Visiting capital cities of anything is always an interesting experience. Sometimes they’re huge and gorgeous and awe-inspiring. Other times, they’re tiny and quiet and overshadowed by a much bigger metropolis nearby. And then, you have the ones who fall squarely in the middle of that: Beautiful, mid-sized, full of history, and full of charm. Enter: Quebec City, the capital of the province of Quebec in Canada. It’s a place that Henry has frequently visited, and which Mariam zoomed through once. So when the occasion arose, off we went!
A bit of personal history…
I’ve been here very often [Henry]. When I was a young child, my Uncle Thomas took me on road trips to a number of nearby cities, and Quebec City might have been the very first such trip. And I suppose that stuck with me because, since then, I’ve managed to go to this city across all four seasons many, many times. One of the things that’s always struck me about this place is just how stunningly beautiful the place is.
On my side [Mariam], I have only passed through the city once. When I moved to Montreal in 2010, I always thought that there would be many occasions to visit Quebec City. So I never really made the effort of planning a trip there. “It’s soooo close, surely someone will plan a trip and I’ll just tag along” was my thought process. So I waited, waited, waited… But that opportunity never came… Until this summer when Henry suggested that we go there for a quick weekend getaway. Wuuhuuu, finally!
In summer, there’s a lot of green. Trees and bushes and grasses and plains don’t so much adorn as blanket Quebec City. It’s something you’ll note from the very first moment you drive into the city proper. Right along the main road into town, once you pass the gas stations and first hotels and malls, you’ll see an endless row of trees that’s punctuated by large parks and then even larger parks.
In spring, those same trees are coming to life, and in fall, their leaves envelope the city in an endless canvas of colour. In winter, Quebec City is a very cold place that can be quite snowed in. However, there’s a stark beauty in walking or driving past the city’s many historical buildings and statues covered in white, and glistening in the sun.
Basically, just on sights alone, Quebec City is a place I love (other reasons include food and history and artists’ alleys). So of course it’s a place I wanted to really experience again with Mariam 🙂 .
Mariam: Prior to our trip, I’ve been here for, oh, y’know, four hours. I was on my way somewhere else. And I guess it’s because of that that I was under the mistaken impression that Quebec City was much smaller than it actually is. It was pretty, but I wasn’t expecting too much else. Was I ever surprised!
So, what did we do on this summer road trip?
We spent the first bits just driving along and taking in the sights. And true enough, it wasn’t long after getting into city limits that we saw the endless rows of trees on either side of Laurier Boulevard (one of the main roads in Quebec City). As we drove along, we stopped off at the wondrously green Bois-du-Coulonge Park and the historically-famous Plains of Abraham. In both places, we walked along for what felt like minutes but which in reality had been close to two hours. Evidently, we were really taken in by the healthy glow.
Our little jaunts easily bridged the gap in time between our arrival and check-in at our hotel, the Golf & Auberge Plaza Stastny. The place was a short drive away from the main heart of the city (although the ever-not-so-slightly looping driving instructions by our GPS easily doubled the trip time). After we parked, we were greeted by the sight of a clearly much older but well-kept mansion. Beautiful!
The hotel had baroque architecture, and the overall furnishings had an intentionally not-modern feel to them. Our room and bed were comfortable, but our favourite aspect of our room was the shower, of all things. The rush of water was almost firehose-like in its intensity, and we loved it. It managed to be both cleansing and massaging simultaneously. It was also pretty inexpensive as a hotel, and we recommend it for value and relative proximity to all the touristy things in Quebec City.
Ah, Old Quebec. True to its name, it was like taking a trip back through time. Buildings erected clearly in centuries past sat side-by-side with plains and ramparts where old battles had taken place.
There were also many cannons lining the old fortifications.
We meandered our way through the local artists’ alley, where we ended up chatting with quite a few local artists selling their pieces. There were paintings and sculptures and some things we’d never heard of, including the nearly-lost art of copper etching. There was a lot to see, and we really recommend that you go by this area if you ever visit. Sadly, we took no pictures of the artists’ alley at the request of the artists themselves. What we can show you is the nifty original key and mail caddy we bought:
After the artists’ alley, we ran into a bit of unluck: A heavy rainstorm. Fortunately, we weren’t far from the Chateau Frontenac; we ran there as quickly as we could and stayed there to wait out the crashing rains. We were in good company; it felt like half the city had ducked into this grand hotel to seek shelter from the rain!
When at last the rain stopped, we went back outside to continue exploring. By this point, night had fallen. That didn’t mean that the bustle of the place stopped though! People were still out in force, walking about or dining at terraces. We were getting hungry at this point, so we decided to eat. However, we didn’t quite feel like eating at one of the seemingly endless cluster of crepe places, pubs, and French bistros (that’s not to say that such places aren’t good; by experience, Henry knows they are!).
You can therefore imagine our delight at discovering La Maison Marocaine, a couscous place of all things, in the middle of Old Quebec! And the funny thing is, this place was pretty much a hidden gem. If you didn’t know where this restaurant were located, or weren’t carefully looking for something different the way we were, it would’ve been very easy to miss it.
This restaurant is tucked away behind a long alleyway (see picture below), and it’s staffed by friendly, funny people.
The menus were refreshingly no frills as well:
We ordered the summer special: A royal tajine with chicken, lamb, prunes, and olives, accompanied by soup couscous. We also had a spot of Moroccan tea. Altogether, everything was delicious! We’d come back 🙂 .
Night Time in Old Quebec
We love seeing life after dark, and in that regard, Quebec City did not disappoint. As we walked all around, we were happy to see that there were still people aplenty. We found our way to the Palais Montcalm, and were only too happy to discover that there was live music !
Outside of the Tourist Region of Quebec City
Old Quebec is obviously the main draw of visiting Quebec City, but there’s definitely more to it. Outside of the old quarter, there’s a more modern downtown filled with big box franchise stores, supermarkets, and other “typical” shops (hence our lack of photos of such things). We strolled through these parts, and then spent a good chunk of time walking through the large campus grounds of the University of Laval.
All told, the weekend breezed on by very quickly, thanks to the fact that there was so much to see in Quebec City, and most of it best-experienced on foot.
Mariam: When I really took the time to walk through the historic neighbourhood of Old Quebec, and then spent another large chunk of time moseying through the not-so-old neighbourhoods, I really discovered that Quebec City clearly has some serious life and depth to it! How have I not been here more often?
Henry: See? 😛
So that’s the basic bottom line: Quebec City is a beautiful place – historic, not-big-but-not-small – and definitely worth the effort to visit!
Thank you Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, America, Earth!