The geographically blessed Canadian province of Quebec makes an ideal travel destination year round. From the sophisticated and charming European flair of Quebec City, to the pastoral countryside along the Charlevoix region’s flavor trail, to the artist haven of Baie-Saint-Paul, and to the giant whales that visit the Charlevoix coastline, there are many experiences to embrace. Here are six Quebec experiences not to be missed.
Celebrate winter at Carnaval de Quebec
The residents of Quebec City don’t hide from winter, they celebrate it at Carnaval de Quebec – the world’s largest outdoor winter festival. Held over three weekends in late January until mid-February, Carnaval de Quebec is a magical wonderland experience. There is something to entertain every age group. Join in a huge snow ball fight, cheer for your favorite team at the ice canoe races or marvel at magnificent works of art sculpted from dazzling white snow at the national and international snow sculpture competitions. And be sure to meet Bonhomme, a lovable larger-than-life snowman who sports a brightly colored arrowhead sash and lives in a massive ice palace complete with an ice shower, ice kitchen and ice bed. Carnaval turns the chill of the Canadian winter into a party of snow and ice.
Walk through history in Quebec City
Get to know Quebec City’s charms and history with a walk through the city. In Old Quebec (Vieux-Quebec) 17th and 18th century homes line narrow cobblestone streets. Here you can immerse yourself in history at Place Royale – the site of the first permanent French settlement in North America. Place Royale is also home to Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, the oldest stone church in North America, built in 1688.
The French influence is everywhere as you stroll amid the cafes, boutiques and restaurants on Rue du Petit-Champlain – the oldest street in North America. A funicular links Lower Town to the Dufferin Terrace and offers spectacular views of the St. Lawrence River. You can also take the oldest staircase in the city, the Breakneck Stairs (Escalier Casse-Cou) but you will want to hold onto the handrail – these stairs have earned their name.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Quebec City has the only remaining fortified city walls in North America north of Mexico and you can walk atop those walls for great views and a glimpse into the city’s military history.
Venture into the Plains of Abraham – an oasis of greenery at the city’s heart and the scene of many historic milestones over the centuries. Canada’s first national historic park, Battlefields Park, which includes the Plains of Abraham, was created in 1908 to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of Québec. With over 242 acres, the park is perfect for walks, sports and family picnics. At the edge of the park, the Joan of Arc Garden has over 150 varieties of seasonal plants and flowers surrounding a statue of the park’s namesake.
Riding the rails along the St. Lawrence River
Outside Quebec City, the Train Léger de Charlevoix departs at Montmorency Falls Park and follows a 90-mile track to La Malbaie. The spectacular Montmorency Falls plunge from a height of 272 feet and can be viewed from a cable car, suspended bridge or from stairs that climb up the side of the cliff. The backdrop of the falls provides a dramatic departure for the scenic ride along the St. Lawrence River as city views of homes and businesses give way to horses, farms and coastline.
Among my favorite moments was a massive wave of birds rising up from the banks of the St. Lawrence as we hugged the edge of the rocky coastline taking in vistas not accessible by car.
Experience the culture of Baie-Saint-Paul
The Train Léger de Charlevoix stops at Le Germain Hotel Charlevoix, built on the site of historic farm buildings. Surrounded by pastures, pure air and an abundance of open-skies, the hotel is an ideal retreat that combines urban design with elements from the property’s history as a farm.
A short walk takes you to the adorable main street of Baie-Saint-Paul – the cultural center of Charlevoix and the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil. Art is everywhere with over 30 galleries and studios lining the main street. Historic houses converted to first-rate restaurants serve amazing locally sourced cuisine. A local favorite is Mouton Noir, a rustic riverside bistro where local terroir produce is transformed into delicious entrees.
Experience the flavors of Charlevoix
The aptly named Charlevoix Flavor Trail is heaven on earth for foodies. With over 40 local producers, growers and restaurateurs opening their doors to guests and offering samples of breads, ciders, beers, cheeses and artisanal chocolates amid a landscape that extends from the sea to the mountains with an abundance of rolling hills and fertile fields. A unique way to experience the trail is with an interactive Flavor Trail tour with a member of the kitchen brigade from Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu. Together you will visit the local farms and gather ingredients to use in preparing your dinner. A cooking class with the chef will show you exactly how to turn those ingredients into a gourmet meal.
Whale watching on the St. Lawrence River
Humpback whales, fin whales, blue whales, minke and belugas are regular visitors to Charlevoix’s coastline in the St. Lawrence River. Whale-watching cruises departing from the docks of Saint-Siméon, Baie Sainte-Catherine or Tadoussac will take you out to admire these incredible marine mammals as they feast on an "all you can eat" buffet of krill, shrimp and capelin. Along the way you will discover the legendary lighthouses of St. Lawrence while soaking up the impressive landscape of towering cliffs, coves, bays and the Saguenay Fjord.
Have you visited Quebec City and the Charlevoix region? What were your favorite experiences?
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