I spent the past week in Quebec City, now one of my favorite North American cities.
Old Quebec (Vieux Quebec) is a walled city with buildings from the 1600s. A great benefit of this architecture is that a car isn’t necessary. I traveled from New York City on Amtrak, switching to VIA Rail in Montreal.
Upon arrival in Quebec City in late afternoon, cabs were waiting at the train station, and it was a quick trip and a reasonable fare (about CAN$8) to B&B de la Fontaine.
B&B de la Fontaine
The owner wasn’t there when I arrived, but her instructions were clear and I easily accessed the lobby and checked in to my room.
It was beautiful! Wood floors, high ceiling, stone fireplace with exposed-brick wall, a comfortable queen-size bed, artwork, a small refrigerator, table and chairs, wardrobe, and work desk. My bathroom was small but functional, with enough space to move around in and a beautiful blue-and-gold mosaic tile design. Plants decorated the ledge atop the bathroom, and a fan spun lazily (there was also AC). Because my room was on the first floor, I drew the drapes, which were heavy and sufficient to block out any light or street views.
After getting settled, I wandered around the old city. The location of the B&B was terrific, one block away from a park behind the Chateau Frontenac, away from noise but central to old Quebec and a short walk to the Lower Town stairway. The owner, Victoria, served a full homemade breakfast every morning in the dining room, which was included in the price. On various days, breakfast included eggs, pancakes, french toast, multigrain breads, jam, berries and other fruits, cakes, juice, tea and coffee.
This helped me save money because I basically ate one large meal out per day, plus a late-day snack.
Quebec City: No Car Required
I didn’t have a car, although my parents visited by car for a few days and stayed at a different B&B (thus the “sort-of” qualifier in this post title!). While they were in town, we visited Ile d’Orleans, which requires either a bike or car. (If you bike, I recommend spending an entire day at least. There are also plenty of guest houses on the island.)
Other than that brief trip to Ile d’Orleans, I walked. And I discovered that Quebec City is made for walking — if you have comfortable shoes. With hills, cobblestone streets and stone-paved sidewalks, stiletto heels are not a good idea. I wore low wedge heels, and I was fine.
Best of Quebec City
Here are some great treasures I discovered:
The small park behind the Chateau Frontenac: Beautiful, quiet, an escape from the tourist buzz in front of the hotel.
Lower Town: Turn left instead of right at the bottom of the first set of stairs, and you’ll explore a less-trafficked, more local part of the city, with restaurants, antique shops and art galleries.
Le Lapin Saute: Right in the middle of a touristic street in Lower Town (turn right at the bottom of the first set of stairs) is this brilliant restaurant that serves rabbit as its specialty. I ordered rabbit liver-and-kidney salad and onion soup with local Quebec cheese, and also sampled rabbit rillettes (pulled rabbit pate) and rabbit liver and kidneys sauteed with onions and served with vegetables and potatoes. Everything I tried was amazing, five-star quality, and the setting is beautiful, with outdoor tables and chairs next to a wooded square with flower beds. This was the best meal I ate in Quebec City and possibly all year.
Erico: The best chocolates I found in the city. The shop is on Rue St-Jean, which stretches from Old Quebec out to a more commercial and then residential neighborhood. It’s about a 15- to 20-minute walk from Old Quebec, so don’t get caught in the rain like I did! Their pistachio chocolates are sublime. They also serve different types of hot chocolate and gelato that can be dipped in chocolate.
La Carotte Joyeuse: A store featuring local and organic foods. Excellent if you like to eat healthy and have a refrigerator, and if you’re on a budget that limits restaurant meals. It’s a few doors away from Erico. I bought food here for the train trip back to New York.
Paillard: Budget-minded bakery cafe on Rue St.-Jean in Old Quebec where you can get a reasonable, delicious lunch and dessert.
Tournebroche near the Hotel de Vieux Quebec on Rue St-Jean in Old Quebec: This restaurant specializes in local, organic food. I had a cheese plate (good but not spectacular) and one of the best salads I ever ate, with mesclun, beets, tomatoes and vinaigrette, topped with ricotta and some kind of fruit paste. It’s weird to be recommending a salad, but I am.
Quebec Summer Music Festival
I was lucky to be in Quebec during the annual Summer Music Festival (Festival d’ete de Quebec). I purchased a festival pass for US$72, which allowed entry to any event on any day, and saw several great shows ranging from Bonobo to the John Pizzarelli Quartet. It was a perfect opportunity to let my right brain soak in abstract sounds and neon lights after a month of left-brain, programming-focused thinking. I left feeling refreshed, inspired and fired-up for the summer of hard work ahead of me back in New York (more on that later).
I found Quebec City very safe, although as in any place, I tried to be reasonably smart. At night, I stayed on streets where there were other people, I looked around before entering the B&B, and I didn’t get drunk at the music festival or stumble home at 3am. I made sure my cell phone was always charged.
I will say it felt weird to be travelling out of the country by myself, even for a few days after my parents left. I’ve travelled alone in the U.S. quite a bit, but always with others beyond its borders. This was an experiment.
I found I enjoyed the days spent alone differently and more intensely, wandering through neighborhoods, discovering restaurants and stores, and enjoying the flow of people in their own worlds. At breakfast, staying alone had huge perks because I met all the other B&B guests and the wonderful owner. Our conversations ranged from, “Where are you from?” to restaurant recommendations to a comparison of public-health issues to the prisoner’s dilemma in economics. I loved it.
A Friendly Place
Lastly, my experience was that the people in Quebec City are among the friendliest I’ve met anywhere. I don’t speak French. I can say, “Bonjour,” quite well, and “Merci,” and “Ou sont les toilettes?” That’s about it. I did my best, smiling and greeting people with my limited French and then switching to English.
Unlike in Paris, I was not shunned. Universally, every single Quebecois I spoke with was kind, friendly and welcoming, willing to share information about the city, its history, and themselves. At this point I would like to learn French, just to speak this beautiful, descriptive language that surrounded me as I wandered the streets.
I love Quebec City and plan to be back. I hope this post helps those considering it as a solo travel destination to feel comfortable with the idea and get a head-start on finding some great places.