An artist's guide to falling in love with Quebec City: Food, views and an adventure for every season
'Few outsiders know that Quebec has four faces — and missing out on this information can be deadly...boring'
Everyone knows about the art scenes in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — but what about Lethbridge, Sudbury or Victoria? In CBC Arts's new series "I He(art) My City," a local artist offers an insider's guide to the city they call home. Here, actors and directors Maxime Robin and Danielle Le Saux-Farmer show you their Quebec City. All photos used with permission.
Quebec City is the birthplace of French America, a city that has much to tell about its past and yet that has, in the recent years, dusted itself off to present a much younger side. New restaurants are popping up and the arts scene is getting livelier.
But few outsiders know that Quebec has four faces — one for each season. And missing out on this information can be deadly...boring. So we designed eight little promenades, with food, arts and a unique piece of scenery — each one tailored to a season.
Shine bright like the Maison de la littérature
This old church in the heart of Old Quebec City, completely renovated and transformed into a library, gave the city its title as the international capital of literature. Here, you can speak, you can eat (yes, you read that right: you can eat in a library!) and you can live literature. On most nights you can catch storytelling events, movie nights, etc. A true architectural masterpiece, completely white inside, the Maison has a sacred air about it (the church spirits still loom) while inviting its visitors to read, reflect and appreciate the calming and quietly inspiring atmosphere. Here, literature is a daily experience — it's even an immersive one!
Start the day early with brunch at Chez Boulay, a fabulous restaurant with an emphasis on Nordic cuisine that takes its inspiration and ingredients from the seasons. When you're full, cross the street and go up the hill to the Maison de la littérature to try to catch one of the writer tours they offer. You'll discover the Old Quebec neighborhood through the gaze of the famous authors who were inspired by it. And (this is the best part!) make sure to save a few minutes to read and relax in the Maison.
Embark on Jeanne's mystic journey
In 2005, Brenard Emond — one of Quebec's most steadfast filmmakers — directed his best film yet (in our humble opinion): La Neuvaine. Starring Élise Guilbeault as Jeanne, La Neuvaine tells the story of a doctor in search of meaning. And as everybody knows, meaning is found mostly in Quebec City. We suggest you follow Jeanne's footsteps and travel east towards Beaupré to see things you didn't know existed. Start at the Basilique Sainte-Anne de Beaupré and join the myriad of pilgrims who are hoping to be healed — as so many actually were — in the walls of this vivid example of the genius of religious architecture. Then, pay a visit to the Cyclorama de Jérusalem, where things really get wild in this circular building that houses a 360 foot round canvas of the crucifixion of Christ.
Complete your visit by contemplating God's wrath, personified by the fascinating falls known as Chutes Montmorency. These are actually higher than their star sisters in Niagara! If you're blessed, you might catch — like Jeanne did — one of the most beautiful spectacles offered by nature, a true miracle in and of itself: the return of the snow geese in the Montmorency basin. This journey will connect you with Quebec's religious past, still very much alive. And if the religious imagery gets to be overwhelming, you can stop by for a great roadside chipstand poutine at Chez Bolduc just to keep things grounded.
No pain, no gain
Catch a ferry for an ice cream at the very first Chocolat favori, up the hill in Old Lévis. This excursion requires crossing the gorgeous St-Lawrence River and ascending close to 100 steps, but every effort is worth it: you'll be rewarded with a taste of this internationally famous frozen treat. We think the very best bite is the first: when the heat of your lips melts the chocolate dip as it freezes in contact with the soft serve ice cream...heavenly, dreamlike, mythical. While you're at it, peruse the Old Lévis neighbourhood with its fine food grocery and colourful centennial homes. The round trip, including the trek for dessert, will take around an hour and a half, depending on your point of departure.
While perched up top of Lévis and on the way back on the ferry, catch a glimpse of the view: Old Quebec, the Château Frontenac, the plains stretching out to the west, the old port to the east — QCity in all its shining splendour. Looking at the height of it all, imagine you're part of the British army in 1759, gearing up to conquer the French army by ascending the great cliff. End the day by heading to the free circus show near the ferry port, performed by world-renowned circus artists based in Quebec City.
Best SPOT to hang out — or find the SPOT!
Quebec City locals love summertime, trying to do it all outdoors, because the rest of the year can be quite cold. To get the best of a summer evening, find the SPOT: Sympathique Place Ouverte à Tous — roughly translated, the friendly place open to all. Imagined and created by Université Laval's architecture students, this ephemeral outdoor gathering place spruces up an often overlooked or abandoned corner of Quebec City — and it moves to a different place every year! With food and drinks, free outdoor yoga and aerobics classes in the morning and local artist performances in the evening, the SPOT is a fantastically fun way to spend some warm(ish!) summer evenings with friends and locals. Get a good look at the playfulness of the architecture — we'll bet it'll inspire you for an entire day of fun in Quebec, and we recommend starting with a quick snack picked up at the Marché du Vieux port: smoked fish, local berries and some of the best cheeses in the world (no joke). Get online and find this year's SPOT!
Pick Quebec's very own Big Apple
Made famous by singer songwriter Félix Leclerc, l'Île d'Orléans is a stunning piece of land on the east side of the St-Lawrence River. A 20-minute car ride from downtown Quebec City, this place is what Instagram dreams are made of. Dress in a wool sweater and sunglasses, disguised as a local, and go apple picking on the island — a classic Quebec City activity. The region's most beautiful and breathtaking season is fully revealed on the island; pick some Macs, Empire and crackling Honeycrisps and immerse yourself in nature for an afternoon of farming and Québécois agriculture.
On the way home, stop by Les Fromages de l'isle d'Orléans for a taste of North America's first cheese. Golden grilled and served piping hot, the Paillasson is a fabulous fall treat with some warm apple cider and freshly picked apples on the side. If you're having a grand time and don't ever want to leave, book a table at Mona et filles, the local blackcurrant fairies. When it comes time to finally go home, whatever you do, do not go back the way you came. As the tradition goes — and Felix Leclerc sings — tour the whole island. Buckle up, roll the windows down and crank the Félix on the sound system as you embark for a stunning hour-long tour de l'île.
Get scared or get lost
For those looking for a good fright, dive deep into the realms of ghosts and spirits during the month of the dead for a walk in Quebec City's tunnel, coursing through the city's underground. Grab a bite in one of the fabulous restaurants of the Quartier Saint-Sauveur (Renard et la Chouette, Kraken Cru, Griendel, Pied Bleu, etc.) and walk a half hour west to discover the abandoned tunnel that runs under Quebec from the north end of Charest Boulevard to the south end of Champlain Boulevard. Built in the '30s for passenger transport, the tunnel has since been abandoned and isn't used more than a few times a month. It's dark in there — and it's also private property. But taggers have had a heyday there anyway: the entrance is studded with a motley collection of colourful graffiti. For fans of urban art, it's a must. But be cautious...we're not sure if it's safe, since no one has ever come back to say so...
Experience some crisp and cool contemporary art
This excursion goes to the heart of a Quebec City landmark: the plains of Abraham. Start by booking a table at the Musée National des beaux arts's stunning new pavilion restaurant for lunch. Bring your cross-country skis along (you'll see why later) and check your skis and boots at the coat check. (Nobody will judge you — you're in a winter wonderland.) Then, enjoy one of the three proposed meals: meat, fish or vegetable. Visit one of the many fascinating exhibitions of the Lassonde pavilion, entirely dedicated to contemporary art, and take an hour to admire the architecture: a glass tour de force that's just breathtaking.
Wait for mid-afternoon; around 2 pm, slide into your boots and skis and glide over to see the sun set on the St-Lawrence, as Lévis's oil refinery lights up across the river — a beauty if you can forget what it actually does to the environment. Take a break and sit (be bold in the cold!) to watch the ice slide over the river as it does in winter — one of the most meditative sights you can get in QCity. As you head home, watch the skaters gather on the plains rink for an evening game of pick-up hockey.
Look the Méduse in the eye
Little-known fact: Quebec City is one of the world's most active cultural hubs for performance and multidisciplinary arts. The coopérative Méduse is a real hive for artistic creation and events: this place houses an artist centre, a gallery, two theatre spaces, the offices of arts organizations and a residence — and, as the building straddles upper and lower town, it's a fitting metaphor for the arts scene. From atop the steps leading down to the main entrance, the view of lowertown is gorgeous if you're coming from uptown. Méduse is host to The Mois Multi, which runs every February for close to four weeks and showcases the work of performance and installation artists from all over the world. Grab a bite on St-Joseph at the truly awesome Nina Pizza or mouthwatering Tora-ya ramen, then walk up to Méduse . You'll see stuff that you couldn't have imagined. We can't guarantee you'll love it, but it's sure to show you new and unsuspecting — and always artful — worlds.
More local arts essentials:
- Catch the outdoor show Où tu vas quand tu dors en marchant at the Carrefour international de Théâtre de Quebec
- Eat a poutine at Casse-croûte Pierrot and watch the École Nationale de Cirque artists perform
- Discover an up-and-coming band at the Saint-Sauveur venue Le Pantoum
That's a wrap on this summer's I He(art) My City guides! See them all here!