Monday, September 19, 2022

Enjoying a Road Trip to Quaint Quebec

Fortification gate in Quebec
Fortification Gate at Rue Saint Louis.

The beauty and charm of Quebec can’t be underestimated.

When we visited the area last fall, we carefully weighed the decision to fly or drive from Pennsylvania. Because patience isn’t my strong suit, flying at first appeared to be preferable. But on further consideration, after factoring in the two-hour advance wait at the airport to fly out of the country, coupled with layovers and connections, we decided it would be less of a hassle to drive. 

The 670-mile drive went smoothly, with no traffic tie-ups and barely a wait to cross the border. If you rely upon the radio for your musical entertainment, please be aware you’ll be grooving to the sweet sounds of the French language during the last three hours of the drive. I can’t say this was unpleasant however, until the radio scanned to a rap station. Let’s just say rap music loses its edge a bit in the French language. C’est pas terrible…

The good news is that driving in Quebec is fairly easy, especially with today’s GPS systems.

Le Dauphin Quebec

The architecture and charm of Old Quebec City will take your breath away. So will the cost of staying in the town. The breathtaking Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac rents for approximately $530 a night. Knowing this, we opted for the more affordable Hotel & Suites Le Dauphin Quebec, situated about 15 miles away from Vieux Quebec. The rooms were spacious and clean, featuring attractive, striated hardwood floors throughout. I even managed to shoehorn in a nice swim in the hotel pool located off the first-floor lobby.

Vieux Quebec

Fountaine de Tourny in front of Parliament.

Parking is difficult in Vieux Quebec, but large lots on the outskirts offer ample parking and a five-minute walk will take you to the heart of the action. The narrow streets, many of which are one way, have perplexed many a non-native driver, so my advice is to park and walk, or take a taxi.

Hills abound in the city and you’ll definitely get your exercise, so plan your trip accordingly. Cobblestone streets designed for horse carts aren’t kind to heels either, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.

Quaint stone shops dot the landscape with shopkeepers selling everything from clothing, to art, to maple candy on ice.

If you tire of walking, you’ll easily locate a horse and carriage with an English-speaking driver, who will be more than willing to give you a grand tour. Take a few minutes to ride the funicular, or incline, which is available for a few bucks and will take you on a short ride from the upper to the lower town.

Because the weather was unseasonably warm during our stay, we often opted for al fresco dining. During one of those days, we enjoyed lunch at Restaurant 1640, located within viewing distance of the aforementioned Chauteau Frontenac—a fabulously impressive building that dominates the skyline and is one of the iconic images of Quebec City. 

Hotel Frontenac

Views of the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, one of the most oft-photographed hotels in the world.

Quebec hotel

Fine dining in Old Quebec City is prevalent and the food is good, but you’ll pay a premium. One of the places we enjoyed was Conti Caffe, an Italian restaurant located on Rue Saint Louis. The veal ravioli was excellent, as were the other dishes we sampled. The interior, with its exposed brick walls and impressive artwork was romantic and inviting. Later, we indulged in after-dinner drink at aux Anciens Canadiens restaurant. Named for a 19th-century book penned by Philippe Aubert de Gaspe, who once resided there, the house dates back to 1675. When we entered, we were greeted and led to the top floor, where we enjoyed watching people on the street from the window of our cozy perch. 

Quebec restaurant
Aux Anciens Canadiens dates back to 1675.

On your visit, be sure to stop at the House of Parliament. The eight-floor building, located just outside the walls of old Quebec, is an impressive structure featuring 22 statues of prominent historical figures standing in windows, and lined up in front and on the grounds of the spectacular building.

Quebec parliament

House of Parliament.


Separating the Upper Town from the Lower Town is the elevated Promenade of Governors, a boardwalk that offers a lovely view of the St. Lawrence River.

Boardwalk in old Quebec
La Promenade des Gouvernours

Another must-see in Old Quebec, especially for art lovers is the Rue de Tresor, which can best be described as an open air art gallery. 

artist alley in Quebec
Art abounds at the Rue de Tresor.

Wandering the Side Streets of the Old Town at Night

Tallest building in Quebec
Edifice Price--the tallest building in old Quebec.

Don’t opt out of a ghost tour just because you think it’s hokey. We often learn fantastic historical tidbits when we go on these excursions and Quebec City was no exception. Did you know that there was a maritime disaster that rivaled the Titanic, but barely made the news? Called the “Empress of Ireland,” the ship sank in the Saint Lawrence River in 1914 and more than a thousand passengers perished on the ill-fated trip.

As we were led around the town at dusk, I snapped pictures that didn't turn out so well. However, I have decided to share this one here since I may have captured a shot of a ghost, as you can see in the foreground.

Did I capture a shot of a ghost here?

Our lantern-toting tour guide led us up and down the streets of Quebec City, through alleyways, behind restaurants and past historical residences, and into nooks and crannies we never knew existed. The 90-minute, briskly paced tour allows no time for lollygagging. My husband and I dallied once, towards the end of the tour, to snap a picture. We turned around to discover our group was gone. Like ghosts, they disappeared into thin air and we missed the end of the excursion.

Quebec school
Le Petit Seminaire de Quebec is a private, French language secondary school in the old city.

Baie- Saint-Paul

The last-minute decision to drive an hour to one of Quebec’s oldest municipalities was worth it for the scenery alone. Leaves were morphing into their spectacular fall colors and vistas seemed to be everywhere as our car made its way over the steep, hilly mountainsides.

One of the many beautiful vistas on our way to Baie-Saint-Paul

As we entered the city situated along the St. Lawrence at the mouth of the Gouffre River, we immediately found a lot with ample parking and took a slow, leisurely walk through the city known for its art galleries, shops and restaurants. For those who have visited New Hope, Pennsylvania, it’s reminiscent of that little town, but about one fifth the size.

street in Baie-Saint-Marie
Street scene in Baie-Saint-Marie

Les Galeries de la Capitale

Largest Canadian Mall

amusement ride
Kids will have a blast at Les Galeries de la Capitale

On our way back from Baie-Saint-Paul, we stopped at a huge mall that you don't hear much about here in the states. If you really want to get your shop on offers plenty of opportunities to drop some serious cash. Touted as the largest complex in Eastern Canada, spanning 1.2 million square feet, the mall is a destination unto itself, with the biggest IMAX theatre in the country. Kids, in particular, will be pleasantly surprised when they see the Mega Parc, complete with amusement rides like bumper cars, a roller rink, a ferris wheel and arcade games. 

Preparing to Return

The lessons we learned during this trip was that our command of French wasn’t as good as either of us thought and because we turned off data on our phones while in transit, an old-fashioned guidebook might have been helpful. Many menus are completely in French and although English is spoken in Quebec, it’s not as ubiquitous as we anticipated.

We also learned that it might just be worth the money to stay in the heart of Old Quebec next time, even if just for two nights, which should be plenty of time to take in most of the sights. There are VRBOs out there that range around $200 a night.

We also learned that casual dining is plentiful in the many strip malls and fast food restaurants on the outskirts of town, while fine dining is prevalent in the old city. Now that we know our way around and what to expect we’ll definitely be returning to Old Quebec at some point to further enjoy this unique and beautiful city.