When acknowledging the formidable appearance of Québec City’s British-built fortress, Charles Dickens famously described the city as “the Gibraltar of America”. Its clifftop ramparts, constructed in the 19th century, certainly dominate the high ground on Cape Diamond, the wedge of land tapering between the confluence of the Saint-Charles and St Lawrence rivers. From here you’ll find commanding views over those waterways and the eroded peaks of the distant Laurentian Mountains.
Up close is no less impressive. The grey stonework of the star-shaped Citadelle de Québec forms part of North America’s only walled city outside Mexico. Guided tours of the stronghold mean opportunities to not only gaze over one of the continent’s oldest cities, but also to view the austere façade of the Canadian governor general’s second residence – the other being Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
There’s plenty for military history buffs to ponder here, and entering the eastern casemate means an opportunity to browse a museum dedicated to the French-speaking Royal 22e Régiment, whose significance extends beyond these walls. The regimental motto of ‘Je me souviens’ (meaning ‘I remember’) is shared by the province. It was adopted after being inscribed on the façade of the nearby Parliament Building of Québec, a symmetrical Second Empire-style affair designed by Eugène-Étienne Taché in 1875. As a reminder of the contribution made by French-speaking settlers to Canada’s development, Taché adorned its alcoves with 26 bronze statues. They include the figure of Samuel de Champlain, who founded the city in 1608 and played a leading role in establishing the colony of New France. Tours of the building and its library can be booked online.
French settlers, known as ‘Canadiens’, allied with the First Nations’ peoples and traded to supply Europe with furs. To step inside a recreated Huron-Wendat stockade and longhouse, in which multiple Wendyat families traditionally lived together, take a 20-minute taxi ride to the Hôtel-Musée Premières in Wendake. The on-site museum introduces the nation’s heritage and culture, while restaurant La Traite’s fine-dining menu showcases locally sourced ingredients long used in indigenous cooking.
The outline of one of Champlain’s houses, including its corner tower, is marked in black stone among the cobbles of Place-Royale in the Lower Town. It occupies ground in front of the spire-topped place of worship that lays claims to being the country’s oldest stone-built church. Constructed from 1688 onwards, the Église Notre-Dame-des-Victoires would not look out of place in Brittany or Normandy. Many of the buildings on the Place-Royale that today host souvenir stores or sell refreshments, as well as the attractive street of the Quartier du Petit-Champlain, suffered damage in the Battle of Québec in 1759 and were subsequently rebuilt after New France formally became part of British North America four years later.
Visit… Parc de la Chute Montmorency, a 15-minute drive from the city, is where the Montmorency Falls tumbles 83m into the Saint Lawrence River. Grab a spot on the observation platforms.
Shop… Snag a gourmet picnic at the Grand Marché. In addition to its fine seafood and charcuterie, there’s a choice of regional maple syrups, fruit from the nearby Île d’Orléans and Quebecois wine and craft beer.
Set within four interconnected 18th-century buildings in the heart of the Upper Town, this hostel offers private rooms in addition to beds in well-maintained dorms. It has a yard, a bar and a café, plus a communal living room. hiquebec.ca
In a renovated 17th-century building on a lane next to the Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, this hotel has a boutique feel. Its 20 rooms have handcrafted furniture, breakfast is delivered each morning, and restaurant, Chez Jules, serves French brasserie-style cuisine. aubergeplacedarmes.hotelsduvieuxquebec.com
Best address in town
The Van Horne Suite, named after the railway executive behind the creation of the hotel, and the Elizabeth II Suite, marking the monarch’s 1959 stay, are among the grandest of 610 rooms. Be sure to reserve afternoon tea in the Place Dufferin restaurant. fairmont.com
International dialling code: +1
Currency: The Canadian dollar (CAD$), currently around CAD$1.58 to the UK£. ATMs and bureaux de change (currency exchanges) are dotted around Québec City.
Getting there: Air Transat operates direct seasonal flights between London Gatwick and Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport from around £350 return. Air Canada and Westjet run year-round services with one stop. Via Rail trains link other Canadian cities.
Getting around: Old Québec is compact, so easily explored on foot, but its historic funicular makes an easy alternative to the steep hill and staircases linking the Lower Town and Upper Town. For impressive cityscapes, ride the ferry across the Saint Lawrence to Lévis.
Festivals: The Festival d’été de Québec, held on the Plains of Abraham in July, is one of Canada’s biggest music events. February’s Quebec Winter Carnival has ice canoe racing, ice sculptures and parades.
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