Story by Mary Alice Downie
QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC — Although it’s known for its romantic appeal, Quebec City is also a child-friendly destination. You start with the fairytale castle. Perched in a dramatic site overlooking the rooftops of Lower Town, the St. Lawrence River and the mountains beyond, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac has inspired visitors since it was built in 1893. The governors of New France enjoyed the same view in the Chateau St. Louis, a Parks Canada National Historic Site.
Wander through the Château itself, which recently underwent major renovations that cost $75 million. Chandeliers glitter, there are sculptures and swirling staircases. On the first floor there are seven large displays of objects found in the archaeological site outside, on Dufferin Terrace: China, cannon balls and information. Kids will be happy to learn that “it was a 17th-century custom to eat with one’s fingers.”
Take a half-hour guided tour of the site or go around on your own. There is music, videos, remains of an 18th-century kitchen, 1771 icehouse that kept frozen treats for the governors. Children can dig their own artifacts from a large sandpit and then return to the boardwalk and revive themselves with a smoothie or gelato at MooZoo, tucked away in a corner of the Chateau.
Dive down to Lower Town via the steps of Breakneck Stairs, originally built in 1635 and which lead to Le Petit Champlain Quartier. On the way, stop in at Les Trois Corbeaux Atelier, and watch the glassblower practicing his ancient and flaming art, perhaps buy a zany fish or flying pig as a souvenir. Zazou offers wonderful animal hats and mitts (good for frigid Quebec winters) and stylish outfits for parents. Teenagers will be tempted into spending their babysitting money by the exquisite silk carves at La Soierie Huo. You can watch the artists at work here too.
Farther along is La Fudgerie Boutique, where 80 flavours are on offer — including fleur de del and even jalapeno. The warm pecans aren’t bad either. At the end of the street there is a giant trompe l’oeil fresco of characters from the district, famous and infamous, both past and present. In this area is the Vacay.ca No. 1 Street to Visit in Canada, rue du Petit Champlain.
Amble on to Place Royale, the ancient heart of the city. Notre Dame des Victoires is on the site of Petit Champlain’s two habitations. The ship hanging from the ceiling at Notre Dame des Victoires never fails to fascinate, and there is an altar that looks like a medieval fortress. Downstairs are more excavations. There’s a well, a great jar that held freshwater on a ship, fragments of explorer Samuel de Champlain’s wine cellar and a surprise — a sound-and-light show against the stone walls.
The Interpretation Centre Museum offers “Facing Champlain”, a 3D movie that will teach children a bit about the city’s founder. There’s a model of the city, circa 1635. Downstairs in one of the many vaults that lie beneath the surface, everyone can dress up in 18th-century costumes, while pretending to be a master cooper (a barrel maker) and his family.
“Give yourself permission to wander,” advised one mother, “but be sure to wear sensible shoes and layers.” Her children particularly enjoyed the chance to stay up late and listen to the street performers. There are often surprises. One night they stumbled upon a free performance of Cirque du Soleil.
MORE ABOUT VISITING QUEBEC CITY WITH KIDS
Tip: Do not worry about not speaking French. Perhaps because of an enviable lifestyle, the atmosphere is cordial and helpful to those who speak English and other languages.
Where to Stay: At the Chateau Frontenac, children 18 and under stay for free in the same room. Le Manoir-Victoria in another part of town, close to lively rue St. Jean, offers the same deal.
Where to Eat: Quebec is filled with fine restaurants, but for children, try the Chic Shack, just down the street from the Chateau, with a fine view of the regal hotel and caleches clopping by. There are burgers of all sorts ($7-$18), milkshakes and poutine if you are feeling adventurous. Les Freres de la Cote has a jolly atmosphere with festive balloon lights. When you imagine Le Paillard, think soup and sandwiches, magnificent pastries, and great tubs of purple and orange gelato.
Other Ideas: Take a 15-minute ferry ride to Levis and come back at sunset to see the lights of the city. At the end of the day, take the Funiculaire, which creeps up the cliff to Upper Town, and offers another spectacular view. Walk the walls, visit the fortifications for a ceremony of the changing of the guard or visit the aquarium/zoo. There are fountains to splash in, a chocolate museum and, if everyone isn’t too tired, a Ghostwalk Lantern Tour.
More Info: Quebec City Tourism has more ideas and details for your trip. Telephone 1-877-783-1608 or visit the tourism board’s website at http://www.quebecregion.com/en/.
Note: Mary Alice Downie’s “A is for Acadie: An Acadian Alphabet” has just been published.