A long weekend doesn’t lend itself to transatlantic travel—after hours spent squeezed into an airplane seat and queued up at customs, you’d barely get your bearings before having to turn back around. But behold, an answer to your quick-trip quandary: Quebec City, where you can find a taste of Europe not just on this continent, and not only in this time zone, but a mere six-hour drive away.
Once you set foot in North America’s only fortified walled city, all the cobblestone streets seem to lead to the crown jewel of Quebec, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. Towering over the skyline, the hotel has been a top destination ever since it opened in 1893, hosting VIPs from Winston Churchill to Duchess Kate. The spires of its copper roof announce elegance at first sight—and the accommodations waiting within do not disappoint. Slide past the fellow tourists who congregate in the photo-worthy lobby and enjoy the other fruits of the $75 million renovation that was completed this year.
Some of the 611 rooms and suites have a classic continental design, others a more contemporary style, but all have modern touches (cue the rainfall shower heads). The most impressive amenities, however, may be the views of the St. Lawrence River and bustling Old Quebec. You can also drink in views of the city while swimming a few laps in the sixth floor’s indoor pool, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, or lounging on the adjoining terrace. And be sure to stop by the spa, which offers a variety of massages, facials and body wraps, as well as north-of-the-border specialties such as the elixir ice cider exfoliation.
Ice cider also happens to feature in one of chef Stéphane Modat’s signature dishes at the hotel’s Champlain Restaurant: the Chantecler chicken, a two-course feast of roasted breast with morel sauce and slow-cooked, mushroom-stuffed thigh. The Champlain’s daily breakfast, meanwhile, follows the over-the-top style found in many European hotels, with enough fresh juices, cheeses and smoked fish to fuel you for a full day of walking through Quebec City.
The best plan for a day in Quebec is to have no set plan: Simply wander through the nearby car-free streets and surrender to your whims. Poke your head into the antique stores along St. Paul Street in the lower town, take selfies in front of the many murals and other works of public art, and play with the cannons still perched at the city walls—which may leave you wondering just how the French lost such a well-fortified hilltop spot to the British in 1759. You can find out, and learn how Quebec kept its French accent despite being colonized by Britain, with a visit to the Museum of Civilization, set right by the river. Afterward, snag a spot on the grass and watch the ships come into the port.
There is endless charm in this French-speaking city, and don’t be alarmed if you soon forget what continent you’re on, especially when you’re dining. There’s a bar or cafe every few feet, but the most bustling ones are in the Petit Champlain neighborhood. Crepes are a must, and an outdoor seat at the tiny Café Bistro du Cap is worth the wait. Balance savory and sweet with an apple and cheese crepe followed by the rhubarb version. For dinner, travel a few doors down to L’Échaudé for a mix of seasonal and French favorites in a modern bistro style—or, if you’re celebrating a special occasion, break the bank with a trip to Saint-Amour, helmed by chef Jean-Luc Boulay, known for his impeccable sourcing. The cheese plate includes only fromage from Quebec, while the red deer and wild berries dish offers a taste of the great northern outdoors.
After a full day of walking and eating, you might be too taxed to wend your way back up to the hotel. Don’t be a hero. Take the funicular, an outdoor elevator that will whisk you from the lower town to the upper for $3. You’ll be dropped off at the boardwalk in front of the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. A nightcap at the hotel’s 1608 Wine & Cheese Bar awaits. Pinch yourself. Toto, you’re not in Europe anymore. You never were, but it sure feels that way.
-Leave your French/English dictionary at home: Most service workers are bilingual.
-There are no direct flights from Boston to Quebec City, and once you factor in layovers, driving may be your best bet.
-Don’t miss the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec, featuring works from prominent local artists, in the sprawling Battlefields Park (aka the Plains of Abraham).
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, 1 rue des Carrières, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada (418-692-3861) fairmont.com/frontenac-quebec
Museum of Civilization, 85 rue Dalhousie (418-643-2158) mcq.org/en/mcq/index.html
Café Bistro du Cap, 67 rue du Sault au Matelot (418-692-1326)
L’Échaudé, 73 rue du Sault au Matelot (418-692-1299) echaude.com
Le Saint-Amour, 48 rue Sainte-Ursule (418-694-0667) saint-amour.com