Being the last stronghold of the French in North America in the 18th century, Quebec is a proud corner of the continent, having jealously guarded its culture and language despite losing the Seven Years War to the British in 1760. Though their preservation of their way of life has meant enduring assimilation attempts by their English overlords over the years, and the overbearing effect of American and English Canadian media in the present era, they have nevertheless emerged with a province and a distinct society that stands out from all the other jurisdictions across the continent.
Indeed, you will find old towns in Quebec City and Montreal that evoke Europe more than any comparable city in Canada or the U.S., a restaurant culture that will have you dining slowly over hours of pure pleasure, and a palpable joie de vivre that will have you re-examining your life and why you aren’t so jazzed about the little things in life.
So brush up on that high school French that you have let atrophy for years … once you embrace the charms of this special province, you’ll be under its spell and as such, you’ll be extending your stay for weeks at a time.
What To Do – Culture & History
There’s a decent chance that you’ll start your Quebec trip in the lively city of Montreal, so let’s begin by discussing the festivals that make it such an energetic place (or are the festivals so successful because of the initial energy of the people? Food for thought…). There are many world famous events and celebrations that have been founded here, and continue to thrive to this day.
The biggest of these is Juste Pour Rire, known in English as Just for Laughs. This is a comedy festival that has drawn such noted comics over the years, from Bob Saget to Louis C.K. to entertain the easily amused masses initially in Montreal, and in later years, those all around the world via their highly popular TV shows.
Another big draw here is the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which stands as the world’s largest celebration of jazz music. Both indoor and outdoor venues are packed with admirers of this sultry brand of music, which has attracted artists such as B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Norah Jones over the decades.
Those seeking religious monuments will want to circle Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre on their map of Quebec, as this church near Quebec City has been a widely sought out destination for Catholic pilgrims in the past. This following has been attracted after one of the original builders of the church, being hobbled by severe scoliosis, ended up being completely healed by divine intervention (or so it seems) after completing construction of the church with his fellow workers.
Other people with physical ailments have walked away from the basilica being healed of their afflictions as well in the years that followed, leading increasingly to its reputation as a major source of pilgrimage. Another highlight here is a reproduction in the church of the Holy Stairs known as Scala Santa, with the original being found in Rome.
Once you get down to Quebec City, start by walking through the Plains of Abraham, the battlefield where France lost the battle for Quebec in the Seven Years War to the British. This integral moment in the history of Quebec and Canada led to this place being declared the nation’s first National Historic Site in 1907. Today, the plains are a popular gathering place in warm weather for locals in Quebec City, and a staging point for Quebec City’s world famous Winter Carnival.
If you have found the architecture of Canada and North America to be somewhat lacking since your arrival in this part of the world, then a trip through the Old City of Quebec will be cure for what ails you. It is in this part of Quebec City that many people associate more with building styles in Europe than those originated here in North America, as the age of many of these structures date back to the 17th century.
Chateau Frontenac, a hotel that has served the upper crust of the traveling public since 1893. More like a castle than a place where tourists stay, it was recognized as a National Historic Site in 1980, so be sure to at least stop in for a drink if you don’t have the scratch to stay here.
Finally, if you are here in winter, be sure to head out into the Quebec countryside and visit a sugar shack. These attractions take the sap that is divined out of sugar maple trees in the early spring, and they pour it over fresh snow, creating an addictive candy that you won’t be able to get enough of … you’ve been warned!
What To Do – Natural Attractions
When you are in the city of Montreal, get up to Mont Royal and cherish one of the best view of one of Canada’s premier cities. Created by an ancient volcanic eruption, this hill stands out over the flat to gently rolling terrain that surrounds it, making it naturally attractive to those seeking to relax in nature in the midst of a highly urban environment. From bike and ski trails for active types, to drum circles and buskers for those more inspired by performance art, there is always plenty to do at Mont Royal Park.
Some of the best skiing in Eastern North America can be had in Quebec, with Mont-Tremblant being the social locus of all the Quebec ski hills. In addition to its 94 runs, the longest of which is a hoot worthy 6 kilometres, this resort has also proven to be a popular getaway in the summer as well, as canoeing on local lakes and mountain biking on the slopes after the snow has melted has drawn in sufficient amounts of adrenaline seekers in the warmer months.
The most impressive natural waterworks within the province of Quebec can be found outside the capital city at Montmorency Falls. This waterfall is almost as impressive as Niagara Falls, standing a full 30 metres higher than its famous rival in Ontario.
Touring the Gaspe Peninsula is a trip that is highly recommended to those looking for a scenic road trip within Quebec. It leads you around a mountainous finger of land, bordered on its oceanic edges by charming fishing villages and small towns.
A natural feature that will prove to be one of the star attractions of this journey will be Perce Rock, a massive cliff/sea stack separated from the mainland by a few hundred metres of ocean. While it may have been connected to the mainland at one point, these geological trivialities will take a back seat to the massive spectacle that will silence you in awe of the massive creations that nature is capable of creating.
Finally, those seeking a unique island hideaway should hop a ferry to Iles De La Madeleine from Prince Edward Island, or via plane or cruise from Montreal. Here, the windswept, isolated, but sublimely beautiful will make you feel like a travel pioneer, as you will wonder why this place isn’t a world class tourist destination given the fine white sand and red sand beaches, fine French seafood restaurants, and overly friendly locals.