Á Québec or au Québec? The French pronouns delineate between city and province, but both share the same name. My grammar reference is intentional, for Quebec is Canada’s only province whose official language is French. More than words, Quebec’s French influences are everywhere, from cuisine to culture. Yet, there is also an easygoing, casual charm that is clearly Canadian. Quebec is French, not France, as I discovered during my recent visit.
A fervent Francophile, I’ve spent ample time in France. A teenage exchange in Biarritz spawned junior year and numerous adult trips to Paris. I’ve also often traveled to Montreal, where my father was born. With my French and family roots, I was delighted to finally explore the heart of Quebec City. I also ventured north to the agricultural Eden of Charlevoix. Naturally, there was food involved.
I touched down in Quebec City the first weekend of November. The former capital of New France — the North American territories first colonized by the French in the sixteenth century — remains true to its French roots. In this “Paris of the North,” French is spoken in the streets and written on shop signs; more than 95 percent of the population are native speakers. Old Town, the UNESCO World Heritage site within the city’s ancient walls, is as picturesque as a Provençal village, with winding, cobblestone streets lined with lovely seventeenth- and eighteenth-century buildings.
The crown jewel of the Old City, and Quebec City’s skyline, is the Château Frontenac. Built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late nineteenth century, this luxury Fairmont hotel is an architectural stunner with turrets, towers, and a copper roof. This magical castle is not to be missed, whether strolling the esplanade along the St. Lawrence River or sipping champagne at the 1608 Bar. Better yet, stay the night, as I was lucky to do. More than mere lodging, the hotel is awash in history that enriches the sumptuous experience. In 1943, the Frontenac hosted the Quebec Conference, where Churchill and Roosevelt met to strategize for World War II.
Like France, Quebec City is infatuated with food. Less formal than the French—Canada has no Michelin stars—Quebec cuisine is rustic and hearty to combat the long winters. Classic dishes include tourtiére (meat pie), cretons (rillette-like pork spread), and poutine (cheese curd & gravy fries). Maple comes in all shapes and sizes; don’t miss maple pie or maple butter-lined ice cream cones. Many menus have sharing plates, like Le Renard et La Chouette’s duck cassoulet, illustrating the Québécois’ affection for communal eating. Stuffed? Quebec City’s famous staircases allow for post-meal workouts while exploring the town.
To taste Quebec cuisine close to its source, a trip to Charlevoix is a must. An hour and a half-hour drive north of Quebec City, along the St. Lawrence River, Charlevoix is home to more than 40 farmers and is dubbed the Flavour Trail. Nibble pork pâté at Les Viandes Biologiques, sample goat cheese at the Chèvrerie de Charlevoix, and sip white ale at the Microbrasserie Charlevoix.
You can amass quite a picnic from the dozens of delicious foodstuffs. Luckily, the Charlevoix brims with outdoor beauty like the Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Riviére-Malbaie. Named a UNESCO World Biosphere in 1989, Charlevoix is nestled between sea and mountains, which in the winter, provides stellar skiing, both cross-country and downhill.
I got to taste Charlevoix terroir at the Grand Gala des Chefs, an annual, epicurean weekend hosted by the Fairmont Manoir Richelieu. Each November, the hotel invites prominent chefs and local purveyors to cook up culinary workshops and bountiful meals. The other guests and I were able to interact with both chefs and farmers, making for an atmosphere that was both refined and rustic.
Visiting Quebec City and the Charlevoix make a fine pairing for savoring both the urban and rural side of Quebec. Though the city is a year-round destination — Canadians aren’t afraid of negative temperatures — I enjoyed the calm of my early-November trip, which occurred between the busier times of fall foliage and winter snow. Regardless of season, I’ll be sure to return to this place so close to my linguistic and ancestral heart. Like the slogan on Quebec’s license plates — “Je me souviens” (translation: “I remember”) — I shall not forget.