The Charms of Quebec

Written By: Ruth Carlson

Quebec has adopted the best of France – the cuisine, architecture, and laid-back attitude – and avoided the snooty waiters, rude salespeople, and high prices.

Begin your stay in Quebec City’s old quarter with cobblestone streets and storybook buildings right out of an Ivory Merchants movie. The chic Le Port-Royal Hotel is located next to the most picturesque street in Quebec, Rue Sainte Anne, lined with antique shops filled with treasures you didn’t know you were missing until you spotted them. Nearby is North America’s oldest shopping street, Rue Petit Champlain. Towering above it all sits the stately Chateau Frontenac, the most-photographed hotel in the world and worth hopping a cable car to see the view.

The birthplace of Cirque du Soleil, Quebec is known for its over-the-top festivals featuring street performers. Every August, Les Fetes de la Nouvelle France, or New France Festival, transforms the city into the 18th century and guests are invited to travel back in time. Rent a costume or make your own and walk among the other peasants, bourgeois, and noblemen in the parade follwing the 16-foot-tall papier-mache giants.

The annual international fireworks festival in July and August takes place against a waterfall taller then Niagara Falls. Countries mount elaborate expensive pyrotechnical show choreographed to music ranging from Placido Domingo to Dean Martin.

The largest city in the French province of Canada is Montreal, and the most relaxing way to get there is by train. Your journey begins at Montreal Palais Depot in Quebec, a train station resembling a fairy-tale castle. Splurge for a first-class train ticket to enjoy gourmet food and access to the club car, where you can sip a martini on a red velvet loveseat and pretend you’re in a 1940s movie.

For old-world charm, stay in the chic and minimalist St. Paul Hotel, located in the most historic quartier down by the Old Port. Spend the day wandering through Marche Bonsecourse, a showplace for Quebec fashion and jewelry designers; to find it just look for the silver dome. This shiny beacon was installed in 1847 to guide sailors into the harbor. Pop into the tiny church next door to see ship models dangling from the rafters, donated by sailors grateful for a safe return. If you run out of cash don’t just visit any old ATM. The Royal Bank and other historic money houses are working museums with gold teller cages and marble counters guaranteed to make you feel wealthier.

The most-visited attraction in Montreal is the Basilique Notre Dame, modeled after the Parisian original. The Limoge stained glass windows depict the history of Montreal while the romantic Sacred Heart wedding chapel is the most popular spot for small weddings.

If you get more excited about living landmarks than historic sites, star-spotting is popular. Canada is still a cheaper place to film than Hollywood – the paparazzi haunt the Glove restaurant.

Move stars must look the part, and thankfully the city’s 14 fashion schools supply new talent. For original styles, walk up Boulevard St. Lawrence from the water, go right then stroll down St. Denis, stopping for lunch at the French bistro L’Express. Local designers are showcased in 3 Monkeys, Emily and Lola, and U & I.

The department stores are located on St. Catherine Street, the longest shopping street in North America – don’t you just love the sound of that? The Holt Renfrew flagship store has a quality in-house label, the only clothing most mortals (i.e. non-movie stars) can afford in this exclusive Canadian landmark.

Like the French, the Quebecois take their food seriously. The good news is you’ll save on the meal and the wince since it’s a BYOB, or Bring Your Own Bottle, town.

To stretch your dollars even further, pick up picnic supplies at the Marche Jean-Talon. This year-round farmer’s market, ranked one of the best in the world, is located in the Little Italy section of town. A store on the perimeter of its central square sells local specialties such as maple crystals and ice wine.

You’ll need bread for your sandwiches, and local claim their bagels are the best in the world, thanks to egg-sweetened batter and old wooden ovens. St. Viateur Bagel and Fairmont Bagel, on streets by the same names, are open 24 hours a day, perfect for those hungry movie crews.