This is, of course, if you live in North America as I (and most of my readers) do. Hell, even South America but that’s one hell of a long drive.
Québec City, Québec, Canada has everything you could ever want out of a quaint French village without ever having to leave the ground… except for when you jump for joy after devouring your first crepe. Do y’all know about these things? My GOD!
Here you can find centuries of history, colorful homes and quirky architecture, fancy foods that used to crawl around in shells, and me butchering the sexiest language on earth by incessantly singing, “Les poissons, les poissons, hee-hee-hee, haw-haw-haw!” (If you don’t know this song, change your life.)
Now, as you might have guessed, I have never been to France. (Update: I have since been to France!) Well except for last month when I had a short layover at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. So if we’re including that then my impressions of France include multi-colored macarons that would kill me if I ate one, no clear directions whatsoever, and severely sick people who will swear on their life “it’s just allergies.” Bitch, you fool no one. I’ll do France a favor and not judge it based solely on that experience. I’ll at least wait until I get there to judge it indiscriminately.
So while I haven’t technically been to France, I imagine, and have been told, that Québec City isn’t that far off. Figuratively, not literally. Literally it is 3,365 miles off and that’s pretty freakin’ far. So if you’re not into radiation, tiny liquids, forehead smudges on windows, or SkyMall (who isn’t?!!!), then Québec City may just be what you need to satisfy that European wanderlust.
If you like castles you will love…
Just look at this beauty! Too bad it’s not an actual fairytale castle. Princess Ashley needs a place to make dresses out of shipwreck scraps and then sleep for twenty years. High on the list of Quebec City points of interest and officially known as Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, CF is the most photographed hotel in the world. I account for about 45% of that probably. It opened in 1893 and was designed by a guy from Maryland, Bruce Price, and his name will be the most Yankee Doodle-y thing you read in this article. We all know what grand hotel designers we have here in the States thanks to gems like Super 8, Holiday Inn, and we can’t forget about the elite Courtyard Marriott, so it comes as sort of a surprise that this guy ended up so far north. An American designing a castle that’s really a hotel is the only clue you aren’t actually in Europe.
It was named after Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac, a French soldier and the governor of the colony of New France in the 17th century. New France was, obviously, the part of North America first colonized by France. New France? That’s so disappointing. Could they really not come up with anything better? I live in New England and the lack of creativity of America’s first settlers is rampant. At its most prominent in 1712, the colony, eventually renamed thankfully, spanned from the Rocky Mountains, to the Hudson River and down to the Gulf of Mexico. Had things turned out a little differently, I would have made an awful French speaker. Bonn-jore y’all! Crayps. Lay Loo-vray. See vooz play. Are rev-rawr mays ammees!
Château Frontenac was built on a high hill overlooking the St. Lawrence River as a luxury hotel for travelers along the railway, probably not hobos. Even if you aren’t staying here, because perhaps you are a hobo, the massive boardwalk (known as the Dufferin Terrace) outside the hotel is a marvelous area to hang out and guess what? Take more photos of the most photographed hotel in the world! Other ways to pass the time on the boardwalk:
- Eat beans out of a can (hobos only)
- Have random super-friendly Canadians come up to you and talk about all the fun things you can do in Québec, and about the whales
- Discuss how friendly Canadian people are
- Debate where you should have poutine later, then decide that you don’t have to decide because 3 days x 3 meals a day + snacks = so many opportunities for poutine! “oppoutine-ities”? Yes, so many oppoutine-ities!
If you like cathedrals (or just Jesus in general) you will love…
No “Europe within reach” article would be complete without a mega church and, oh look! Québec City has one. Our Lady of Québec City is Québec’s cathedral-basilica (I love a good ‘buy one get one free’ deal) and has been located at this site since 1647. It has twice been destroyed and rebuilt, each time becoming larger and more magnificent. The first time due to cannon fire during the English Conquest in 1759 and the second time by fire in 1922. Notre Dame is the oldest parish north of Mexico. Alright, already! Because there are a lot of words here I don’t understand, allow me to incorporate a vocabulary list into this week’s blog post. This is mostly for myself but read on if you, too, don’t quite get it. Nobody’s judging.
Cathedral: the principal church of a diocese, containing the bishop’s throne.
Bishop: just the leader guy of the church – I once got in trouble for sitting “the bishop’s chair,” that’s all I know. Excuse, throne.
Diocese: a sort of smaller division of religions that usually follow local boundaries like counties. The bishop is in charge. He rules from a throne you aren’t allowed to sit in. A diocese is then broken down into parishes.
Basilica: a Catholic church building that has been given special religious privileges by the Pope. Like, cushiest pews? Best pipe organ?
Parish: way down in a church’s food chain you have parishes. They’re usually limited geographically by the physical distance people could travel in a day’s time, probably before there were cars. I’m sure the lines are a little blurry now that we have automobiles and internet religions.
In 2014 Notre Dame de Québec celebrated its 350th anniversary and for this a holy door was constructed. This is HUGE in the church biz because there are only seven holy doors in the world and this is the only one located outside of Europe. Actual Europe, not the pretend Europe we’ve been playing with since the beginning of this article.
Holy door: a super special door on a basilica (see above) that is cemented shut and only opened like every 25 years or so and they have a giant party they call a pilgrimage. The pope does some sort of knocking on the door with a hammer. One time some cement fell on his head. This is a weird tradition but I feel there is a knock-knock joke just waiting to be told here… anyone?
Inside the church you will find a ceiling of clouds, so much gold, some scary statues in a chapel (Are they any other kind?), stained glass windows from Munich (prost!), and a whole slew of pieces of people’s bones. Church is a weird place.
If you like statues of people you don’t know and pretty things that grow you will love…
Québec City’s Parliament Building is home to the National Assembly where the 125 elected officials get together and talk about important issues like exactly how much gravy should be on the poutine and WTF is maple water?
The building itself was built between 1877 and 1886 and owes credit to architect Eugène-Étienne Taché (there, that’s better). The façade shows off 22 statues of important French Canadians and some tributes to the area’s first inhabitants, the Amerindians.
The “front yard,” if you will, of the Parliament Building is a massive garden of indigenous flowers and plants and 130 types of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. These gardens are created through the collaborative efforts of Université Laval and Les Urbainculteurs. So, a school and some people hell-bent on the urban farming initiative. Guess what else. There are active beehives on the roof of one of the Parliament buildings so pollinate little bees! Pollinate your little hearts out! The produce and honey harvested from the Parliament’s gardens are served daily at the restaurant Le Parlementaire. Everything French sounds so fancy and I absolutely cannot say these words without sounding uppity.
If you like quaint shopping districts, art galleries, and eating, you will love…
Have you ever spent the day sipping cappuccino, winding up all the toys in a toy store, and trying to convince your husband to walk twenty feet behind you as long as he insists on eating that maple lollipop? Well I have and it’s as glamorous as it sounds. Have you done this in France? Me neither but I bet it’s fabulous all the same and nowhere is closer (again, figuratively) than Québec City’s Petit Champlain district.
This portion of Old Québec is located at the bottom of the hill, directly below Château Frontenac and can be accessed directly by either the Escalier Casse-Cou (the Breakneck Stairs) or the funicular. So many funiculars in my life lately – probably because I like to get high so much. I love puns!
They’re called the “Breakneck Stairs” because of their height and steepness. These stairs are also hundreds of years old which will help you understand the threatening name of these stairs – they come from a time when people died of fevers, stomach cramps, and tuberculosis. OK, I’ll admit I don’t know what tuberculosis is but I’ve been tested and I don’t have it! I did have a mild panic attack though when the nurse gave me the teeny tiny needle prick and thought I was going to lose my entire arm. Everyone had a good laugh. Oh, and my arm? Still got it!
Québec City’s Petit Champlain is the oldest commercial district and first permanent French settlement in North America. Its streets are lined with shops of all kinds, art galleries full of incredible paintings and also of stuff I could totally do myself, restaurants and bistros, whatever the difference is, one of them named Maison Smith that everyone should probably go to. I bet they serve only the best Pringles and heat up those Hot Pockets reallll good. You can also find a really old church, a fiddler, giant murals on the sides of buildings, and absolutely anything you could ever need with a maple leaf on it.
If you like history and cities surrounded by walls, you will love…
I, too, love cities surrounded by walls. That just means that they are really old and at some point someone was trying to destroy them. And the fact that that didn’t happen means they are truly winners. Officially, these fortifications commemorate the defense system put in place between 1608 and 1871 in Québec, Canada’s main stronghold during the colonial period. Again, I thought the colonial period’s biggest threat was the common cold or childbirth but I guess it was cannon fire.
So in short, walls and cannons. Like, so many cannons. These are the only remaining fortified city walls in North America. Notice a pattern here? “The first — in North America.” “The only — left in North America.” “Best use of cheese curds in North America.” These fortifications preserved everything that is good and pure about eastern Canada (cough, poutine).
In the apparently unintentional photo above you can see a map of Old Québec (Vieux Québec if you’ve now acquired a taste for only the fanciest of things) and the walls surrounding the city as a bold gray line. Québec City’s fortifications are made up of many smaller parts that include the Citadelle, Artillery Park, and some of your more chic city gates.
The Citadelle. Apparently, this is the “largest British fortress in North America.” But I wonder, are there even any others? Regardless, it’s huge and located at the city’s highest point meaning you’ll have to climb a crapload of stairs in your leopard converse to get there from the Dufferin Terrace. The star shaped design of this fort is credited to French engineer Sébastien Le Prestre Vauban but if you look at the above map again you will see that it looks like monsieur Vauban had too many Labatt Bleues at the drawing board. It remains an active garrison (gar·ri·son, ˈɡerəsən/noun: 1. the troops stationed in a fortress or town to defend it) where you can witness the Changing of the Guard Ceremony, red coats and furry hats, and the daily noon-day gun. Wait a minute – Canadians have guns?!!!
Is it just me? Or do the French sound un peu paranoid? I mean, they did steal the land from someone else to begin with (remember those Amerindians?) so I guess I can see it. Artillery Park is another great example of the French trying to defend themselves against everyone who just want. that. poutine. This site was ideal because they could see both land and water attack routes. And guess what they have here? Cannons! You get a cannon! And you get a cannon! Everyone gets a cannon!
Imma let y’all in on a little secret… “porte” is just a frilly French way to say “gate.” I mean, maybe it’s not as big a secret as crepes, but still. The wall, the fortifications surrounding Old Québec, not the one protected by the sexually deprived Night’s Watch, has a handful of these gates. Now, I had to translate this article from French but I think, I think, what it’s trying to say is that Porte Kent was the last to be built, 1878, and was only for ornamental purposes and not strategically defensive. Porte St. Jean on the other hand was built in 1693 and for obvious reasons = to maintain control of the traffic flow. They were guarded and kept closed at night. That is, until people invented cars and began flocking to QC to witness the magic of what happens when you combine French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
If you like architecture, bars, shopping for wool socks and sweaters with moose and/or beavers on them, you will love…
Old Québec City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of my all-time favorite places. Walk around the city, drink some of the best beer of your life, do some shopping, drink more beer and maybe some whiskey, eat some poutine, drink more beer, take pictures of some colorful European-style architecture, buy mittens, check out statues of some French people and ask them, “amipreddygirl? heY! you. doyew thingim preddy?”
So as I’ve said like a gazillion times, Old Québec City is the only walled city north of Mexico and everything contained inside is unlike anything you’ll find here in the United States. Creperies, pubs, stores that sell medieval clothing and SWORDS! Streets where artists sell their paintings and an elegant château. Street signs you can’t read and hills! So many hills. Fountains and flags and a French blues guitarist. Have you ever heard B. B. King in French? It sounds like this, “Le tressaillement s’est évanoui.” Weird, right? Shut up and drink your whiskey.
Everything mentioned so far in this article is found within the limits of Old Québec but there is also so much more worth checking out. If you can’t make it to Europe because… maybe your duck boat has a quack in it? (puns!) then consider a drive to Québec City but don’t forget your passport. They won’t stamp it but still, you’re going to need it. Maybe I can get them to stamp it… Homeland Security takes bribes, right?
If you like nature, you will love…
Montmorency Falls is a waterfall 98 feet higher than Niagara Falls and is an easy 15 minute drive from Old Québec. There is also, one of my favorite things, a suspension bridge spanning the falls. There’s just something I love about a slightly terrifying suspension bridge. Maybe it’s that tingle you get right before you pee yourself. Or that turning in your stomach that makes you feel like you’re going to barf. Isn’t it glorious!
There are a few ways to get to the bridge over the waterfalls and one of them is a cable car as seen above. This is the much faster route as the other one involves climbing 487 stairs. Being the
fitness buff masochist that I am, I took the stairs. You know, to be ‘one with nature’ and all that.
This waterfall was named by Samuel de Champlain in 1613 in honor of Henri II, duc de Montmorency. Who? I know, right? According to the internets, he was the viceroy of New France from 1620 to 1625. A Viceroy? What? Canada is teaching me so much! Viceroy, noun,
- a person appointed to rule a country or province as the deputy of the sovereign
- a brightly marked American butterfly, Limenitis archippus, closely mimicking the monarch butterfly in colorations. A butterfly ruled New France??? Canada is awesome. No wonder Canadians are so friendly.
Climb the stairs, walk across the bridge, realize you can’t get down on the other side, about face, reverse process. For the more adventurous (which is no one I know because I can’t get anyone to do these things with me) there is a 300-meter (984 feet, see – I told you it was basically Europe) double zip line and a VIA FERRATA. I couldn’t be more obsessed with via ferrate and there are none, zero, zilch, zip in my neighborhood. So, who’s coming with me?
If you like
- taking pictures of pretty things
- delicious beer
- cheese that squeaks when you chew it
- pub crawls
- people saying sexy French things
- General Tso’s chicken (trust me)
- discovering a hidden city that it seems no one knows about
- maple everything
then you’ll love…
Speaking of delicious beer and food to-die-for, if you love eating and drinking, you will love Québec City so much you’ll want to marry it. It’s a good thing my husband agrees, and so began our 3-way love affair.
Check out: The Best Spots to Eat + Drink in Québec City