In Quebec City, you can hear the church bells ring. The sounds bounce off of the historic buildings, reverberating through the streets the way they have for hundreds of years. In the busy summer months, swarms of tourists meander down Rue du Petit Champlain, taking in the sights of Europe—conveniently tucked into the centre of Quebec.
Quebec City’s “European feel” has, in modern years, been a main draw of the destination. Situated on the the Saint Lawrence River, once the bustling hub of the new world’s trade industry, Quebec City is one of North America’s oldest colonial cities. Its 400 years of history are embraced at the Auberge Saint-Antoine; perched on the edge of the river, the Relais & Châteaux hotel pays homage to the well-preserved roots of Quebec City by providing its own archaeological service. While undergoing a renovation in 1992, the property—built on the grounds of one of Quebec City’s earliest wharfs—worked with the urban centre’s chief archaeologist, excavating and preserving antiquities that were unearthed during the process.
Each item found was documented and gifted to the city, and some of the dig’s most precious and interesting pieces are elegantly displayed throughout the property. Each room is dedicated to a particular artifact; broken but still beautiful vases, plates, parts of leather boots, and flasks number among the items on show, bringing historical richness into the comfortable, modern interiors. The suites, which are in the hotel’s historic Hunt House (parts of which were built in the 18th century), offer quiet, unique comfort. The Capitaine features arching wooden ceilings, enclosing contemporary features such a Bose stereo system, a deep soaking tub, and a walk-in shower.
Beyond the rooms, the Auberge has plenty of on-site amenities to ease your way out into the streets. Start perhaps with a healthful visit to the hotel’s gym or spa before visiting Panache, where an indulgent brunch of savory dill waffles, whipped cream cheese, and lox can be enjoyed while taking in the views of the Saint Lawrence River banks.
More local nibbles can be found at the nearby Le Marché du Vieux-Port. Local vendors—farmers, butchers, mushrooms foragers, and makers—can be found at the market, offering samples of delicious items including local cheeses that are nearly impossible to find outside of Quebec.
Strolling the historic streets reveals more than the obvious sight-seeing. The neighbourhood of Saint-Roch and its adjacent borough of Saint-Sauveur together are Quebec City’s equivalent to Montreal’s hip Mile End. Speckled with vintage stores (more interesting and intriguing than the tourist-focused antique shops in Old Quebec) as well as a growing number of cafes and restaurants, it inspires a leisurely (and welcomed) stroll away from the crowds.
Lunch, and a bottle of wine, is required at the casual-cool Le Renard et la Chouette, where chef Émile Tremblay puts out vegetable-focused (not necessarily meatless) dishes with a hyper-local angle. Expect an ever-rotating seasonal menu, and for dinner, head to its sister restaurant Le Pied Bleu. Riffing on a similar theme of local deliciousness, the eatery is classic Quebecois, complete with a chef that isn’t necessarily inclined to switch to English. No worries, however, for the non-French conversationalist: Louis Bouchard Trudeau’s dishes speak loudly for themselves. Heavily reliant on its butcher, Le Pied Bleu offers old school dishes like tripe with bacon, blood sausage, and pork chops large enough to share between three. Sides are not for the faint of heart, either, as potatoes in luscious cream and the restaurant’s take on mac and cheese round out the meal. Elect for a lighter local cold one, like Shawi Beach IPA from Quebec micro-brewery Le Trou Du Diable.
Later in the evening, once the masses of Rue du Petit Champlain have dissipated some, a walk down the cobblestone streets reveals the authenticity of old Quebec City. History may be the city’s claim to tourism fame, but it remains its most charming feature. Here’s to another 400 years.