With its fabulous winter carnival celebration, scenic riverfront location, historic buildings and homes, and with scores of beautiful natural attractions nearby, Quebec City is one of North America’s most magical wintertime destinations.
The oldest city in the Canadian province of Quebec, and one of the oldest in North America, Quebec City was founded as trading post by the French in 1608, eventually becoming the capital of New France. Today, the city is the seat of Quebec’s provincial government, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination. Despite its more than 400-year history, including a bombardment by English cannons in the middle of the 18th century, the city has retained much of its original architecture, the most impressive example of which might be its massive fortification wall — a rare sight this side of the Atlantic.
I’ve been to Quebec City several times. It’s one of those exceptional places you can get to by car from here and yet feel as if you’ve traveled halfway around the world. Summer and fall are ideal times to visit, but Quebec City feels especially vibrant and alive in the winter.
On a recent trip I stayed at the Chateau Fleur de Lys, a charming boutique property that occupies a 19th century mansion and is within walking distance of the historic Old City’s attractions. The hotel is adjacent to Battlefields Park, the site of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, a legendary clash between the French and British armies that resulted in the British occupying the city near the end of French and Indian War in September 1759.
Chateau Fleur de Lys provides a complimentary breakfast each morning and offers a cozy, homelike atmosphere. Each of its 16 rooms is unique, and several boast interesting decors. I stayed in the Coco Chanel-themed junior suite on the third floor, a spacious room featuring a king-size bed, walk-in rain shower, artsy black-and-white photographs of the late French fashion designer, and an authentic pink Chanel suit displayed in a glass case.
Chateau Fleur de Lys does not have an elevator. If you have issues climbing stairs, I recommend booking a room on the first floor.
Because winters in Quebec City tend to be glacial and long, its residents have developed a cold weather culture that allows them to make the most of the difficult conditions. A good example is the annual Quebec Winter Carnival. First held in the 1890s, it is the largest winter carnival in the world, according to the event’s official website.
The party, which lasts just over a week, roughly coincides with the beginning of Lent and includes several popular events and attractions, including parades, an ice canoe race, a grand costume ball at the iconic and luxurious Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac hotel, a winter-themed amusement park, a palace made of ice, and delicious food and drinks being served around almost every corner.
Caribou, a hot alcoholic drink that ingeniously blends maple syrup and whiskey, among other tasty ingredients, is a must-try, both for keeping warm and for getting into the carnival spirit.
If large crowds aren’t your thing, Quebec City still has a lot to offer winter visitors. An afternoon exploring le Basse-Ville (lower town) and le Haute-Ville (upper town), beautifully preserved Old Quebec neighborhoods loaded with boutiques, cafes and historic buildings, is time well spent. The city is home to several other attractions that are also worth seeing, including Musee de l’Amerique Francophone, a museum dedicated to North America’s French heritage, and the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec, the oldest church in Canada, built in 1647.
If you like military history, set aside time to visit the Plains of Abraham Museum. Located in Battlefields Park, the museum features artifacts from four archeological sites within the park, replicas of period uniforms and furniture, and interactive exhibits interpreting the Siege of Quebec, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the Battle of Sainte-Foy.
For me, no visit to Quebec City would be complete without a side trip to Ile d’Orleans. This island in the St. Lawrence River, accessible by bridge from the mainland, is home to some of the region’s most beautiful landscapes and historic homes, some dating back to the original settlers of New France. Chemin Royal, a loop road that travels the island’s circumference and passes through the centers of its six villages, enables you to enjoy majestic views of the river, the island’s rolling hills and farmland, and of Ile d’Orleans’ iconic miniature roadside chapels and crosses. The island is also home to several farm-to-table restaurants, art galleries, artisan cheese and wine shops, breweries, farm markets and vineyards.
Chateau Fleur de Lys
Quebec Winter Carnival
Feb. 7-16, 2020
Plains of Abraham Museum