Quebec City, a Traveler's Dream

The old city in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. Shelley Rotner photos.
The old city in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. Shelley Rotner photos.

Quebec City: City and Country Adventures

Canyon Saint Anne suspension bridge, "The Grand Canyon of Quebec."
Canyon Saint Anne suspension bridge, "The Grand Canyon of Quebec."

By Shelley Rotner

Quebec City is celebrating its 400thanniversary. A visitor can still imagine what it was like four centuries ago. Remnants of the past are preserved in this tourist friendly, UNESCO World Heritage site.

The wharves, walls and architecture set the scene. Quebec is a fortified, colonial port city on the St. Lawrence River flanked by four stone gates and a surrounding wall built for protection in the days of rivalry between the French and English. It’s the only walled city north of Mexico.

A Walking City

Quebec is a walking city with narrow cobblestone alleyways and 400-year-old stone houses. I stayed in one that was converted into a lovely inn, The Auberge Saint Antoine. Upon arrival, it was an immediate chance to step back in time.

The owners cleverly and artistically restored three historical buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries. During construction, a large-scale archaeological dig discovered artifacts from both the French and the English dating back to the 1600’s.

A street artist dazzles the crowd at Le Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City.
A street artist dazzles the crowd at Le Chateau Frontenac.

The six layers of discovery over time correspond to the six floors of the inn. Each floor displays in a timely way, museum quality exhibits of the artifacts with informational text.

There’s even an artifact encased in glass in the night table dresser.   The result is a blend of beauty and history. The Auberge Saint Antoine claims to be an inn that remembers its roots. It’s true.

The next day, on a very rainy morning I discovered the Museum of Civilization literally steps outside the door. It’s an interactive museum that bridges the past with the present.

The day I was there I saw “Like Cats and Dogs,” an exhibit that explores cats and dogs through scientific, sociological and cultural findings. There was also an exhibit called “Nanotech: The Invisible Revolution,” an exhibit that explores “nanos” through gadgets, sports equipment, medical treatments and “nanos” in nature.

Sam's Settlement

It was still raining after the museum visit. Another short walk took me to the Place Royale, where Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec, set up his first settlement in 1608.

It was the first permanent colony in New France. This makes Place Royale not just the oldest neighborhood in Québec City, but also the oldest in all of North America!

The Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church stands directly on this spot. It’s one of the oldest stone churches in Canada. The square oozes with charm. There’s a great trump d’oeil style mural that covers the entire side of the Soumande House depicting the city’s heritage and its inhabitants.

With the rain still coming down in torrents, I claimed a spot perched under an awning at the café La Maison Smith. It was the perfect place to people-watch tourists clad in a rainbow array of rain ponchos while sipping a café au lait. The café had an impressive assortment of macaroons, baguette sandwiches and croissants. In spite of the deluge, tourists were out and about and even cheerful. Roads turned into rivers but there was a sunny spirit.

Grand Prix Cycliste

The next day was a brilliant sunny day just in time for the annual Grand Prix Cycliste.   About 150 bikers raced 11 laps on an 18 km circuit route with four climbs. I got to witness it close up --and I mean really close. At times I could feel the wind the cyclists created speeding by. The town was basically shut down for the event. It was quite a sight to see the colorful mass of men in spandex winding their way through the streets with people spiritedly cheering on.

Bike racers whiz down Rue St. Jean in Quebec City's annual Grand Prix Cycliste race.
Bike racers whiz down Rue St. Jean in Quebec City's annual Grand Prix Cycliste race.

After watching for a couple of hours we headed to Cycle Services on the edge of the city to bicycle ourselves.

It was an easy city escape on a bike path for 10 miles that took us to Montmorency Falls, a dramatic waterfall 98 feet higher than Niagara Falls. There are staircases that allow visitors to view the falls from different perspectives.

A suspension bridge over the crest of the falls provides access to both sides of the park as well as spectacular views. For those who don’t want to climb, there is an aerial tram or Funitel that carries passengers between the base and the top of the falls.

During summer months, the falls give off a yellow glow due to high iron content in the water. A rainbow added to the already dramatic site.

Nature Close By

There’s beautiful nature easily accessible just outside of Quebec City. Within an hour you’re in the southern Laurentian Mountains. Just 30 minutes from Quebec City is the downhill ski mountain, Mont-Sainte-Anne with 71 runs and a 2050 feet vertical drop. Other seasons it’s open to hikers and bikers.

We took the gondola to the top for impressive views of the St. Lawrence River valley, the southern Laurentian Mountains and Quebec City in the distance. We shared the mountain with some hikers but the extreme sport mountain bikers were the thrill to see as they barreled

Montmorency Falls, north of Quebec City.
Montmorency Falls, north of Quebec City.

down the mountain at speeds as high as 50mph. Crazy but affordable adrenaline at $40 for an unlimited pass.

Rainy day in Old Quebec.
Rainy day in Old Quebec.

About an hour out of Quebec City you’ll find another impressive waterfall. Sainte-Anne Falls has carved a steep-sided canyon with three suspension bridges that traverse the gorge and create rainbows over the cascading, roaring water.   It’s also known as the Grand Canyon of Quebec. My bravery kicked in and I tried rock climbing using the via Ferrata which literally means, “iron path.”

Heavy-gauge steel wire cables and metal hardware attached to rocks connect to a harness to safely help a climber with balance and staying secure.   I did the first of three levels. Strapped into a harness I learned how to connect to the trail. In about 10 minutes my shaking stopped and I was able to absorb the immense beauty and the way I was able to observe and be in nature.  

At places we had to walk on a cable line like a trapeze artist but securely attached with a harness and cables. As if that wasn’t enough adventure, I tried the zip line across the canyon too. Except for the fear factor, it was an effortless ride across incredible scenery offering a bird’s eye view. My friend zipped across inverted. Maybe next time!

Hiking and rock climbing in the Canyon Sainte Anne.
Hiking and rock climbing in the Canyon Sainte Anne.

Cafe du Monde

Back to the city, we had dinner at Parisian-style bistro, Café du Monde. There’s a terrace overlooking the St. Lawrence River with giant cruise ships parked out the back door. Our server Joann added to the experience with her friendliness and sense of humor. She aimed to please. We had mussels, steak frites, boudin and duck confit. For dessert we opted for a cheeseboard of local cheeses. Yum!

Admiring a large mural in downtown Quebec City.
Admiring a large mural in downtown Quebec City.

There’s a steep but short funicular that links the upper town to the lower town. St. Jean is one of the main streets that have a mix of boutiques, restaurants, cafes and the oldest grocery store in North America dating back to 1871.

The buildings are well preserved and colorful adorned with plants and flowers overflowing from their boxes.

Wandering around is the best way to discover the essence of Quebec. Street performers are scattered around town and audition to earn a spot on the street. There’s something on every twist and turn.

By chance, we discovered the Rue du Tresor, a narrow short street with an open-air art market. There was also a great indoor farmer’s market open everyday.

History is the focal point, but in addition to easily accessible nature, Quebec City has trendy shopping and nightlife too, with dance clubs, quaint gastro pubs and microbreweries where the locals hang. We tried a place called the Project. There were 26 local micro brews to choose from. Bars close at 3:00 a.m.!

Quebec City is a travelers dream. There’s some history, some culture, some architecture and beautiful nature near by. It’s a bit surreal like a stage set. It’s a wonderful place to wander and explore in an easy way with the friendly French Canadians.

Find our more about Quebec City at their tourism site.

This trip was sponsored by Quebec City tourism, but the opinions are the author's own.

Shelley Rotner

Shelley Rotner is the author of more than 50 children’s books, and every day she has another idea for a new one. She is a regular contributor to GoNOMAD and lives in Northampton MA and New York City.