Near the port lies what is known as 'Old Québec'. This area primarily consists of a few elegantly adorned, ancient streets that invite you to lose yourself in their quaint charm. Strolling down these streets, one is drawn to the window displays of cafés and shops selling an array of intriguing items, including some crafted from warm leather.
Contrary to the previous stops that were under the influence of the Gulf Stream weather, the climate here, despite being further south, is considerably harsher. In winter, the temperature can plummet to -20 degrees Celsius, and in summer, it can fluctuate between being pleasantly cool to swelteringly hot, reaching highs of +30 degrees Celsius. It's not uncommon for two meters of snow to blanket the city in winter.
This necessitates the construction of sturdy buildings, and hence the cityscape is dominated by robust, stone structures rather than dainty wooden houses. This lends an air of monumental solidity to Québec City. The gracefully styled, stone houses are as elegant as a French woman. A play of vibrant colours on the window panes and staircases adds a dash of vitality to the overall ambience.
The Château Frontenac, apart from being a symbol of the city, is reputed to be the most photographed hotel in the world. Its unique architecture harks back to the late 19th century and is a fine example of the châteauesque style, a form of Revival architecture inspired by the grand châteaux of the Loire Valley in France. The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, as it's formally known, also played a pivotal role in history, serving as the venue for the Québec Conferences during World War II where world leaders gathered to discuss strategy.
In terms of culinary experience, Québec City offers a plethora of French-Canadian delights like the hearty tourtière, a traditional meat pie, and the irresistibly sweet tarte au sucre (sugar pie). Let's not forget poutine, arguably Québec's most famous culinary export, which consists of fries generously smothered in gravy and cheese curds.
Near the old town, at the foot of the Château Frontenac, a small funicular, one of the smallest I've ever seen, comparable to the one I saw last autumn in Zagreb, operates. This convenient cable railway ascends the hill in just a few minutes. Having no cash on me, I decided to take the scenic route and climb the stairs instead.
I didn't have any particular plans or tours lined up in this city, so I just strolled through the streets, appreciating the window displays and considering whether to make a trip to the famous Montmorency Falls located just outside the city. This waterfall is nearly twice as high as Niagara Falls, and although not as voluminous, the pictures suggested it was quite impressive.
Just as I was pondering this, a hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus, its top deck open, pulled up. Despite the less-than-perfect weather, with a bit of drizzle threatening to turn into rain, I decided to hop on, and go on a 90-minute tour around the city.
Québec City is compact, so the bus managed to navigate many streets, looping through parts of its route at times, almost chasing its tail. There are several historical quarters in the city where I felt drawn to explore, pop into cafés, and admire the facades of the buildings. Most of the city's architecture exudes a sense of monumental solidity, with even residential apartments and offices located in sturdy stone buildings. Despite this, a certain French elegance is evident in the interior designs, particularly in the older parts of the city.
As it's well known, French is the primary language here, so all signs and directions are in French, though some are also duplicated in English. The bus route took us through various districts of the city, offering glimpses of beautiful cathedrals and churches before diving back into the modern streets, filled with cosy corners. We drove past a large park, not particularly diverse in terms of plant species, but it’s vibrant greenery and neat layout offered a refreshing sight. This park seemed to play a similar role in Québec City as Central Park does in New York or Hyde Park in London.
The bus tour ultimately returned to its starting point near the Château Frontenac. I couldn't help but imagine how magical the city might look around Christmas time, festooned with colourful lights and holiday decorations. These would certainly add an extra layer of charm to an already picturesque locale.