PHOTO: Chateau Frontenac. (All photos by Rosalind Cumming-Yeates)
Much of the old world beauty of Quebec City is centered around the 17th century architecture of Old Quebec. The looming fortified walls and the cobblestone streets really create the feeling of stepping back in time. It's a really walkable city so the best way to explore is on foot. There are lots of guided walking tours but if you love DIY excursions, here are some standout sites to visit:
More than any other site in Quebec City, the prominent, steeple-topped building of Chateau Frontenac symbolizes the history and 17th century aesthetic of the city. Located on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the red brick exterior is patterned after the medieval chateaux in France's Loire Valley. Built in 1892 by the Canadian railway to lure tourists to the train system, the hotel's elaborate elegance continues to win over visitors. It's said to be the most photographed hotel in the world, and the fairytale castle layout reveals why. Sitting in the middle of Old Quebec and filled with crystal chandeliers and luxurious design, Chateau Frontenac is an essential landmark.
The Parliament Building
The grand facade of the parliament building is hard to miss. Perched on top of a hill and outfitted with 26 bronze statues, fountains and a garden, this 1886 structure is illuminated at night and attracts non-stop visitors. The building still houses the National Assembly as well as a restaurant, library and exhibits. You can take a guided tour or just roam the lovely grounds, like I did.
Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame de Quebec
Erected in 1647, the Cathedral-Basilica Notre Dame de Quebec was originally the first parish church in North America. It was declared a cathedral in 1674 and was re-decorated with stained glass windows, gold leaf and elaborate art. Several re-constructions from military bombardments and fires have established the cathedral as a restored historic monument. Bishops, cardinals and former governors of New France are buried in the cathedral's crypt and a gleaming sanctuary lamp that was a gift from Louis XIV are standout artifacts.
Aux Anciens Canadiens
It's easy to pass up this red-roofed building, it blends in well with the surrounding shops but this house was built in 1675, making it the oldest house in the Quebec region. It's been transformed into a restaurant that serves up authentic Quebecois food featuring caribou and lots of maple syrup. Each of the five rooms in Aux Anciens Canadiens displays a different theme and the staff wears period costumes for a thorough reminder of old Quebec.
There are almost 30 sets of stairs scattered around Old Quebec, linking the upper and lower parts of the town. I thought I was hearing a bad French translation when I heard the name of the Breakneck Staircase but once I learned that they are the city's oldest staircase, build in 1635, I understood the meaning. Rickety and narrow, the Breakneck Stairs connect Petit-Champlain with cote de la Montagne. It's said that the stairs are particularly treacherous when covered with the region's ubiquitous ice and snow, but I had a special adventure navigating the steps in the rain. Make no mistake, they aren't called breakneck just for the humor.