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Quebec City

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Color, light and shadow, angles and shapes. Those are the first things you notice about Québec City, whether you realize it or not. The play of soft northern sunlight on the parti-colored roofs of row houses, the sharp angles that form where shadow meets light on the sandstone and limestone walls.

The edges of the cobblestones on the street are rounded by nearly four hundred years of feet, wheels, and hooves making their unhurried way up and down the hills to the Haute Ville, the upper town.

It’s impossible to ignore the city’s military history. The contours of the fortifications that surrounded Vieux-Québec, the old city, are visible from the top of the Citadel. Somehow, though, the centuries have softened the city’s defensive stance and have made it one of the most inviting locations in North America.

The city’s name comes from the Algonquin word “kebec,” meaning “place where the river narrows,” and indeed the St. Lawrence River tapers to less than 1 kilometer across as it passes the town. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain established a fur trading post at the city’s future site, the promontory known as Cap Diamant, paving the way for a permanent French presence in North America.

Québec City is a walker’s delight. Virtually every shop, restaurant, hotel, and gallery in the Old City is accessible on foot. But the steep, winding roads and stairways leading up to the old town are not for the faint of heart or short of breath. Climb Escalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Stairway) or Côte de la Montagne (Mountain Road) and you will be rewarded with more than an aerobic workout. From here, you get an up-close view of the city’s crown jewel, the Château Frontenac, a19th century manor that defined the “Château Style” of architecture. Its distinctive sloping green roof and elegant lines make it one of the most striking landmarks in the city.

Brush up on your French before you come here. You’ll be rewarded for it. Most of the locals speak at least a smattering of English, but menus, street signs, and the chatter on the street will make a lot more sense with a working knowledge of the language. While many places claim to give a European experience without leaving North America, Québec City delivers. Canada’s oldest city is deeply steeped in French culture, with all of the romance and charm that that implies. The colors are as if brushed by an artist’s hand, the shapes and angles lovingly cut by a sculptor’s knife. Québec City’s rich visual and cultural tapestry beckons the visitor to return.

By Peggy Latkovich


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