If You Only Have A Day In Quebec City.
You don't have to be a hopeless romantic, sentimental fool, or even in a light-hearted mood to feel what French Canadians call joie de vivre ("joy of living") in Quebec City. It can charm away the veneer of the most jaded traveler and, unlike a lot of one-day cruise stops, send you back to your ship with only one wish--more time here.
There is no city more festive or livelier in spirit than Quebec in summer. Sidewalk cafes bloom with bright table umbrellas spilling out to the narrow streets in Vieux Quebec, the ancient fortified district established by Samuel de Champlain in 1608. Horse-drawn carriages clop by, strollers browse among artists and their work on the narrow Rue du Tresor, and street musicians play from impromptu stages along the Dufferin Terrace. The joyously warm days of the all-too-short summer bring infectious smiles to everyone from restaurant hostesses standing outside with enticing menus to regal and jaunty carriage drivers.
Overshading everything is the majestic Chateau Frontenac Hotel, the unforgettable landmark that dominates Old Quebec with its sprawling, turret-capped walls that date back to when the Canadian Pacific Railroad started building it in 1893. When you turn from the front gates of the old city, you see the hotel looming behind you; when you shop the boutiques of the Quartier Petit du Champlain, you look up to see its green copper roof and spires jutting into the blue sky.
The Chateau Frontenac is a sure-fire direction finder, not that you would ever get lost in this town. The piers at the Old Port, which is actually a renovated and restored series of berths for freighters and cruise ships, are a block away from the closest gate into the old city. From late June to mid October, more than a dozen major cruise ships will make more than 50 stops at Quebec City, mainly on seven-night cruises between New York and Montreal. Some of the biggest and plushest of them--including the Crown Princess, Maasdam, Seabourn Sun, Silver Wind, and Splendour of the Seas--will enrich the lives of thousands of passengers by allowing them a day in this delightful setting.
Champlain thought this place was a good, defensible spot on the St. Lawrence River, and the name "Kebec" stems from an Algonquin Indian word meaning "where the river narrows." The British thought it was a good place as well, and France had to cede the colony after the battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. Quebec then became the capital of Canada's Quebec Province in 1867. Today, half a million people live in the Quebec City region, the vast majority of them French-speaking.
While Montreal is Quebec's undisputed center for urban sophistication and culture, more provincial Quebec City is more purely French. Only 30 percent of the population speaks English, but the French heritage and character here goes way beyond language. As the country cousins of Montrealers, life is more laid-back for them. Laughter and neighborliness come easier, and an air of friendliness is worn like comfortable old clothes. There is a regional pride of the past and reverence for tradition. And anyone with a day to spend here can absorb a lot of history as well as observe modern life with a walking tour around the city.
There may be no better place to start than from Place-Royale, where Champlain built the first dwelling on the site now occupied by Notre-Dames-des-Victoires, one of the oldest churches in the province. From the shops in the historic Lower Town, you can climb (or ride the funicular) to the churches, monuments, stores, and restaurants of the walled Upper Town above. A walk along the Promenade past the Chateau brings you to the Citadelle, where red-coated sentries stand ceremonial guard over a riverfront that teems with commercial boat activities, including day and evening sightseeing excursions.
Back along the main streets of Sainte-Anne and Sainte-Jean, window-shoppers hungry for souvenirs check out jewelry and crafts, while those with an appetite for food get a mouth-watering sampling of menus from restaurant windows--or from those ever-present and invariably pretty hostesses at the doorways. Those venturing outside the gates will find more restaurants, more shopping, and great people-watching along the Grande Allee, as well as imposing architecture and structures like the nearby Parliament Building.
But if you have time and inclination on this port stop, you might opt for a drive in the country by renting a car and circumnavigating nearby Ile d'Orleans. This island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River has half-a-dozen tiny villages with churches, shops, bakeries, cafes, and several hundred ancestral buildings. Reminiscent of rural France, the countryside is replete with small farms, roadside produce stands, and cider shops.
And if Ile d'Orleans is Quebec City's answer to Provence, its answer to Niagara Falls is nearby Montmorency Falls, in a park near the bridge leading to Ile d'Orleans. Here a cable car rises up a cliff to a restaurant and suspension bridge spanning the falls, which plunge 272 feet--almost 100 feet higher than Niagara.
Like Quebec City itself, this and other nearby attractions bring in lots of Quebecers, as well as outside tourists. The chance to mingle with cheerful and congenial locals is sometimes a transforming experience. What may start with a pensive and quiet morning coffee in a cafe can end with a grin as you return to the ship, your face painted by a sidewalk artist.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Ships That Call: Lines with ships that sail seasonally to Quebec City, either summer through fall or on early autumn "Fall Foliage" cruises, include Holland America, Seabourn, Silversea, Premier, Princess, and Regal.
Weather: Summer months in Quebec are warm and sunny, with average daily high temperatures in the mid 70s; in September and October highs cool down into the 60s.
For More Information: Contact your travel agent or the Greater Quebec Area Tourism & Convention Bureau (Cruise Travel Magazine), 399, Rue Saint-Joseph Est, Quebec, PQ, G1K 8E2 Canada; on the web at www.old-quebec.com.