Before I expand on our trip to Québec City, I'd like to discuss poutine, the (supposedly) delicious Canadian dish of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Poutine can be served from food trucks or fancied up with lobster or foie gras, and it is pretty much everywhere in Canada. I was pretty apathetic towards the prospect of eating poutine -- besides it having a weird name that I kind of hate saying, I didn't have the desire to track down a vegetarian version. So poutine = meh. Eat it if you want and if you don't, well, you might be saving yourself from a clogged artery or two.
We arrived to Québec City on VIA Rail, Canada's premier train service that runs between major cities across the country. I would highly recommend visiting at least two cities in Canada on one trip and reaching them via train -- train travel is relaxing and reasonably priced, There is also free wifi onboard which is always a plus in my book.
The first thing I noticed about Québec City is wow, there are so many people here and this is starting to look a lot like Epcot. The little streets and buildings were so picturesque that at first glance they look like a Hollywood set. Huge tour busses and camera-laden visitors were swarming the main street and the promenade. I did not expect this at all -- judging from the quietness of Montréal, I figured I'd be able to hear a pin drop in Québec City.
Day (1): We stayed at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, the enormous castle-like edifice in the heart of the city. Québec City has very few Airbnb options so we decided on a hotel instead. This is one of the pricier options in the city, but there are many other hotels to choose from for every price range. However, the Fairmont is a major icon of Québec City and visitors are welcome to walk in and around the building and grab lunch at one of the many restaurants (more on the restaurants later!).
One of the first things we did was hop on the ferry for the quick ride across the St. Lawrence River to the town of Levis. We didn't actually want to see the town of Levis, but I wanted to snap some pictures of the Fairmont in the evening light. The ferry ride offers unbeatable views of the beautifully-lit Fairmont and the dramatic city skyline.
Québec City is separated into the Upper City and Lower City. The two are connected by stairs or, for the proud and lazy, the funicular. The funicular is basically an outdoor elevator that, for a small fee, will take you between the Upper and Lower City. It was super convenient (we used it many times) and being packed in there like sardines with a bunch of other people really put the "fun" in funicular (that was actually the only bad part of the situation).
Day (2): We woke up early to start our private walking tour with lovely Charlotte from the Tours Voir Québec tour company. It was drizzling outside and there were about a third of the tourists we had originally seen out on the streets. There was also something so charming and cozy about strolling down the cobblestone streets in the rain. There's a lot of history to Québec City, and it feels very much like a quaint European town (part of the huge appeal). Old Québec, the historic city center, is a UNESCO World Heritage site (hence the blue flags around the Fairmont) and one of the oldest cities in North America (1608). I recommend booking a walking tour here -- it's small enough to cover in three hours and there's really no better way to get a complete history of the city. (French people: "This is our land", English people: "No, this is OUR land", Native Americans: "Um, we have literally been here forever and you people floated over like 6 months ago so...").
After our walking tour, we rested up for the rest of the afternoon. We decided on L'Echaudé for dinner after Charlotte recommended it on our tour. It's located in the Lower City and a great choice if you're looking for an upscale restaurant during your stay. There was a whole section of the menu for ingredients that come from the local market, I got the beet salad, pan-seared halibut, and trio of sorbets.
Prior to leaving on our trip, my mom had mentioned that she really wanted to see an acrobat troupe called Flip FabriQue in Québec City. This is going to be a bunch of rambunctious neighborhood knaves doing somersaults in an alley, I thought, as we headed there. When we arrived, the stage was huge and made out of all kinds of rocks and wooden planks and trampolines. This is going to be a bunch of hippies with a couple unicycles, I thought, as we took our seats. (I might be a little cynical about acrobat troupes). Well...I stand corrected. Flip FabriQue was trés magnifique. There were trampolines, unicycles, hula hoops, human pyramids, aerial silk dancers, dance numbers, and backflips into a ball pit. I loved every second of it and felt like a kid at the circus (a really trendy circus of clean, beautiful, Lululemon-clad men and women ).
Day (3): The next morning we headed out to Montmorency Falls, about twenty minutes outside of Québec City. There was much debate about cab vs. shuttle and we ultimately chose taking a cab because we didn't want to be tied to the schedule of the shuttle -- this was a great decision (but keep in mind, this whole trip can get a bit pricey. There's a $3.25 fee for entrance to the park then an additional $13 fee to ride the gondola to the top on top of the cab ride there). However, the falls are spectacular! We first took the cablecar up to the top and looked around Montmorency Manor, which gives you the history behind the falls, and stopped at a few lookouts.
We walked across the tiny bridge suspended above the falls -- an optimal place for conquering a fear of heights. It was easier to walk down the other side of the mountain rather than turn around and take the cablecar back down so we walked down the flights of steps. Beautiful lookouts and we got soaked from the spray of the falls -- perfect picture opportunity!
When we returned to Québec City, there was a huge storm brewing but we needed to get lunch somewhere so we ran up the street to a cute little bistro, Limproviste Restaurant. We ate and watched the storm come in from the open front windows -- and every dish was amazing!
I had been dying to try a drink from the elegant 1608 Bar in the lobby of the Fairmont. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer sweeping views of the St. Lawrence River and the library-like ambience is cozy and inviting. The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac raises its own bees so they have an entire "Wild for Bees" menu devoted to using their in-house honey in the adjacent Bistro Le Sam (a great place to grab a quick bite to eat, also another beautiful bar). I ordered the Lavender Bee's Knees -- gin, fresh lemon juice, honey simple syrup, Scrappy's Bitter Lavender, and a lavender twig garnish. Can't thank you enough, bees.
That evening we walked around the area in front of our hotel known as La Promenade des Gourverneurs, which has a very English seaside town feel to it. A great place to people-watch and grab some ice cream.
The next day we took the train back to Montréal and flew out the next morning. Canada's verdant scenery was as beautiful as I expected. I was surprised at how little I knew about Canadian history and culture (ok, hockey, maple syrup, beavers, and snow? I suck). However, thanks to two amazing tour guides, I left Canada with a better understanding of how the province of Québec established itself as a French-speaking area in a country-wide stretch of English speakers. I think all Americans should make a trip to meet our friendly Northern neighbors (and smuggle as many cans of maple syrup back at they can!).