s only remaining walled city. Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain as the cradle of New France, this richly layered, historic city on the banks of the vast Saint Lawrence River offers up plenty of unique experiences, from visiting the only Huron-Wendat community left in North America to actually sifting through the foundations of the old city or perhaps tasting some of Canada’s most deliciously decadent cuisine.
Here are eight reasons to start planning your trip east now...
1. Party at Carnaval
Facebook/Carnaval de QuebecThe most fun you can have with your snow pants on, the winter carnival in Quebec City is a rip-roaring, joyful good time, hosted by talking celebrity spokes-snowman, Bonhomme, and packed with both family-friendly and adult-oriented activities over three weekends. Take part in snow bathing or ice canoeing and chew on delicious tire à l’érable at a sugar shack at the Grand Allée! There are wild parades, snow sculpture contests and plenty of chances to meet and greet Bonhomme himself. The fun atmosphere at the carnival—with its noise-making trumpets, traditional ceinture fléchée woven sashes and walking canes full of boozy Caribou, a hell-brew cocktail of mulled red wine spiked with whisky and maple syrup which seems like the perfect thing to get you through a night of dancing in sub-zero temperatures, but will floor you with a shattering hangover the next day—is a world away from the strictly-regulated world of B.C. festivals. Fun, spontaneous and definitely a little tipsy, Carnaval is the ultimate French-Canadian celebration.
2. Discover a hidden gem
Audet PhotoHop on the number 11 bus from the Hôtel de ville to Pointe-de-Sainte-Foy (Ouest) and get off at du Bois Joli to check out one of Quebec City’s coolest neighbourhoods, Avenue Maguire. The area is a cute collection of one-off stores and restaurants just 30 minutes from the heart of the city's old town. Snap up handmade Belgian-style chocolates at Eddy Laurent to take home (I loved their delicate tea-infused ganaches!) and browse wildly desirable kitchen knick-knacks from funky Italian designer Alessi. Pick up culinary Quebecois goodies at Canard Goulu who have a farm on the south shore. Their little store is full of delicious duck products such as jars of cassoulet, chunky rillettes and tins of foie gras, alongside terroir gifts from other small makers such as eglantine-infused sugar from the Îles de la Madeleine. It's all perfect for a Quebec-themed party when you get back to Vancouver! Caffeinate at Cafe Castelo who have beans from some 30 different countries, including Guatemala and Peru, then feast on Neapolitan-style pizza and excellent charcuterie and cheeses at Pizzeria No.900. Their take on a Parmesan fondue is amazing!
3. Sleep with a legend
FairmontCelebrating its 125th anniversary this year after an $80 million renovation, the wonderfully opulent Fairmont Hotel Château Frontenac towers over the old town and has the proud distinction of being the most photographed hotel in the world. From its lavish chandelier-lit lobby to the ornate, mirrored elevators, every inch of this property screams glamour. Book a Valmont facial in the spa to fight the ultra-drying effects of the flight over and make sure you bring a swimsuit to enjoy the hot tub and pool as a warm-up after being outside in winter!
There is a whole year of extraordinary events planned to celebrate the hotel's major milestone, from chef-collaboration dinners and a chocolate festival to a wonderful-sounding Bordeaux harvest festival with winemaker dinners and a magical Christmas-y event with fireworks on December 18th, the locale's actual birth date!
4. Play in the snow
Facebook/Village Vacances ValcartierWaterpark in the summer and slide park as soon as the snow arrives, Valcartier is North America’s largest winter playground with more than 35 snow slides, including the bonkers, eight-person, spinning Tornado. 17 lifts, skate paths and plenty of festive frosty games. This year, the famous Hôtel de Glace is located at the park, with a bar, chapel and—of course!—custom-designed rooms for the brave at heart willing to sleep overnight on a bed made of ice.
5. Unleash your inner Indiana Jones
Facebook/QC FortificationsBeneath the Dufferin Terrace and just a stone’s throw from the Chateau Frontenac, is the terrific Saint-Louis Forts and Châteaux National Historic Site, the archaeological remains of four forts, dating back to 1620. Here, you can take an exclusive tour with a Parks Canada guide before it opens to the public and head to the crypt to uncover the secrets of what was once the administrative, political and military heart of a colony. Take part in an archaeological dig to see what traces of the past you can uncover!
6. Dine at La Buche
Facebook/La Buche QCGet a taste of hearty Québécois cuisine complete with traditional music, plaid-wearing servers and snowshoes on the wall, in the sugar shack-like atmosphere of La Buche. Go nuts, wear forgiving pants and have La Totale d’La Bûche. At $50 per person for four or more, it's a near-heart-stopping amount of food, which will have you begging for mercy as plate after plate of carb-tastic regional specialities come to the table. La Buche sets its intent pretty clearly by serving Pouding chômeur (a wonderfully rich maple syrup-soaked cake) complete with foie gras and bacon bits... as an appetizer. Damn!
Meats sweats are inevitable. Give in, pretend you have to do some pretty hardcore portaging later and make like a starving coureur des bois to get through it. Don’t miss the—ahem!—unique bathrooms downstairs.
7. Walk in ancient footsteps
Facebook/Site Traditionnel HuronLearn more about the First Nations of this area and head to the historic Huron-Wendat reserve of Wendake, a self-governing territory located just 30 minutes from the heart of downtown Quebec City. Take the guided tour at the traditional Huron site to learn more about the life and traditional culture of the Huron-Wendat people. In summertime, you can head out on a guided canoe tour, take a stroll through the forest and enjoy a three-course meal of traditional food in the on-site restaurant, plus watch a traditional dance show. In winter, there’s a snowshoe tour, along with the daily guided tours of the site, which conjures up life pre-European contact. There is an especially excellent on-site shop with crafts from First Nations across all of North America, offering everything from delicately embroidered moccasins and stunning jewelry to homewares and instruments.
8. Breathe deep at Invocation
Nikki BayleyThe first First Nations perfumery in North America, Invocation was launched by Blue Eagle, a traditional shaman of Abenaki, Algonquin, Pawnee and French-Canadian descent. Drawing on his healing experience with herbs, and combining that with traditional French methods of extraction learned in Grasse, he’s created natural perfume products which are encoded with shamanic ritual and have the power to energize or relax the user. These are fragrances with practical applications. Try Miwah, short for Miwahïmoon—meaning “natural product which promotes wellness and brings energy— as its sweetgrass base attracts beneficial energies and favourable circumstances.