QUEBEC CITY --
This is a pretty city, but its prettiness is only the veneer. The
real reasons people want to visit the provincial capital of Quebec
Province go something like this:
" With a
population that is 95% to 97% French and speaks the mother tongue,
and with Old World architecture all over the place, its like going
to Europe without jetlag. Its a Europe fix for those between big
trips or lacking the time and money to deal with the euro. For
some, it is a starter kit, a sampler for those who are
" Quebecois know
how to party!
The big events
are 11 days of music at the Quebec City Summer Festival and the
five-day La Nouvelle France, celebrating with gusto the time when,
between 1608 and 1759, this was a French colony called New
In winter, there
is the Quebec Celebrates Christmas fest during which the city does
just that for a month, followed not long after by the best-known of
the lot, the 17-day Winter Carnival, which has as its centerpiece
an Ice Palace constructed from 7,000 blocks of ice weighing 90
determined to convince the world that it is OK to travel north for
something other than skiing -- or maybe they just want to stay warm
themselves. They have been successful at the former, and they have
their ways of handling the latter (see Local Color, at
I attended the
2005 La Nouvelle France festival in early August. The event is
characterized by a range of re-enactments that see locals selling
goods typical for 17th and 18th century residents.
A large, enclosed
traditional market, emphasizing food, is sited in Place de Paris, a
square in the part of the Old Towns nearest the St. Lawrence
A highlight, in
this market and around Old Town areas, is street theater. Visitors
may, for example, happen onto actors playing working women in bawdy
exchanges and upper-class women gossiping and fretting about
activities are capped by lively and very colorful parades through
Old Town that feature a popular collection of figures more than 13
merchants, street actors, parade participants -- and anybody else
who feels like it -- are attired in traditional
theater, music, storytelling and Native American events are on tap,
and an international fireworks competition at nearby Montmorency
Falls overlaps with the Nouvelle France event.
Aside from the
festivals, seasonal and year-round attractions offer their own
runs through it
For one thing,
there are various ways to take to the broad river. Among them --
and very appealing on a sunny summer day -- is the lunch cruise
aboard AML Cruises Louis Jolliet, Canadas largest excursion
From the boat, it
is clear why Quebec City is where it is: Its the cliff -- topped
today by the Chateau Frontenac, a Fairmont hotel -- that drew city
founders in search of a defensible position along the St.
hotel, built in stages between 1893 and 1993, is sited dramatically
to overlook the Lower Old Town and river, and it is the centerpiece
in the Upper Old Town that abuts it. Moving between Lower and Upper
is good exercise on the roadways or staircases, but there is a
Frontenac is a tourist attraction as well as a hotel. Costumed
staff portraying specific historical characters conduct tours and
tell tales from the hotels history, some of it hyperbole, but all
fun. With its over-the-top, castle-like architecture and stunning
(and potentially scary) location, it is no wonder this was the
setting for a 1952 Alfred Hitchcock movie I Confess.
pronounced French accent
The Old Towns
take visitors back in time for a look at plenty of historical stone
houses and churches and a sense of the original French
and it is no small matter, also refers to good food in the
restaurants that often occupy the old houses.
On the other
hand, this is Canada: English is spoken everywhere -- though
sometimes with a French accent.
miles in length) surround Upper Old Town, making Quebec City the
last fortified city north of Mexico. Just outside the walls is the
provincial parliament building, called Baby Louvre for very obvious
The New France
look has had a little help, too.
buildings at and near Place Royale were restored recently to 17th
and 18th century forms or rebuilt if needed; details even include
the ladders on steep rooftops that had been used to get to the roof
to to facilitate snow
While all of the
Lower Old Town looks nearly pristine today, work still goes
One effect is to
produce new boutique hotels in old spaces.
My hotel was the
40-room Hotel 71, in a 19th century building and still a work in
During my August
trip, guests entered through the adjacent Auberge St. Pierre, which
has the same ownership but a different, more rustic style. Hotel
71s lobby area opened in mid-September.
Hotel 71, at
least in its rooms, is sleek, contemporary and minimalist -- so
minimal the bathroom could have used more places to hang towels.
But it was a smart space with huge windows and furnished with a
fantastic bed, great for ending each day.
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin
at [email protected].