Imagine the perfect summer holiday with historic charm, incredible cuisine, and the chance to experience a new culture – with the added appeal of being able to use Canadian currency, no border customs, no jet lag, and direct flights from Calgary International Airport (YYC)!
Why not skip BC this summer and try Québec instead?
Québec City and the surrounding towns and villages have European charm coupled with a rich history that is seldom experienced outside the continent. Wander down cobblestone streets and admire 400-year-old buildings that tell the city’s story; once representing the tensions between English and French control in their unique architectural styles, these same buildings are now occupied by charming boutiques and sidewalk cafes that are alive with French chatter.
We planned a week to explore Québec City and the nearby beautiful Charlevoix region, but you could easily enjoy the area in four or five days. Air Canada’s brand new direct flight from YYC to Québec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport (YQB) made getting there quick and easy. With a gate-to-gate arrival of just over four hours, it would take you longer (and probably cost more, with gas prices) to get to the Okanagan! Navigating arrivals and departures at Québec City’s small, well-run airport was simple with plenty of car rental options right in the Arrivals area.
While in Québec City, we stayed in the iconic jewel of the Fairmont crown, Le Château Frontenac. Steeped in history and exemplifying a timeless tradition of excellence and impeccable service, Le Château Frontenac has been a major landmark in the city since 1892 and is the world’s most photographed hotel. Recently renovated with over 600 rooms, a pool, spa, and many family-friendly and kid-approved activities, the whole family will love it. It’s a quick drive or taxi journey from the airport and is perfectly located within walking distance of everything you’ll want to see.
The hotel offers many dining options from beautiful and unique spaces that feature cutting edge regional cuisine to elegant, thoughtfully designed lounges. The Place Dufferin restaurant offers an incredible buffet breakfast every morning that isn’t to be missed! With multiple options for every diner, you’ll be well fortified for your day exploring the city.
On your first day in the city, we highly recommend a tour of Old Québec City. Tours Voir Québec (toursvoirquebec.com) offer a variety of group, private and self-guided walking tours. This wonderful introduction to the Upper Town and Lower Town will help you get your bearings while you discover this UNESCO World Heritage Site’s culture, important landmarks, historic architecture and the major events that shaped Québec City’s early settlement.
You’ll want to explore the many unique boutiques, shops and centuries-old buildings – including the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec. It was the first church in Canada, and one of the oldest in North America. Sister city to Calgary, Québec City is also rich with historic monuments, statues and plaques that honor the people who shaped the region’s history.
For the history buff, the city is also home to a number of interpretive centers and museums, including the Musée de la civilisation (mcq.org/en). Located in the Lower Town of Old Québec, the museum is currently hosting Pompeii. The Immortal City until mid-September. This stunning installation includes over 120 artifacts and an unforgettable 360-degree experience that immerses guests in the daily life in Pompeii just before and during the moment of the volcanic eruption that buried the city beneath a blanket of ash and pumice.
All that exploring will work up quite an appetite; we clocked over 20,000 steps the first day alone! Take a culinary journey through Québec City’s many neighborhood gourmet restaurants, bistros, cafes and craft breweries. You’ll discover traditional Québécois dishes rich with flavors from the region’s French and Indigenous roots and local farm-to-table options sure to satisfy the foodie.
Here are a few of our favorites from this trip:
Located just a few blocks from Le Château Frontenac is Les Mordus (brasserielesmordus.com), a brasserie that specializes in a variety of fish and seafood dishes. It’s perfect for a light lunch, hearty dinner or weekend brunch.
We had an extraordinary dinner at Le Clan (restaurantleclan.com). There is a marked focus here on creating a place where you feel like family – an atmosphere that is comfortable and welcoming. The stunning small plates they create for their four- and six-course meals are fresh, complex and beautifully plated. Composed of fresh ingredients including salmon, walleye, scallops and highland beef, Le Clan creates a dining experience for the eyes as well as the taste buds.
You won’t want to miss enjoying a meal at La Bûche (restolabuche.com). This quirky restaurant offers a warm, welcoming and fun cabin-esque vibe. The ceilings are adorned with snowshoes and wood sleds; the picnic tables and raised family-style tables hint of a casual dining experience. They call themselves ‘the new sugar shack in Old Québec’, offering traditional cuisine with a modern twist. The menu is filled with pages of delicious offerings for diners of all ages.
Hotel Musée Premières Nations
We drove 25 minutes north from Québec City to visit Musée Huron-Wendat (museehuronwendat.ca) and were privileged to start our experience with a Wendat elder. She shared her expertise and time helping us create beautiful and meaningful beaded necklaces and interpreted our finished pieces for their deeper significance.
From there, we spent time in the museum discovering and learning of the history of the Huron-Wendat Nation. The museum presents, in an interactive way, an exceptional collection that explores the “themes of territory, memory, and knowledge.”
Then we journeyed back in time to the Maison longue Ekionkiestha' Ekionkiestha’. Located on the museum grounds, this is an interactive experience where you will discover the traditional lifestyle of the pre-contact period first-hand. Our gifted storyteller illuminated the culture of the Huron-Wendat Nation through a story about the creation of the Pleiades. It was a magical experience shared around one of the three fires located within the wood and bark longhouse.
Our final hands-on activity at the museum was learning about and creating our own talking stick or ‘guardian of emotions.’ Constructed from wood, leather, beads and fur, talking sticks are a tool used to help regulate dialogue and the sharing of perspectives. (When one is holding the talking stick, they have the floor! I think I’m going to find it useful once I do some more research on how to use it properly!)
The museum is located in the Hotel Musée Premières Nations. The hotel is an experience unto itself. The beautiful and thoughtful design pays homage to the Huron-Wendat Nation. All areas of the hotel are places of discovery inspired by the Indigenous cultures of the many First Nations in Canada. The Restaurant La Traite is no exception. Led by a two-time Michelin-starred chef, the Indigenous-inspired cuisine is created using sustainable and local farm-to-table ingredients. The results are stunning and delicious.
Île d'Orléans and Charlevoix
We bid adieu to Québec City and headed east. Located just outside of the city, we stopped at the Chutes-Montmorency Falls. The falls have a 272 foot plunge, flowing an average 130 cubic meters per second! It’s very impressive!
Five kilometers downstream from downtown Québec City, Île d'Orléans is accessible from the mainland via the Île d'Orléans Bridge. We stopped on the island for a quick visit on our way to the Charlevoix region for some sweet souvenirs at La Nougaterie and a delicious lunch at Smith Café (en.smithcafe.com). Île d'Orléans has an idyllic countryside that is dotted with farms, orchards and vineyards. With six villages to discover, it’s well worth the side trip!
Loaded with charm and history, the Charlevoix region feels a bit like Kananaskis meets the Fraser Valley with a side of Vancouver Island. It has tree-lined rolling hills with snow-capped mountains that just peek out in the distance. Parts of the route travel along scenic roads that wind beside the St. Lawrence River. There are many unique villages and picturesque areas to explore along the journey to La Malbaie.
After driving an hour east, we stopped at Centre de l'Émeu de Charlevoix in Saint-Urbain (fermeemeu.com). We had a very informative tour of their agritourism complex including viewing their incubators, barn and outdoor enclosures. We visited two-day-old Emus and 120 of their older teenage cousins. The Centre de l’Émeu de Charlevoix also produces and sells pure emu oil and a line of Emeu Charlevoix™ skin care products. Feeling adventurous? Visitors can also taste or purchase emu meat in their café.
After a leisurely 40 minute drive, we arrived at La Malbaie. We spent one night at the Hôtel -Pavillons-Spa Le Petit Manoir du Casino (petitmanoirducasino.ca). This very family-friendly hotel boasts a beautiful pool and spa, with spacious rooms designed with guests of all ages and abilities in mind. This hotel will give you a lot of bang for your travel dollars. Located with stunning views of the St. Lawrence River, nearby you’ll find walking paths and a variety of excursions and activities. While visiting La Malbaie, you won’t want to miss a meal out at Restaurant Allegro Italian Kitchen (allegrorestaurant.ca). The food, views and service were amazing. Have the cheesecake – trust me on this.
Also along our route, located in Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, Musée maritime de Charlevoix (museemaritime.com) tells the rich history of the schooners, shipyard and coastal navigation of the St. Lawrence River. This not-to-miss interactive experience is perfect for all ages. Plan to spend at least half a day. You’ll be glad you added it to your itinerary.
Baie-Saint-Paul was the final destination of our week exploring the Charlevoix region. Located by the water, this beautiful and scenic area boasts galleries, boutiques, bistros and historic landmarks. Just a short drive away is the Famille Migneron de Charlevoix (famillemigneron.com), a family-run organic fromagerie, vineyard and distillery. You’ll want to pop in here to sample their delicious cheeses, spirits and wine. Pack a baguette from a local bakery and make a picnic of it!
Speaking of delicious food, Le Mousse Café (moussecafe.ca) is a must stop for light meals, fabulous coffee and baking. Located in a former convent, local makers sell their wares at the shop and you’ll find a huge variety of board games for sale. Lingering over one of the 150 board games in their library is encouraged!
We stayed in a gorgeous chalet, perched high on a hill. The views of the water were stunning. This chalet is one of almost 250 rental properties available in the Charlevoix area (hebergement-charlevoix.com). This three bedroom, two bathroom, incredibly well-appointed home was a short four minute drive to Baie-Saint-Paul.
As we bid au revoir to Québec, we take away an unforgettable experience. The people are welcoming and offer warm and gracious hospitality. Visitors from the western provinces seemed less common, so we were definitely treated like welcome guests. It’s surprising how much of the French I learned at school came back; while basic, it was absolutely adequate. While the effort was appreciated, everyone we met was happy to converse in English – and quite proud to show it off after two years with few English-speaking visitors!
This vacation destination has it all: history, beautiful architecture dating back over 400 years, gorgeous countryside, gracious hosts, gastronomic delights, culture, shopping and excursions in idyllic settings. And the best part? No exchange rates, no customs, and no passports required. Come experience some of Canada’s deepest European roots. Why not head east for your next vacation? Your family will love a visit to this amazing province; I can’t wait to go back!
With a newfound appreciation of all the hours of “écoutez et répétez“ in French class, Ellen is the Publisher of Calgary’s Child Magazine.
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