“Quebec City feels like a village.” That sentiment, shared with me one evening over a plate of oysters plucked from the St. Lawrence River, rings true. One afternoon exploring the French-Canadian city’s Old Quarter—filled with lovingly restored 400-year-old stone buildings on cobbled alleys and surrounded by historic bastions, ramparts and gates—and you might be thinking the same thing. But Quebec City is not just its Old Quarter, and a sense of cohesiveness and camaraderie extends past its walls to neighborhoods such as Saint-Roch and Limoilou, where people are opening shops, cafés and restaurants, united by passion and a shared vision for their communities.
Quebec City grew up along the banks of the narrowest stretch of Canada’s St. Lawrence River and can be simple to reach from the U.S. with a passport. Part of its appeal is its European atmosphere, which includes the predominance of the French language (although English is often understood). Its walkable Old Quarter—a UNESCO World Heritage site—is divided into Lower Town, where Samuel de Champlain founded the first French settlement, in 1608, and Upper Town, on the Cap Diamant bluffs along the river. To reach the neighborhoods outside of the gates, you could walk, but it’s better to take a cab, as both Saint-Roch and Limoilou are about a 10-minute drive away.
Place Royale is the heart of Lower Town and where Champlain lived. It has been revitalized as a picturesque plaza anchored by Quebec’s oldest stone church, which dates back to 1687. Fanning out from the plaza, cobblestoned streets are lined with ivy-covered buildings housing co-ops that sell everything from pottery to hand-spun wool clothing.
Begin with the airy Boutique Métiers d’Art (29 Rue Notre Dame; 418-694-0267), which curates glass sculptures, ceramic tea sets and more by Canadian artists. Crafted-in-Quebec leather totes and dopp kits are displayed like works of art at M0851 (66 Champlain Blvd.; 418-614-0851). And cashmere wraps, blue-and-white-striped blouses and pink tutus fill Lili & Olivia (49 Rue du Sault-au-Matelot; 418-694-7461).
At the cozy and casual Buffet de l’Antiquaire (95 Rue Saint-Paul; 418-692-2661; lebuffetdelantiquaire.com, site in French; lunch for two, $30*), most of the hearty Quebecois dishes, such as poutine (french fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds) or meat pie, are prepared behind the counter on the grill and spiced authentically.
Not five minutes away, the newly rebranded Chez Muffy (10 Rue Saint Antoine; 418-692-1022; dinner for two, $60), in a former warehouse where sails were once repaired, is suggestive of an upscale sugar shack. Inside the two-story dining room, chef Julien Ouellet articulates dishes such as lamb with turnips and marigold sauce that are complemented by wine pairings put forth by the soft-spoken sommelier, Olivier Theberje-Tremble. Many of Ouellet’s ingredients are sourced from Île d’Orléans, in the St. Lawrence just east of downtown, or Charlevoix, a verdant region that pioneered agritourism two hours northeast of the city.
In Upper Town, Cantook (575 Rue Saint-Jean; 418-529-4769) is the place to grab a cup of coffee for the 12-minute walk to see the city’s French-English heritage embodied: The sleek French-language library Maison de la Littérature (40 Rue Saint-Stanislas; 418-641-6797; maisondelalitterature.qc.ca, site in French; admission, free) sits next to the neoclassical Morrin Centre (44 Chaussée des Écossais; 418-694-9147; admission, $11), the city’s first jail, and later an English-language library.
For a petite sugar rush, order a sucre à la crème (reminiscent of fudge and traditionally doled out during the winter holidays) at Chez Boulay (1110 Rue Saint-Jean; 418-380-8166; sucre à la crème, $2) before wandering over to Le Monastère des Augustines (77 Rue des Remparts; 418-694-1639; museum admission, $8), steeped in history. The Augustinian Sisters arrived in Quebec in 1639 and opened the first hospital north of Mexico. Today the nonprofit’s renovated complex, adjacent to the teaching hospital, offers meditation and yoga.
Rooted in French gastronomy, Quebec City’s food scene is not as cosmopolitan as Montreal’s, so it may be especially surprising that the city has the highest ratio of restaurants to people in North America. There is a catch: Many of these spots are mediocre. The good news is that a serious culinary movement is afoot, fueled by upstart chefs and farmers eager to showcase the fruits of the region in both traditional Quebecois dishes and innovative new ones, explains local food columnist Allison Van Rassel.
You can experience the finest example of this at the 20-seat Saint-Roch newcomer Battuto (527 Langelier Blvd.; 418-614-4414; battuto.ca, site in French; dinner for two, $80), where patrons wait up to three months to behold owners Guillaume St-Pierre (former chef of the city’s La Planque) and Paul Croteau (pastry chef) executing Italian dishes—such as scallop crudo, or fettuccini with sweetbread and marsala—in the gleaming open kitchen. Sommelier Pascal Bussières (also an owner) will stop by your table to suggest wine pairings. Word to the wise: Their take on the classic Italian negroni cocktail is opaque and means business. The owner-chefs consult with biologists and travel outside of Canada to study how food is prepared at high-profile restaurants, such as Copenhagen’s Noma. “Farm-to-table isn’t a trend here,” Van Rassel says, pointing to many of the ingredients on the menu from Charlevoix. “It’s a practice that dates back 110 years.” At eight o’clock on a recent evening, the eatery’s gentle soundtrack was a mix of married-couple chatter, the exclamations of four thirty-something friends, the swoosh of a cocktail shaker and the Everly Brothers crooning “Bye Bye Love.”
Battuto is in Saint-Roch, Quebec City’s modest version of Silicon Valley, but set back from its main strip, Rue Saint-Joseph, by about a five-minute cab ride. While on a stroll along Rue Saint-Joseph, you can sample more farm-to-table goodness at brunch spot Le Clocher Penché (No. 203; 418-640-0597; brunch for two, $28), where black-and-white photos of some of the restaurant’s main purveyors—such as its vegetable guy, Marc Bérubé from La Ferme des Monts, and Rhéa Loranger and Nicolas Turcotte of Le Ferme Turlo, who provide pork—hang on the walls above the bar. “Our menu is seasonal, but some of our clientele’s favorite dishes, like the blood sausage and salmon tartare, stay the same,” says server Benoit Asselin. “We tried to change them once, and the people revolted.” Or start your walk at Nektar (No. 235; 418-977-9236; nektarcafeologue.com, site in French), where you can order artisan roasts.
That caffeine rush will carry you through a visit to Centre Materia (395 Charest Est), an art gallery showcasing sculpture and jewelry, and onward to Benjo (No. 550; 877-236-5622), where you’ll find kids’ striped sock puppets, train sets and a candy station with oversize lollipops. A few doors down, the Montreal-based Bois & Cuir (No. 754; 418-640-7444) recently opened a Quebec City outpost with sofas, tables and chandeliers with an industrial edge. And Swell & Ginger (No. 765A; 581-742-7080; swellandginger.com, site in French) caters to women with tops by House of Harlow and Lowell bags.
For a break, sidle up to the copper bar at La Champagnerie (No. 802; 418-614-9802; lachampagneriequebec.ca, site in French; drinks for two, $21) for a glass of bubbly, or partake in Quebec City’s thriving beer culture on the patio of La Barberie (310 Rue Saint-Roch; 418-522-4373; labarberie.com, site in French; drinks for two, $12), the city’s first cooperative microbrewery and bar. The beer tap handles are fashioned as Viking helmets, and many suds reflect experimentations with blueberries, Earl Grey tea and other flavors.
Quiet and unassuming except for the dramatic double staircases that cling to the facades of many of its two-story houses, the residential neighborhood of Limoilou is starting to draw young people from Saint-Roch, not 10 minutes away. Over the past few years, cafés, shops and restaurants have been popping up along Third Avenue, between 5th and 13th Streets. It’s a small stretch, but perhaps not for too long: The dedication of the entrepreneurs who are making it all happen (they meet regularly to support one another), combined with the enthusiasm of their patrons, wink that more is to come.
At Le Lièvre et la Tortue (No. 1200; 418-524-3333; slice of bread pudding, $2) teahouse (translation: “the hare and the tortoise”), François-Pierre, the son of co-owner Gosee Beland, serves piping hot coconut almond tea from Sloane, a Canadian brand, with bread pudding drizzled in brown-sugar-and-cream syrup. “My family lived in Limoilou when I was little, so being a part of this café is a coming back for us,” he says. “It’s our little dream.”
If you’re craving more savory than sweet, detour 15 minutes northeast to iX Pour Bistro (1104 Rue 18E; 418-914-8525). The two-man operation has become such a hit with visitors to the city that you’ll need to make a reservation three weeks ahead. In the chalkboard-wrapped space, owners Vincent Ozilleau and chef Benoit Lemieux serve foie gras and flank steak paired with biodynamic wines.
Back on Third Avenue, two blocks south of Le Lièvre et la Tortue, Sophie Grenier-Héroux and Cyane Tremblay opened kitchenware shop La Folle Fourchette (No. 986; 581-742-0767; lafollefourchette.com, site in French; cooking lessons, from $47) after living in the neighborhood for about four years with a dream of their own: “We wanted to walk to our job and be a part of the effervescence here.” You’ll find almost everything you need to cook at home, from cast-iron pans and cheerful yellow pot holders to wood salad tongs and linen aprons. Intimate three-hour cooking lessons on how to make bread, preserve vegetables or bake pastries are held in a kitchen in the back.
Co-owners Emilie Hébert and Marilyn Berthiaume-Lachance stock Article 721 (No. 721; 581-742-4333; article721.com, site in French), three blocks north, with “objects that hit [their] fancy really fast.” There are soft T-shirts that read “less is home” and navy- and pink-striped blankets, but look for the made-in-Limoilou goods: greeting cards by Fla Fla, Miss Marmite tea, and lavender soap from Caouane. Behind the artfully cluttered counter, Hébert, who grew up in the neighborhood, could be speaking for any of us who spend time getting to know this city when she folds her hands over her heart and says, “This place, it’s always a part of me.”
In the city’s Montcalm neighborhood, the striking new glass-enclosed OMA-designed Pierre Lassonde Pavilion doubles the exhibition space of the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec (179 Grande Allée Ouest; 418-643-2150; admission, $20). Inside, you’ll find contemporary Quebec art from the 1960s onward, including a collection of 2,635 works of Inuit art.
RCI® affiliated resorts near Quebec City include:
Make a day of it with golf (there are two courses), hiking trails or horseback riding. 110 Rue de la Tourbe, St. Ferreol les Neiges
Member Review: “Great location close to Quebec City.”
Well-appointed condo units sleep up to eight, with plenty of storage space for suitcases and souvenirs. 355 Rue Dupont, Beaupre
Member Review: “Nice, quiet resort with scenic surroundings.”
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts in Quebec City include:
Plush bedding, heated bathroom floors and a 24-hour fitness center are some of the amenities at the 95-room boutique hotel. Ask for a room with a fireplace or view of the St. Lawrence River. Chez Muffy is downstairs. 8 Rue Saint Antoine; 418-692-2211; saint-antoine.com; doubles from $180 a night
This Old Quarter former bank has 60 rooms with high ceilings, hardwood floors and showers with excellent warmth and pressure. Breakfast is included at the downstairs Italian Il Matto eatery. 71 Rue Saint-Pierre; 888-692-1171; hotel71.ca; doubles from $165 a night
- *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Spring 2018