British history buffs laud General Wolfe as one of their most underrated soldiers. After three months encamped across from Quebec City over the St Lawrence river, his army eventually dispatched the French “tout suite” at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759.Within five years France had ceded Canada to the British, preferring to retain the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to ensure its sugar supply. Quebec City became the capital of Lower Canada, and with a sense of purpose from its residents and support from the British, and later, an independent Canada, maintained its distinctive French personality to this day. Ninety nine percent of its residents speak French as their primary language but everyone, it seems, tries to put the English speaking tourist at ease by using their not inconsiderable bilingual skills.
We travelled to the city to experience it in winter. Every guide extolls the city’s virtues and it is constantly rated one the top 10 destinations in the world. They are all absolutely right. It’s a treasure trove. Historic sites are carefully preserved where visits to the “Fortifications Of Quebec” and the Citadel, are integral to understanding the British and French roles in the history of this City. It is situated atop the mighty St Lawrence River, that corridor of commerce charted by Captain Cook that gave birth to the city. The Old Town is a UNESCO world heritage site, the only walled city north of Mexico, with it’s centuries old architecture, cobbled streets and European style and flair that make it arguably North Americas most uniquely different destination given its geographical context. Wrap up, though, because temperatures can get interesting, falling into the -25C region in January and February. However, no one knows how to turn winters into a playground quite like Quebec. The city’s annual winter carnival in early February is one of the biggest and most successful anywhere in the world. Dog sledding with packs of huskies, and snowmobiling are part of the mix throughout winter and are as exciting as they are invigorating. You can also add the uniqueness of an ice hotel stay in the Hotel de Glacé, which is made entirely of snow and ice and located 10 minutes from the city. Perhaps, however, a tour of the ice hotel is a little more comfortable than an overnight stay, especially as one of the city’s delights is the variety and quality of its culinary and hotel offering.
We stayed at two properties for differing budgets, but both classy and comfortable, and within the walled city. Our first, the Manoir D’Auteuil, is a highly regarded art deco styled 27 room inn, offering a variety of excellent rooms from C$120 a night. Our second is the outstanding Auberge St Antoine, a Relais & Chateaux property, and Conde Nast Travellers No 1 ranked hotel in Canada and which stands comparable with the best in the world. Our two “must visit” restaurants are Chez Boulay, a sophisticated bistro by leading provincial chef Jean Luc Boulay, and Initiale, one of North Americas finest restaurants and one of only six restaurants in Canada holding five diamond certification from the American Automobile Association. Michelin, the staple guide for foodies in Europe does not publish in Canada but for those using it as a benchmark this is right up there with very best in Guide Michelin. The cost at Initiale however, was what surprised us, in the best way possible. A three course lunch with a glass of wine and gratuity for two of us was C$80 or, framing it for British travellers,£45.It was superb and terrific value for money.
Writing this primarily for the UK market, I have a sense of frustration that this extraordinary destination attracts so few British travellers. The wonderful Auberge St Antoine has more guests from Australia than it does the UK.
The ideal winter trip from UK to Quebec City is into Montreal for a couple of days, then take the VIA rail train to Quebec City or a quick forty five minute Air Canada flight. Mont Tremblant usually springs to mind when thinking of skiing in Eastern Canada yet only thirty minutes from Quebec City is Mont St Anne, one of the finest skiing destinations on the eastern seaboard with over seventy runs. So…romance,fine cuisine and hotels, style, flair, shopping, skiing and great carnivals – a vibrant and wonderful mix for a special vacation.
Suggested hotels and restaurants:
Luxury – www.sainte-antoine.com
Upscale inn – www.manoirdauteuil.com
Haute Cuisine – www.restaurantinitiale.com
Bistro – www.chezboulay.com
London Heathrow to Montreal by British Airways or Air Canada circa 7 hours
Montreal to Quebec City by VIA rail (3hours) or Air Canada (45 minutes)