No matter what your definition of romance, Old Quebec City is easily the most romantic getaway destination in North America. It has plenty to do for lovers, families and singles. Just a little north of New England (about a 7 hour drive from Boston, 4.5 from Burlington VT., or 5.5 hours from Portland ME), any trip to New England could easily include it in the itinerary. Or, it makes for a great long weekend.
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Founded in 1608 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quebec City is as close to being in France as you can get in North America. If you speak French, and so desire, you will never need to utter a word in English your entire visit. Getting by with English, however, is not a problem.
It is full of history, quaint hotels and B&B’s, great restaurants, outdoor Parisian-style cafes, fabulous vistas, and wonderful museums for both art and history lovers. Easy to tour by foot, it is simply one of the best places to spend a few days and a pleasure any time of year. Be forewarned, it can be very cold in the winter.
Old Town Quebec consists of Haute-Ville (Upper Town) and Basse-Ville (Lower Town), which also is the location of the old port. I’ll highlight a few of my favorite spots in each.
The best tour starts by simply walking around. It is small and self contained, beautiful, quaint, there are great places to eat, and is is just a wonderful place to be. The entire city is surrounded by a stone wall built by both the French and British armies. In fact it is the only North American city with fortress walls that still exist north of Mexico. The views overlooking Basse-Ville and the St. Lawrence are excellent.
Le Château Frontenac is probably the most photographed hotel in North America. To stay there can be pricey and the property can feel a little stuffy (if you want high-end, as an alternative you may want to consider some of the more intimate, but superb boutique hotels in Basse-Ville like the Dominion or Aberge Saint-Antoine – and both of these are relative bargains), but a martini in the Frontenac’s bar and a guided hotel tour can make the Quebec experience complete.
The Plains of Abraham Battlefield Park is a great walk on a nice day. The Plains are the site of the 1759 battle between the French, under Montcalm, and the English, under Wolfe. (Both Montcalm and Wolfe died as a result of wounds received here.) The battle was deciding moment in the conflict between France and Britain over the fate of New France, and resulted in the turning over of Quebec to the English. The park features beautiful gardens, historic exhibits and great views of the city and the St. Lawrence. Be sure to visit the Discovery Pavilion for a great overview of the park and its history. Check for music and festivals during the summer and bring a frisbee.
Le Musée National des Beaux-arts du Québec is a wonderful art museum in the Plains of Abraham Battlefield Park. Housed in three buildings, one of which was the 19th century city prison, it is a great way for art lovers to spend couple of hours. It is home to impressive permanent collections as well as traveling shows.
As with Haute-Ville, simply wandering around is a great way to experience the city. To go between Haute and Basse-Ville, there is the Funiculaire that can be taken up or down if you do not want to navigate the stairs or winding streets, which are steep. The 17th century architecture and French flavor sets a tone unequaled in North America. There are many places to shop, which range from high-end furs and art to pure kitsch – at your pleasure. In nice weather, sit outside in a cafe, close your eyes, and when you open them, you are in a French village (truly). Superb!
Musée de la Civilization is an impressive museum dedicated to the history of the world’s peoples. It houses excellent exhibits focused on the humanities, with a concentration on the Canadian people. It is enjoyable by both adults and children. If it is inclement, this is the best place to spend the day. The free tours are well done and very insightful.
Le Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec is a wonderful fresh market near the old port and off most tourist agendas. It is great place to wander around and pick up supplies for a picnic or to bring back to your hotel room. Most everything comes from Quebec and the varous stalls specialize in fruits, vegetables, wine, cider, maple products, cheeses, pastries, breads, deli meats, and more. This is a great place to find non-traditional souvenirs to bring home.
The Place-Royale is where Samuel de Champlain landed in 1608 and founded the first French settlement in North America. It is an absolutely beautiful square. Visit the Centre d’Interpretation de Place-Royal for exhibits describing the challenges of setting up a town in the 17th century. At the end of the square is the Notre Dame des Victoires church, built in 1688 and subsequently destroyed by the British bombardment of 1759. It has been restored to it’s original character.