Enjoy charm, history, music, adventure and great food – all with a French accent -during a weekend rail trip to Quebec City in Quebec province, Canada.
Many Americans think of Francophone Canada as a way to get a slice of Europe that’s much closer to home, but you’ll soon find that it has a unique charm of its own. Quebec City (QC) is a perfect example. Recently we had the opportunity to visit our neighbor to the north, and it was fantastique, albeit too brief.
If you happen to be traveling through Canada, the only way to go is on VIA Rail. Our trip from Montreal to QC was one of the most comfortable rides we’d ever taken, and the scenery was absolutely stunning. To top it off, the food and service were just about as good. The 3½-hour journey was so pleasant that it made us dream of taking a VIA Rail trip west across Canada to Vancouver someday.
Le Vieux et le Nouveau: Old Quebec City
For an introduction to Quebec City, kids will enjoy the 3D multimedia Quebec Experience (8 rue de Tresor, 418/694-4000). You’ll take a thrilling journey through 400 years of history from the Amerindians to the French and English settlers, meeting Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain and others through a sound and image show bursting with animatronics, holograms and amazing special effects.
Most tourists spend their time here in Vieux Quebec (the Old City). The narrow, winding and steep streets, as well as the ancient wall surrounding the old town evoke a European feel. Perhaps too expensive to stay in, but definitely worth a viewing is the Chateau Frontenac, a hotel with castle-like architecture that dominates Quebec City’s skyline. It’s located right above the Funicular, a short, steep cable railway, (a must-do) down to Place Royale in the lower city, which is the site of Nouvelle-France’s first settlement. This well-preserved square is full of shops and restaurants, and is the heart of the city’s artistic activities. Don’t miss La Fresque des Quebecois (Mural of Quebec), an amazing trompe l’oeil work depicting the city’s 400 years of history.
Le Vieux et le Nouveau: New QC
Another great area to explore is rue St.-Jean, which extends past the walls of the old city and gives you a more authentic feel of contemporary Québecois life. Of special interest to kids and chocolate lovers alike is the Erico Chocolate Economuseum (634 rue St.-Jean, 418/524-2122) where everything is made on site, and you can learn the history of chocolate from the ancient Mayan discoveries through the present. Educational yet delicious!
Another great stop is the Maison Jean-Alfred Moisan (699, rue St.-Jean), the oldest grocery store in North America, which has some unique Canadian products like maple syrup and teas.
Québec City is home to many captivating museums, but we only had time for one: Musée de la Civilisation de Quebec (85, rue Dalhousie, 418/643-2158), a combination science, history, and art museum. You could spend an entire day exploring all of its different exhibits (only two are permanent), or pick and choose from the delightfully interactive and engrossing rooms. Exhibits that were there when we visited included an examination of the historic and contemporary life of Canadian Native Americans (Amerindians), a CSI-like Murder Mystery exhibit where we collected clues and learned about how crimes are solved while narrowing down the list of suspects, and an exhibit on democracy. The museum also boasts a comfortable and affordable café, as well as an extensive giftshop.
One of the unique opportunities for families traveling to Quebec during the summer is their fantastic summer festival, Le Festival D’été de Québec featuring live music and street performances on several stages throughout the city. It started small in 1968 when seven artists and a group of businessmen were looking for a way to liven up the city’s parks and squares and promote the popular arts. Since then, it has expanded into a huge 11-day event with performers and visitors from around the world. Now over 1,000 artists perform in all styles to a roving audience in the hundreds of thousands.
Luckily, our trip happened to coincide with the Festival and it really seemed like the whole city came out to hear the music and participate. The activities started in the late afternoon and continued into the evening and were very popular, making for a very lively and celebratory atmosphere. Specially-themed performances and workshops for children take place each afternoon. Canadian love festivals and there are many throughout the year (such as the Montréal’s Jazz Festival and Quebec City’s Winter Carnival), so it’s worth looking into their schedules ahead of time.
A Daytrip out of the New QC
We took an excursion to the outskirts of the city (about 10 minutes by car ) to Montmorency Falls Park (800/665-6527), a breathtaking waterfall that is 1½ times the height of Niagara Falls. A short aerial tramway ride takes you to the top of the mountain, where you can visit Manoir Montmorency whose restaurant offers an incredible view, and a small museum explaining the history of the falls. There is a pedestrian footbridge across the falls (not recommended for any acrophobiacs in your family), and a stairway down to its base.
You could easily spend an entire day here, hiking in the summer and ice climbing and sledding in the winter. Our guide told us that for adventurous and active families, it would be possible to rent a bicycle in the city and bike all the way to the Falls, for a nice day trip.
Planning a QC Weekend Getaway
Within walking distance of the VIA Rail station and many sights is the Hotel Manoir Victoria (44, cote du Palais, 800/463-6283, 418/692-3822), a beautiful, historic hotel with luxurious accommodations. Well-situated in the midst of the Old City, it is near shops and restaurants, surrounded by hundreds of years of culture. Accommodations include 156 rooms and luxury suites, and the hotel is outfitted with a gym, an indoor swimming pool, “Le Spa du Manoir,” a business center, indoor parking and two restaurants. Children are most welcome, and stay free in their parent’s room up to age 18. In the restaurants, children under 6 eat free, and older children to age 12 receive a 50% discount. Video Games are available in the rooms, and babysitting can be arranged through the concierge. Free high-speed Internet (in all rooms) and a whirlpool bath were great perks during our stay. It really is perfect for both a romantic getaway and for families with children of all ages.
It’s hard to find bad food in Québec City, and some of the places we really enjoyed are: La Primavera (73, rue St-Louis, 418/694-0030), a comfortable Italian restaurant in the Old City; Creperie Le Petit Chateau (5, rue St.-Louis, 418/694-1616) featuring unforgettable and mouth-watering crepes and fondues, and Le Petit Cochon Dingue (24, boulevard Champlain, 418/694-0303), meaning “Crazy Little Piggy,” which is what you’ll feel like after sampling the treats at this bakery/café in Cartier-Petit Champlain.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
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