Quebec City: A Taste of Europe in North America

After spending a quarter of last year in Europe it was safe to say we were missing many aspects of everyday life. After meeting the 90 day Schengen limit in Europe without needing a visa, we had to wait 180 days before we could return. Having recently settled back into normalcy and a consistent routine with jobs both old and new, we were only looking (and allowed) to take a couple days off work.  We thought to ourselves where in North America can we go that looks, feels, smells, and tastes like our favorite country in Europe? And there was one clear answer that kept popping out to us… Quebec City, Canada.

Quebec City is a slice of Europe on this side of the Atlantic. To be honest Austin knew very little of this city and the region until I brought up the idea of visiting. We were longing for the architecture, food, and language we experienced on our three-month journey through Europe [link?]. I saw Chateau Frontenac photos, watched some of my favorite travel YouTubers, and then put together an entire presentation for him: Canada or Europe?

He honestly could not tell the difference, questioning was this plaza in Europe or Canada? The look and feel of Quebec reflects the deep historical roots this city grows from. Dating to 1608, Quebec City is the only walled town in North America. The French left their undeniable influence here, followed by the British who conquered the territory in 1759. Long before any European arrival, the indigenous population thrived here among the lakes, mountains, and forests. The Iroquois, Inuit, and Algonquians were among the many peoples that helped shape the history of this land. The most quintessential of all Canadian foods comes from them: maple syrup.

Everything we saw or read about Quebec City raved about the cuisine. We were beyond excited to try French food again, the culinary tradition that so captivated me.

Once you find an interesting historical angle and good food, Austin is hooked. We both ended up loving Quebec City. Everything from the walkable feel to the old town architecture to the incredible effort they put into their food was all reminiscent of Europe rather than a reflection of the U.S.A.

History of Quebec City

Cities don’t have walls without stories. Quebec is no different. The thick stone fortifications dating back hundreds of years ago tell the tale of attempted conquest and global competition between rising Empires that took place in the heart of the Americas.

The English tried many times to conquer the city, hence the wall, only succeeding in 1759 after a battle on the Plains of Abraham. Today it’s commemorated in a large outdoor green space.

The drift towards adapting more English language and culture eventually rubbed many French speaking descendants the wrong way. They began to feel discriminated against in their own home. They didn’t move, but the borders had. This feeling culminated in the “Quiet Revolution” of the 1980’s. French language was resurgent, an especially strong indicator of cultural allegiance to a much older time.

Our visit was marred in some controversy as well. Many of the right-wing protests and Canadian “trucker convoys” originated in the Province we spent our time in. Controversial Bill 96 was just passed making French language the requirement for business transactions and contracts. We overheard conversations of people anxious about how this would affect hiring, as well as company decisions to move to Quebec. The desire to enshrine a single language confuses us and ignores the heritage of not only English but also Native languages spoken here over the centuries and millenniums respectively.

Day 1: First Impressions

As soon as we stepped out of our taxi onto the narrow cobblestone streets of Quebec City I was enchanted. We stayed at a charming boutique hotel Chateau St. Pierre with unbeatable views. Our room faced the famous Chateau Frontenac, known as the most photographed hotel in the world. The hotel lobby had an old world charm with velvety red décor, while the rooms were dressed in floral wallpaper, finished with soft blue drapes.

We were instantly transported out of America and back to Europe. The first thing we did upon arrival was explore the world renowned Chateau Frontenac. There were so many architectural elements that reminded me of Europe such as the pointy roofs and castle like façade. The hotel is a central focal point of Quebec City and considered a major landmark of the area. You can’t miss it.

We strolled around the city half asleep from our overnight flight, having arrived too early to accommodate an early check in. Realizing we needed to eat to function properly we stopped off at a restaurant that came highly recommended on multiple “best of Quebec City” food lists, the famed La Bouche. It was absolutely delicious. What a way to start! I ordered the brioche French toast drenched in apple butter maple syrup topped with caramelized apples and Austin had the best potatoes and eggs he’d ever ordered at a restaurant. The meal also came with hearty backed beans. The wood interior décor reminded us of Strasbourg, located in the Alsace region of France.

One of the beauties of Quebec was how walkable the city was, which yet again reminded us of Europe. All of our senses were telling us we were back in France. The sights of cobblestone streets, the architecture, the colors of the buildings, the roofs, even the sounds, smells, and tastes. French is the native language and French food is served everywhere. The smell of freshly baked croissants filled the air; we did not have one bad meal during our time here. We kept having to remind ourselves that we were still in North America, Canada in fact!

After taking a much needed nap in our lovely hotel room, we were back on the town! The very first thing we did was stroll through Petite Champlain, a main to-do. Quebec City is separated into an upper and lower town with the option to take the breakneck stairs or ride the funicular to get between the two. We opted for the stairs. Strolling through Quebec City on a tranquil afternoon in mid-June was much reminiscent to walking through a quaint French village. Quebec City is the definition of charming. It’s dainty, swoon worthy, and oh so picturesque. The yellow washed buildings with gabled blue/grey roofs took us straight to Paris.

The famous La Fresque des Quebecois mural which took up the entirety of a multistory building was both the most lifelike and beautiful mural I had ever laid my eyes upon. The artwork represents daily life in Quebec. From far away it gives the illusion of a real life scene of actively living people.

Around the corner from the mural was the main square of Quebec City, Place Royale. That was a major we’re here moment for me as it was incredibly picturesque. We knew we’d need to come back the next day in proper attire to do a mini photoshoot and spend more time exploring this adorable square.

Continuing our stroll, we then made it to the famous street known as Petit Champlain. This area consistently pops up if you search for Quebec City. As we gazed upon the narrow stone streets lined with boutique shops, with the funicular as the backdrop, and Chateau Frontenac towering in the distance, we knew we had officially arrived.

While roaming through the heart of the city center, we stumbled upon Cidrerie Verger Pedneault. Quebec is known for their ciders and this was a top place to try them. The store owner let us sample multiple free tastings and each one was better than the last. We bought a bottle of ice cider, which took us back to the ice wine we had in Salzburg. It was honestly some of the best ciders we’ve ever had, so yummy!

Next off we had to try maple syrup. I mean did you really go to Canada if you didn’t try the maple syrup? We ordered maple taffy on ice which was deliciously gooey maple syrup poured onto ice and then served on a popsicle stick. Seriously some of the best we’ve had an something that may be unique to Quebec or at least Canada? It had the texture of taffy and but was still soft and gooey like a fresh caramel apple.

We then of course had to try poutine, Canada’s famed dish compiled of fries, gravy, and cheese curds. It was a filling dish and one that grows on you the more you have it. At first, we didn’t quite see what the fuss was about but by the end of our trip we found ourselves craving it.

That evening it was drizzling which added even more charm to the already delightful town. We splurged and each opted for a 3 course meal at Lapin Sauté, it was an anniversary trip after all. I had French onion soup topped with local cheese from Quebec, rabbit pot-pie and finished with a maple crème brûlée. That was a winner, you could really taste the maple! Austin had smoked duck breast with blueberries, rabbit saddle, and chocolate truffles for dessert. Every bite was delicious and we savored our time there. With it being a travel day and having stuffed ourselves full with a delicious meal, we decided to call it an early night and head back to our hotel. We walked arm in arm, umbrella in hand, to our darling hotel simply a short walk away. We slept so well having had a wonderful first day in Quebec City.

Day 2: Strolls and Sautées

The next morning we were blessed with sunshine when the weather originally forecasted rain. We walked back to Place Royale and took in the storybook views once again. We sipped an espresso and a chai latte from La Maison Smith, the well-known coffee shop in the main square. We enjoyed our drinks and felt like Parisians once again people watching in a crowded square. 

Meandering through town once again, we wandered down new paths and alleyways, through nooks and crannies to be explored. After successfully getting a feel for Petit Champlain we decided to expand our sights to the Citadel. To be quite honest, there was not much to do or see here. Going to the Citadel could easily be skipped when planning a visit to Quebec and I would recommend allotting more time elsewhere. We still enjoyed ourselves, but that was because we were with good company. We briefly hiked through the Plains of Abraham which was nearby and connected to the Citadel trail.

We had lunch at Bistro Sous les Fort, a boutique restaurant with great views of the Funicular. We tried duck rillettes which were light and refreshing along with a red deer medallion. Both dishes we had never tried before. We love being adventurous with food when we travel to a new country. It creates a deeper connection with the culture. Since we had shared one appetizer and one entrée, we could still fit more food in our bellies. I couldn’t pass up on a famous bakery (when in France, right… well sort of). Paillard was one of the largest bakeries I’d ever been to complete with tons of goodies from freshly baked croissants to sandwiches on baguettes. I had to hold back and only order what my stomach could allow, although I was definitely tempted to take away leftovers. I tried a chocolate almond croissant which was life changing. Never in my life had I had that flavor combo before. You better believe I’ve had a chocolate croissant as well as an almond croissant but together, now that’s game changing. How did I never have this in Europe?!

Anywho, after I had gotten my sweet tooth fix, poor Austin was left hungry. Bakeries tend not to be the best for those with wheat allergies. We walked along the main pedestrian street filled with tons of people, restaurants, and shops. To “do as the locals do” we walked along the side street parallel to the main one and found Chez Temporel, an authentic and cozy restaurant. Austin had this spot on his food list which means it had great reviews and reasonable prices. He ordered a duck confit salad which was on par with one of the best salads we’ve ever tasted. Refreshing yet savory, a unique mixture. Once again I had filled up and gotten sleepy from pastries that rivaled Paris meanwhile Austin was feeling light and energized from his salad.

After resting in the hotel for a quick nap, we made our way out for the evening. We had previously scoped out our route via google maps and had specific food places we wanted to hit along the way. First off was L’Atelier for tartares and cocktails. The space was located in an industrial style five level bar with different décor on each floor. We just so happened to be there on a night where there was an event going on with an open air concert and vendor booths, closing off the main streets to vehicles. This led to the bar being lively. We also had an oyster sake shot, another pairing I had never heard of before. The tartare was not as good as I had hoped but the concept of tartares and cocktails was very much giving off a ladies who lunch vibe.

Moving on, we went to a local brewery called Bar Le Sacrilege. And when I say local, I mean I think we were the only tourists there. It was a mix of an indoor/outdoor bar with a nice wooden patio covered with leafy green walls. Austin ordered a cider and I had a grapefruit beer which was one of the best beers I’d ever had, second only to the Lychee beer I had at the famed Delirium in Brussels, Belgium. This is a jazz bar however there were no live musicians scheduled to play on the night we were there. We had good conversation over our drinks and noted how safe we felt and how smooth it was to travel here. We got to feel like we were far abroad, back in France, but had the peace of mind knowing that we were just a quick flight home and time change from California. This gave me a lot of comfort and confidence while traveling throughout Canada.

Now that the sun had set, we decided to change our plans as the third spot we wanted to hit (Maelstrom, known as a coffee shop by day and cocktail bar by night) would put us too far of a walking distance back to our hotel at night. Instead we headed back towards the heart of town and decided to end the night where we originally started our trip, at the Chateau Frontenac. We splurged on gourmet cocktails at the prestigious 1608 located directly inside the hotel. We had come full circle.

We walked along the Dufferin Terrasse one last time, taking in the Chateau Frontenac in all its beauty as it glistened in the night. 

Quebec City was charming and full of amazing food just as advertised. The French heritage shines through in a unique way, although we both felt Europe as a whole was represented here especially through architecture.

I had local Canadian meats prepared in French techniques with a twist, such as adding maple syrup or a blueberry sauce to the meal. Austin did not find the freedom from food allergy pain that he did in Europe. His stomach unfortunately bothered him throughout the trip despite the deliciousness of every bite.

Two full days and nights were the perfect amount of time to spend in Quebec City. One day, as most articles say to do, would’ve felt too short while if we had three days we would have rented a car and explored the surrounding area.

If we lived on the East Coast, Quebec would easily be our go-to foreign vacation spot. We also loved Vermont when we visited, another revolutionary food region which borders on the province of Quebec. This whole area’s focus on local food prepared in ways that honor the process is reflected in the depth of every bite.

We quickly fell in love with Quebec city’s charm, confirming it was the perfect first international place to visit after spending a lengthy amount of time in Europe.

Now off to take a train to the capital of the province, Montreal!

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