old city gives Canada a French twist
CITY – Donned in 17th-and 18th-century attire and colorfully corseted
with an abundance of crinolines, three giddy ladies pass through the
cobblestone streets nervously flickering their fans.
of roasted pig and herbs fills the air, as a young lad recites Shakespearean
verse amid the medieval music of flutes and harpsichords in the background.
The clicking sounds of the horse-drawn carriage had just diverted
my attention, as I tried to absorb the endless energy spiraling around
me on the streets of Old Quebec City.
YEARS AND COUNTING - In 2008, Quebec City will celebrate its 400th
anniversary with expected great fanfare from the beginning of
June to the end of September. CNS Photo by Beverly Mann.
was a festival-goer last year during the first week of August, when
Quebec City celebrates being French. The city normally attracts some
4 million visitors a year, and Americans are the largest number of
foreign tourists. In 2008, there will be even greater fanfare when
the city commemorates its 400th anniversary from the beginning of
June to the end of September.
First founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, Quebec City became the
cradle of French civilization in America. Today, 98 percent of the
population is French-speaking. The dialect spoken, though, is quite
different from the French spoken in France.
dress in period attire during the annual Summer French Festival.
CNS Photo by Beverly Mann.
city, encased in 4.6 miles of 40-foot-high walls built by the British
in the 18th century to protect itself from an American attack, makes
Quebec the only fortressed city in North America. A pleasant pastime
during a warm summer evening is a stroll along these historic ramparts.
Just beyond the walls is the Plains of Abraham, named after Abraham
Martin, who brought the first colonists here. Once the national battlefield
sprawling 235 acres, the Plains are now a picturesque park for dog
walking, bike riding or just enjoying a leisurely walk.
through the narrow, winding stone streets of Old Quebec is like sleepwalking
through a storybook. It's no wonder UNESCO declared the city a World
Heritage Treasure. Another noted landmark, The Church of Notre Dame,
built in 1688, is the oldest stone church in North America. There
is no shortage of churches in Quebec City. Although some 80 churches
have been constructed, many were de-sanctified, with altars removed,
and re-created into concert halls, public libraries and even a circus
school. I stepped into many a holy establishment during my week's
Fairmont's Le Chateau Frontenac is by far the most dramatic and
well-known site, jutting out in all its grandeur in the middle of
Old Town Square overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
This fabled chateau has been operating since 1893 and has been host
to a lineage of celebrities and politicians. This long list includes
Princess Grace of Monaco, Charles Lindbergh and Alfred Hitchcock.
The hotel served as a meeting place during World War II for President
Roosevelt and Sir Winston Churchill.
HOTEL - UNESCO declared Quebec
City a World Heritage Treasure. The Fairmont's Le Chateau Frontenac,
one of the most well-known sites, sits in the middle of Old Town
Square overlooking the St. Lawrence River. CNS Photo by Beverly
located amid the festival activities, Le Chateau Frontenac also serves
a great breakfast buffet to prepare you for the day's events. At night,
the surrounding area becomes even more magical. Street lamps circling
the hotel illuminate the boardwalk overlooking the glistening skyline
of the St. Lawrence. But for an even more dramatic sight during evening
hours, don't miss the spectacular fireworks show coloring the waterfalls
in a crimson glow from the Parc de la Chute Montmorency, as part of
the International Firework Competition.
Though winter turns Quebec into a Christmas postcard, the summertime
was a perfect time for me to experience the city's rich, historic
past and joie de vivre. The sounds, tastes and aromas of the city
are in full force. From French country cooking to novelle cuisine,
quaint Quebec offers a plentiful array of first-rate restaurants amid
a bevy of boutiques, bookstores, cafes and galleries. The best selection
of eateries is along the Grande Allee to restaurant row. This expansive
boulevard is riddled with places to dine outdoors and people-watch.
of my favorite culinary experiences was at Gambrinus, just a short
walk from Le Chateau Frontenac. The restaurant offers a reasonable
and savory business lunch. Their outrageous chocolate cake topped
off a most memorable meal.
ambience was also quite pleasing. The windows were draped with hanging
vines along the gray stone walls. Every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday
evenings, musicians perform. Just below Gambrinus stands the Vieux-Port
(Old Port). I was glad that I had good walking shoes to descend the
hilly paths to and from the port area, where I was able to explore
a district enriched with art galleries. All along the neighboring
streets, I encountered brightly colored hanging flower baskets and
window boxes adorning the storefronts of the stone buildings dating
back to 18th and 19th centuries. A funicular, or steep stairway, is
another way to descend to the water and browse the popular shopping
area, the Quartier Petit-Champlain.
French Festival attracts some 4 million visitors a year; the cobblestone
streets are filled with characters and scenes reminiscent of 17th-
and 18th-century France. CNS
Photo by Beverly Mann.
back to the center of Old Town, I walked along the colorful Rue St.
Louis and discovered Rue Dauphine and the Literary and Historical
Society, once a prison, where on Saturdays at 1 p.m. children's stories
are read. Though no children showed up the day I arrived, Monique,
the storyteller, continued to read books to the only two adults present.
I have to admit that I was totally engrossed in Monique's tales and
velvety voice. I couldn't remember the last time I had a fairy tale
read to me - and so apropos for this storybook city of Quebec.
For further information on Quebec City, go to www.quebecregion.com
or contact the Office du Tourism de Quebec at 418-641-6654.
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