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Romancing Vieux Quebec
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Romancing Vieux Quebec
  Quebec Travel Tale

By Lorry Patton

Not that you need an excuse when you're in love, but snuggling up to one's sweetheart seems so much more appropriate on a frosty night, especially when bundled together on a horse-drawn carriage rolling down a snow-clad street lit by old-fashioned lampposts. And isn't skating arms entwined on an outdoor pond just too romantic? What about falling asleep squeezed tight in a sub-zero sleeping bag inside an igloo? You have to admit, cold temperatures encourage body contact, but where, you ask, can you skate outdoors and sleep in an igloo? Several places, I imagine, but none quite with the historical savoir-faire of Vieux-Quebec
The invincible grey wall that surrounds Old Quebec is visible from any upper floor or rooftop facing the river. It's easy to imagine that real wars were fought and that real lives-- husbands, sons and lovers-- were saved and lost in battle.
Vieux-Quebec (Old Quebec) achieved a place in the history books and international fame when UNESCO bestowed the fortified city with a heritage title in 1985; however, long before then, pride and patriotism bonded the stone and mortar wall. When it was first erected in the late 1700's, the barricade protected the community from enemies, but, by the mid-19th century, the inhabitants no longer needed it. Fortunately, the then Governor-General Dufferin was a visionary and the wall was left standing (they built the current wall in the 1830's). Today, it is the only fortress of its kind on this continent north of Mexico. From my vantage point at the Hilton, the thick wall reminded me of the wall around the Old City in Jerusalem, but the resemblance ended at the gates.
Old Quebec's rocky foundation sets it apart from other places in the world. The city sits on two plateaus on Cap Diamand (Cape Diamond), on the banks of St. Lawrence River. Land owners erected the tall chimneys, peaked roofs and stone and brick fronts in the fashions of their eras, therefore, a conglomeration of French, English and Qu‚b‚cois architecture flanks the steep and narrow streets, creating a most picturesque setting. What makes it even more unique, winding stairways connect the levels.
Initially, Upper Town was thick with residential homes and Lower Town was a bustling commercial and port district, the silvery St. Lawrence river carrying transoceanic ships, heavy laden with fur and lumber, the commodities of the day. Now the port harbors cruise ships; residential homes have been converted into apartments; supplies and hardware stores are gifts shops and basements are art galleries and candy shops. I never tired of walking the streets. Like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, even the narrowest of alleys and the tiniest of courtyards surprised me with a pub, a cafe or a museum.
The churches are magnificent. Builders used sculptures and gilding from the 16th century when constructing the interior of the Chapelle des Ursulines (1902), making it look much older then its almost one hundred years. The United Church (1852) has beautiful stained-glass windows, a really tall steeple and a century-old organ that entertains patrons every Sunday evening. No modern structures exist in Old Quebec. The world-renowned Chateau Frontenac (with one of the grandest lobby's I have ever seen) and the City Hall, date back to the 1800's. Others, like maison Maillou, date back even further. Built between 1736 and 1753, this building now houses the head office of Qu‚bec's Chamber of Commerce.
Although, strolling among Quebec's historical edifices is an activity couples can share anytime, the streets have an extra sparkle in winter when covered with snowflakes. ( Luckily, the region usually gets 135 inches of the white fluffy stuff each year and winter lasts way into spring.) Of course, renting a canoe and going ice-gliding on the river is only possible when the St. Lawrence is partially frozen. I have never been in a canoe, let alone one that glides through ice. It sounds invigorating, almost as invigorating as sleeping on a bed of pine branches in an igloo, which I have yet to experience, either.
Ice-skating outdoors is stimulating, too. Open-air ice rinks are found in and around the city, including one behind the Chateau Frontenac. And if you don't think skating on an outdoor pond is romantic, rent the original version of the movie "Preacher's Wife" and witness the skating scene between Loretta Young and Cary Grant. Then imagine twirling around in the arms of your lover on an icy lake in Quebec's 19th century setting. You have to admit, that's pretty darn romantic.

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