Bienvenue a Quebec!
First of all, take a deep breathe and grab a glass of your favourite vintage. Got it? Great. Now you’re ready to join me on a weekend getaway made for any, and every, kind of traveler.
Let me start by saying that this weekend in Quebec was a long time coming! I hadn’t been to the city since middle-school and my husband had only visited the city briefly over a decade ago in the middle of winter, during a few months spent working in the U.S. For the past 2 years, we’ve been talking about revisiting the city and finally, in celebration of a baby giraffe that will soon be making an appearance, we decided that it was finally time.
Why I love traveling as an adult
I love backpacking. I’m not a huge fan of road-trips. I am a big fan of spontaneous travel and staying in super cheap hostels in order to afford experiences that matter. I crave trying new types of food and I will always take public transportation… unless I’m going on a romantic escape that is 8 hours away by car or 1.5 hours away by plane – then I fly. In preparation for Quebec, my husband and I planned to fly out Saturday morning so that both of us could slot in a full day of work on the Friday. Thankfully, it was Canada Day long weekend, so we’d knew we’d have a full 72 hours to kick up our feet and re-lax.
The magical land of Porter
For this specific jaunt, we decided to take advantage of Porter Airlines, a relatively new player on the short-haul flight circuit. I’d flown once with Porter to Chicago, and it was fabulous! Unlike Pearson, where travelers have to show up a solid 2-3 hours before their flight, Porter’s efficient check-in process allows you to show up at their pick-up location downtown an hour before take-off. You then catch the free shuttle to the waterfront, at which point a Porter-run ferry picks you up and transfers you to Billy Bishop Airport (that trip takes all of 2 minutes but they’re in the process of building an underground tunnel to facilitate the transfer).
There is virtually no line-up to check-in and once you have, not only do you get a stunning view of the Toronto skyline, but you’re invited to the Porter Lounge, a magical place where cushy armchairs await, drinks are free and serenity is plentiful. Once you board, you’ll enjoy complimentary drinks including nicely sized portions of delicious wine and beer; and the best part? They’ll come back and ask if you want more. Totally worth it.
Seeking shelter at La Victorienne Urbaine, B&B
Needless to say, the weekend started off on an amazingly high note and thus we pulled into Quebec city airport feeling well at ease and ready to indulge in a little R&R. We grabbed a cab into the city and pulled up to our bed and breakfast where we’d booked Saturday and Sunday night. While we had to wait until the owner got back from grabbing some groceries, once let inside, we were greeted by the master of the house, Maggie, a charming golden retriever who was always lurking somewhere under the kitchen table, tail wagging excitedly at whoever entered the room.
The house itself was a little further out from the old city than we expected but our host, Elizabeth, soon gave us very thorough instructions about how to get from A to B, by car, by foot, by bus or by bike (note: if you’re in a rush and don’t have time for orientation, let her know ahead of time. Also note that she explains the layout of the city with the map turned upside down, which resulted in me walking around like an idiot with an upside down map, for the entirety of our trip – see picture above). Equipped with maps and lots of informative suggestions on where to eat and what to see, we headed out for an afternoon of exploration. Unfortunately the temperature had dropped a bit to a brisk 15 degrees Celsius, which was about 10 degrees cooler than Toronto, but considering that the forecast had called for rainfall warning proceeding our arrival, you didn’t hear us complain! Instead, we used Saturday afternoon and Sunday to take a lovely tour around the old city, and here’s what we saw.
Vieux Quebec – Old Quebec
Our tour of old Quebec started (and ended actually) with a delicious visit to Le Marché du Vieux-Port. Actually, technically our trip started with the walk to Vieux-Quebec, during which we stopped at the first boulangerie we saw for a snack of Croque Monsieur and crepe with cheese and mushroom. After a tiring walk home – for those who don’t know, Quebec is made up of hills! A great way to get a tight ars fast, unless one of you has a bum knee and the other one is 7 months pregnant. So we decided to bus it into town on Day #2. But back to the market!
The Marché, open year-round, showcases fresh, local products from around Quebec. Highlighted during our time there (June/July) were herbs for the kitchen, maple syrup, wild blueberries, fish, cheese curds (which my husband tried for the first time – he loved them after he got over the signature squeak) and…
… fresh strawberries. Delicious!
After we’d seen the market and passed by the Gare du Palais, a beautiful old building that now functions as Quebec’s main train station, we took a stroll by the waterfront. On the left, we caught a glimpse of the old grain mills and speed boats to catamarans, while to the right we were presented with…
Near the Vieux-Port was the museum of civilization, one of the best museums in the city and housed in a nicely designed building that married the old look of the port with a modern style very nicely.
As we continued our walk around the water and past the Agora, the site of free concerts and activities, we arrived at Place Royale, the heart of historic lower town.
Welcoming us to the old square was the Church of Notre-Dame des Victoires (Our Lady of Victories), marking the French victories over the British in 1690 and 1711 and the spot on which Champlain built Quebec City’s habitation between the years of 1623 and 1626.
The square itself is a beautiful tribute to the original architecture and design that flooded the city.
Vive la France! In the centre of the square is a tribute to King Louis XIV in the form of a bust. The original was erected in 1686 but then removed in 1700 because it was said to be a problem for merchants transporting their goods. In 1928, the French Minister of Commerce and Communications presented Canada with a new bust, only to have it removed in 1944 for the same reasons -it disrupted the flow of traffic in the square. The bust was re-installed permanently in 1964.
Place Royale was one of my favourite parts of Quebec because it really highlighted the french history that all Canadians share. A touchy subject between the Francophones and Anglophones of the province (as well as those who left during the crisis of the 1970s), Quebec City illustrates the wondrous benefits of sharing in a proudly diverse, but united Canada.
So we decided to keep up the joyous mood and make new friends.
Making our way up the hill to the upper town, we came across a statue of Sir George-Etienne Cartier in Montmorency Park National Historic Site, a meeting place of the Legislature of the United Province of Canada between 1841 and 1866 . The park itself held great significance but the statue was so powerful, and the words engraved underneath Cartier, so thought provoking, I had trouble shifting my focus. The plaque read:
“Pour assurer notre existence, il faut nous cramponner à la terre, et léguer à nos enfants la langue de nos ancêtres et la propriété du sol.” To ensure our existence, we must cling to the earth, and bequeath to our children the language of our ancestors and ownership of the land”.
Once we were on our way up, there was no stopping us – except for a bite to eat which we grabbed on a terrace at Les Frerees de la Cote). Since things had warmed up quite a bit by Day #2, my husband was pining for a pint of beer! He ordered a local beer from Quebec called Boreale and found it deliciously refreshing – I admit, I stole a sip and I had to agree. After our little pit-stop, we headed up, up, up the mountain to the Plains of Abraham National Park, the site of the 1759 victory of the British over the French in the battle for Canada, and the Citadel, built by the British and the official residence of the Royal 22nd Regiment since 1920.
It is here, ladies and gentlemen, that you will find the absolute best view in the city – feast your eyes on this!
Post breath-taking view, we made our way back down the mountain and stumbled upon the Joan of Arc Garden, a beautiful botanical garden of sorts where benches gave respite to swollen feet and achy backs. After spending a good half hour lying in the garden, people watching, breathing in the roses and admiring the statue of Joan of Arc from (and concluding that her sword was way too small), we made haste to the Grand Allee for a bite to eat.
The road itself reminded both my husband and I of the the Leopoldstrasse in Munich, wide, with patios lining the sides of the streets and ridiculously expensive cars zooming by. Not all cars were flashy though – like this one! A relic some might say, right out of a scene from Downton Abbey, no? The driver and passenger too – love that show!
We had decided to stay in on Saturday night and make our own dinner at the B&B, but on Sunday night, we were craving a romantic and tantalizing meal – and that’s just what we got at Louis-Herbert, a traditional French restaurant known for its haute cuisine using only the freshest of ingredients! After our fabulous meal, we took a sunset stroll back through upper town to watch the sun go down over the city. As always, the area outside the Chateau was bustling with street performers, onlookers, families, and couples strolling hand in hand (we quickly fell in the ranks).
After sunset, we decided to bus it back to the B&B, but made one small pit-stop en route at a charcuterie called “Le Pied Bleu“. It turned out to be the best thing we did all day. Tired from walking around all day, we took our seats on display in the front of the resto and joined in the laughter of a huge group who was on what looked like their umpteenth bottle of who knows what. Our table for two served as the perfect little corner for sipping (discretely – pregnant women, after all, don’t drink wine… n’est pas?) on delicious French wine, and chuckling to ourselves about nothing in particular. While we were still full from dinner, we made a mental note to return for fresh fromage et saucisse – the menu looks incredible and the staff was super friendly and eager to chat.
Parc de la Chute-Montmorency
Our third day in Quebec turned out to be stunning beautiful, and, having seen everything we wanted to in the city, provided us with the perfect opportunity to get out of town – on bike. Our B&B owner had suggested that we visit Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, and without knowing much about the place, we agreed that waterfalls sounded like a spectacular idea. And they were. Spectacular that is.
I realize looking back that hopping on a bike ride that distanced approximately 15 km one way may have been a tad ambitious. In my head however, 15 km was nothing and I was sure I was up for the task. If only my tailbone had been on board, I may have made it to the waterfall and back pain-free. Alas, that was not the case – it was torture, but thoroughly enjoyable torture – you know, the kind that “hurts so good”. Getting some exercise was very well-received, and as for my tailbone… well that went numb about 5 minutes before we got home – timing is everything.