During the height of French rule in North America in the 18th century, Quebec City was France‘s biggest fortress in the region, blocking access to the heart of the continent with massive ramparts that promised to tear any hostile ship to shreds long before they could ever get past the firing range of its numerous cannons.
British commander James Wolfe managed to take the city in 1759 without having to launch a major siege like Louisbourg the year before however, as he out manoeuvred the French with ruses and decoys, ascending the cliffs in darkness, putting an entire battalion of 4,500 men by daylight. The French didn’t last long, though the ensuing battle cost Mr. Wolfe his life. This skillful strategy of deception spared Quebec its city walls, which remain in their entirety to this day.
Quebec City is the only city in Canada or the United States to retain fortifications of this nature in the present, making this and the European inspired architecture contained within the biggest attraction that the capital of the province of Quebec has.
The culturally rich nature of the Quebecois also livens up what would normally be a dull place (as most government centres tend to be), so even if the medieval like nature of the old city doesn’t do it for you, the festivals and the everyday interactions that you’ll have with the locals almost certainly will!
Of all the buildings located within the boundaries of Old Quebec, Chateau Frontenac is the most dominant one on this cities’ skyline. Patterned after the Banff Springs Hotel, this castle-like hotel opened six years after its predecessor, and its beauty and proximity to the major population centres of eastern North America have ensured its status as the most photographed hotel in the world.
After getting your mandatory photo of this iconic structure, spend some time in its distinctive bars, Bistro Le Sam, or the new 1608 – Wine & Cheese Bar, where the finest cheese products from the farms of Quebec will prove to be the perfect pairing for the fine wines you’ll be tasting.
While Quebec City and the province that it governs is predominately French in its language and culture, it was ruled by the British since the mid 18th century. The settlement, of course, was founded by France in the 17th century, but their stronghold on large tracts of North America came to an abrupt end on the Plains of Abraham in 1759.
As we noted in the introduction, the British, led by general James Wolfe, confronted the French on this level field after evading their formidable defences the night before, resulting in a rout that effectively ended France’s aspirations to rule over much of the New World. While there are monuments here commemorating the pivotal battle that took place here (this site was the first National Historic Site to be created in all of Canada in 1908), the primary use these days involves all manner of recreation, from picnics and concerts in the summer, to cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.
This cities’ (and the province’s) most famous festival takes place on the Plains of Abraham in the dead of winter, as Carnaval de Québec gives the populace of this city a reason to party and have fun during what would otherwise be the most dismal time of year. Massive toboggan slides, canoe races across the almost completely frozen St. Lawrence River, and giving the festival’s adorable mascot Bonhomme jumping high fives are the most popular events here, so if you’re traveling Canada in February and you’re feeling glum – drop by Quebec’s winter carnival!
The frigid and unforgiving nature of Quebec winters have led the locals to rebel against it by using its worst weapon against itself. They do this using the very cold temperatures to create the Ice Hotel, a swanky place where frozen water is carved into alluring designs, and the amenities within give you a reason to be thankful for the nippy temperatures. This is the only accommodation of its kind in North America, further adding to Quebec’s European credentials.
While exploring amazing luxury hotels and old fortifications is good fun for awhile, going for a wander among the shops, restaurants and bars of Old Quebec is also a highly advisable activity. Among the countless crystal Inukshuks and maple leaf shaped vials of maple syrup, be on the lookout for some truly exceptional handmade leather goods, created by local First Nations people, as their various design will make them stand out from the schlock that you usually see in tourist gift shops. Additionally, the restaurants here also feature many staples of Quebecois cooking, including tourtiere (meat pie), various cuts of wild game, and that famous guilty pleasure in the place where it was born – poutine!
Those looking to get in touch with the outdoors will find plenty to keep them busy within a short drive of downtown Quebec City, as the mountain resort areas of Stoneham and Mont Ste Anne offer plenty to keep you moving and sweating during all four seasons of the year. Mont Ste Anne offers a 2,000 foot vertical drop and the largest cross country skiing facility in Canada, while Stoneham has Canada’s biggest offering for night skiing in Canada, and has hosted World Cup events in slalom skiing and in snowboarding in the recent past. Both hills offer summer mountain biking facilities as well, with Mont Ste Anne offering some of the best biking routes in Eastern North America.