I RODE the train into Québec City from Montréal, set on exploring the capital of the former New France and the modern Province of Québec; a city so different to most other cities in North America—more like a transplanted plug of old Europe, complete with city walls.
The journey took three hours. I whiled some of it away in a discussion with a Facebook friend who lives in Québec City, a writer of Netflix episodes and aspiring actor who worked on the 2005 film Le Couperet (released as The Ax in America, and The Axe in Britain).
The St Lawrence River was partly frozen over, and so were the cliffs I saw when entering the city of Québec, which stands at the first narrows of the great St Lawrence estuary which leads to the Great Lakes, guarding access to the interior of the North American continent. Or, at least, it did in the days of sail.
After I got to Québec City, I stayed in Rue Couillard, at the Auberge de La Paix or Hostel of Peace, which has a peace sign outside.
In the 1970s, locals formed an association to provide cheap accommodation, as the bourgeoisie had objected to people tenting in the green areas around Québec, and the Auberge de la Paix was one of the results.
The Auberge has a large section where people can camp in the summer (in winter it is under a blanket of snow).
The Auberge was a fifteen-minute walk, mostly uphill, from a railway station called the Gare du Palais. This is a beautiful building, one of many that I didn’t notice on the way up the hill due to my heavy backpack with boots in it.
(I intended to use these boots in Nepal, where I was headed next, to go climbing; and was lugging them around with me even in Canada!)
The Auberge was a beautiful building from the 1800s. Maybe, parts of it were older still. But there were a lot of fires in the old days. Buildings were rebuilt to the point that you couldn’t really tell how old they were to begin with.
Next morning, I got to know the neighbourhood better. I walked more consciously past the Irish pub called St Pats, past the Hôtel de Ville, the Seminaire de Québec, the Place d’Armes and Parc M
I walked along the Promenade des Gouverneurs, which is above the St Lawrence River and as such a bit like the Brühl Terrace in Dresden, and finished at the La Citadelle de Québec, the old fort.
Before I got to the Citadelle, or Citadel, I saw the Château Frontenac, which has long served as an upmarket hotel, and the battlefield known in English histories as the Plains of Abraham. I walked along the fortress walls before arriving at the Citadel.
Motorists who are local stop for you to let you cross the road. I was amazed at how happy they were to do that.
The city reminded me of Edinburgh, with very similar brick and stone houses. Indeed, there was an old alliance between France and Scotland in the days of Mary Queen of Scots, and there may have been some transfer of architectural ideas.
I visited the Hôtel du Parlement, the Québec provincial parliament house, also referred to as the national assembly. You can actually meet local legislators informally—they are so laid back here.
The Citadel is a good example of a well-preserved old European stone fort in the Americas.
What is even more remarkable is that the oldest part of Québec City is also a walled city with the Citadel at one end of the walls. Old Québec is the only intact walled city on the North American continent north of Mexico.
As to where people should stay, I recommend the Saint-Roch district, northwest of the old walled city. Saint-Roch has a Youth Hostel and is, most importantly, outside the city wall. The issue is that the old city is more picturesque, but parking inside the wall is hard to find. The district is unmissably dominated by a large, early-twentieth-century Roman Catholic church, the Église de Saint-Roch
I downloaded a free self-walking app. The Bureau de Tourisme offered some local advice, but also told me to go online to find out about le Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier, the Jacques Cartier National Park.
The Jacques Cartier National Park is forty minutes from Québec City and is great for both Winter and Summer sports. You can hire snow shoes, and other items in Winter and do a tour. You can stay in cabins and yurts. It’s worth checking the website sepaq.com/jacquescartier (exclusively in French, but it’s easy enough to auto-translate).
I hired a car in order to drive to the Jacques Cartier National Park. What with global warming and the paradoxical increase in cold snaps that it causes in mid-latitudes, the result has been an unusually cold April. So, I had snow tyres. Which was just as well because when I finally left Québec City for the airport, once more by car, it was in a blizzard!