Article and Photos by Tori Ward, Cruise and Resort Specialist, ROX Travel
When temperatures hit 98 degrees in Prescott, my friend and I fantasized about sitting by the water in the shade with a cold drink and a deli nearby that delivers. I laughed and told her I was at the perfect place at Christmas but thought we would have to settle for a restaurant that offers poutine. Last December, I longed for a Christmas Market experience. I suggested Quebec and my husband started packing.
We arrived at midnight a few days before Christmas and Ubered to our B&B a block from the Château Frontenac on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Refreshed the following morning, we set out to explore Quartier Petit-Champlain and Old Quebec City.
Booting up, we walked over to watch the running of the toboggans, an annual attraction dating back to 1884. Located along the river and next to Château Frontenac, the wooden toboggans whiz by at speeds up to 70 mph. I gave up trying to talk my spouse into a ride, so we continued down Rue St. Anne, where the tiny Chalets of the Christmas Market were calling my name.
I was impressed with the quality of the artisanal products and bought my true love an alpaca scarf while he was distracted taking photos of City Hall carolers. Chocolates, sausages and other delectables were offered as samples to tempt the palate and purse. I collected a few small treats for our Christmas Eve dinner.
Spending the morning and afternoon wandering around the old quarter, we finally made a stop for lunch of poutine, but French fries slashed with gravy and cheese was a bigger hit for hubby than me. We continued our stroll and walked as far as Porte St. Louis dating back to 1620. It is one of four city gates that encompass the only historic city wall in North America still standing north of Mexico. During our exploration, we located Paillard, a French patisserie, that we stopped at on our way back to buy coffee and more items for an indoor picnic. I returned to this bakery many times in the next few days. A wine shop a few doors away completed our day’s shopping. As we strolled back to our B&B, we made a mental note of shops we wanted to return to for after-Christmas sales.
Rue St. Louis, the next block over from our B&B, had many options for dinner. The area was packed with tourists, mostly families, waiting for a table, and we were fortunate not to have to wait too long to be seated.
Christmas Eve was quiet, mostly spent people-watching and collecting small treats for our indoor picnic later in the evening. Instead of risking a fall trekking to Mass in dark and icy streets, we settled for a service broadcast in French over the radio in our room. Afterward, we spread our picnic of cheeses, cured meats, French bread, fruit and local honey and toasted santè while French carols played in the background.
Before bed, I wrapped the scarf in tissue paper from one of our shopping trips and tied it together with bakery ribbon.
Christmas dinner at Château Frontenac was lovely. This historic hotel, constructed in 1892, was initially designed as a grand railway hotel. We cruised the lobby and main promenade with their impressive displays of decorated Christmas trees. The scarf was given during dessert and wrapped snugly around hubby’s neck during our walk back in the dark. A horse drawing a carriage huffed out clouds of breath as it clopped the cold cobblestones along Rue St. Genevive.
The following day, the Old City center’s tourist information center was our stop for booking out-of-town reservations: The Ice Hotel for a morning excursion with a countryside tour, including a stop at Montmorency Falls in the afternoon and evening.
The Hôtel de Glace, or Ice Hotel, is a large complex about 20 minutes north of the city. Although it includes an outdoor waterpark for warmer weather and the largest winter playground in North America, the primary focus is the seasonal Ice Hotel.
For a few weeks during the winter, hotel rooms with beds, a bar with all accessories, a wedding chapel and lounge all carved from ice sparkle like a fairytale igloo. The structures are freshly sculpted each year with rooms available from early January through spring when it melts.
The afternoon excursion to the Île d’Orléans, a small island with pastoral farmland, would be my idea of a perfect summer getaway. The island is a few miles from the city with quiet country roads that wind along the river and through fields. Well-kept homes and small rental properties make for an idyllic location where napping in the shade completes my summer checklist.
Across the bridge from the island, we made a brief stop at Montmorency Falls, very narrow compared to Niagara, however taller and during our visit icy and mysterious.
Packing was completed quickly the following morning, and with more than an hour before our scheduled Uber, I made a final run to Palliard for croissants to fortify us on our flight home.
- If you go in the winter, be prepared for snow and ice. Pack boots with nonslip soles and warm caps and gloves.
- The tourist information center provides helpful and free information even if you aren’t booking excursions.
- ATMs are not as numerous as in the states, so take advantage when you find one if you need cash for tips, etc.
- Make dinner reservations before you depart from home well in advance if you visit during a busy tourist period or the holidays.
- Quebec is French-speaking, although most of the population speaks English. It’s helpful to learn a few common courtesy phrases.