As we enter February and snow blankets much of the east coast, I feel inspired to share my family's trip to Québec City, from March of 2008. The original plan had been to go in the summer, but Québec was celebrating its 400th anniversary that year. Prices were high and availability scarce. No problem - my mom decided to book for spring break instead.
What we couldn't have foreseen was what Mother Nature decided to dump on Quebec that year. Google 'Quebec 2008', and you don't get pictures of the quadricentennial celebrations. Nope. You get pictures of houses literally buried in snow. An additional 40" had fallen a few days before our trip, creating some of the highest snowdrifts I'd ever seen.
A few important things to know about Québec City... It is old, having been founded in 1608 by French diplomat and explorer Samuel de Champlain. The part of town known as Vieux-Québec is a walled city, the oldest north of Mexico in the Americas. And while you can get by with English, French is the local language.
Feeling only slightly daunted by the snow, we started exploring outside the city walls. Québec's parliament building is located just outside one of the four remaining city gates, the Porte St-Louis.
From Parliament, we headed through the gates and into the old city, cutting over toward the Citadelle. Québec was a strategic post in the colonial wars between the French and British, and the city was captured by the Brits in the mid-1700s. American forces attacked during the Revolutionary War, hoping to stir up insurrection amongst citizens who still felt more French than English. The English were still wary by 1820, and began construction of a large fortress, overlooking the Saint Lawrence River and using part of the existing ramparts.
We took a little shortcut, sliding down a snow-choked alley to the massive Château Frontenac. Like many grand Canadian hotels, Château Frontenac was built as a grand destination for the railroad. It dominates the city skyline, even today.
We walked by Aux Anciens Canadiens, where we'd later eat. The restaurant is located in the oldest home in the city (dating back to 1675) and serves traditional Québécois fare.We would try their pea soup (a hearty brown color instead of your usual green), meat pies, and maple syrup pie, but for lunch that afternoon, we ducked into the Cafe d'Orsay for drinks and poutine.
Following lunch, we continued to walk around the upper-city, popping into the lovely Notre Dame de Québec and enjoying views of the ever-present Château Frontenac after the sun went down.
Another wonderful place to indulge is Le Patriarche, where I had what is almost certainly the best meal of my life. The restaurants specializes in "trilogies from the terroir", small plates of food served in threes. While the menu changes seasonally, reviews are exceptional across the board. And though it's a bit on the pricey side, it's kind of a steal compared to a meal of similar quality in New York or Paris.
After dinner, we headed back to our hotel (the Marriott Downtown), passing ice skaters at the Place d'Youville. Though it happened by accident, the snow added a whole other, magical dimension to our Québec City weekend.