Quebec City with kids: Start with a Fairy Tale castle
By Mary Alice Downie
Le Chateau Frontenac, the historic hotel with brimming with towers and turrets, stands high and proud on a mammoth rock above the rooftops of Lower Town, the St. Lawrence and the mountains beyond in the city of Quebec, Canada. Even if you aren’t staying here, it’s worth the wander.
Chandeliers glitter, and people glide up and down swirling staircases, floating past stained glass windows. On the first floor, you'll find seven large displays of artifacts found in an archeological site beneath Dufferin Terrace. Things such as tea sets and cannon balls from ages ago are magical to witness. Otherwise dull information is lively, expecially when you read lines such as: “It was a seventeenth-century custom to eat with one’s fingers. “
The governors of New France lived in great style in the Chateau St. Louis, which preceded the hotel. The half hour guided tours of the site includes traces of the residence that burnt down in 1834 and of four earlier forts, dating back to 1620. You can go around by yourself to admire the remains of an eighteenth-century kitchen, a 1771 icehouse that kept frozen treats for the governors. Children can play archeologist and dig up artifacts from a large sandpit. Then return to the Terrace and revive with a a 21st century frozen treat of gelato at MooZoo, tucked away in a corner of the Chateau.
Lower Town and Beyond
Dive down to Lower Town via the steps of Breakneck Stairs, originally built in 1682, to Le Petit Champlain Quartier. On the way, stop in at the les Trois Corbieres Atelier, and watch the glassblower practising his ancient and flaming art, perhaps buy a zany fish or flying pig as a souvenir. Meanwhile, Zasou offers wonderful animal hats and mitts 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. At the end of the street there is le Fresque du Petit-Champlain, a giant trompe l’oeil of characters from the district, famous and infamous, both past and present.
Amble on to Place Royale, the ancient heart of the city. Notre Dame des Victoires was built on the site of Champlain’s original Habitation. The 17th century model of a French warship ship hanging from the ceiling of the church never fails to fascinate, and the tabernacle on the altar looks like a medieval fortress. Downstairs, more excavations. There’s a well, a great jar that held freshwater on a ship, and - a surprise - a hypnotic sound and light show flickering against the stone walls.
Add another dimension to the excursion with a visit to le Centre de l’Interpretation de place Royale. ”Facing Champlain,” is a vivid 3-D movie that will teach children about the man who began it all. There’s a model of the city c. 1635 and downstairs in one of the many vaults (cellars) that lie beneath the city, everyone can dress up in costume and pretend that they live in the eighteenth-century.
All this can comfortably be done in a day, but there is so much else if you stay longer. Walk the walls of this fortified city, visit the Citadel for the Changing of the Guard. There’s a fine Aquarium/Zoo. Take the 15 minute ferry ride and back to Levis at sunset, to see the lights of the city. The Funiculaire on rue Petit Champlain, creeps up the cliff to Upper Town, and offers another spectacular view. And don’t forget Erico, the Chocolate Shop and Museum!
When You Go:
Quebec City Tourism: 1-877-783-1608, www.quebecregion.com . We always live by the latest version of the Ulysses Guide to Quebec City, which is packed with history, accommodation, restaurants, tours and attractions for children..
Where to Stay: At the Chateau,children 18 and under stay free in the same room with parents. Le Manoir-Victoria in another part of town, close to lively St. Jean Street, 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 caleches clopping by. There are burgers of all sorts, milkshakes and poutine if you are feeling adventurous. On Rue St Jean the restaurant Les Freres de la Cote has a jolly atmosphere with festive balloon lights. Stop by Le Paillard Bakery which is nearby for dessert: magnificent pastries, great tubs of purple and orange gelato, and tiramisu.
Mary Alice Downie is a book author who just wrote "A is for Acadie: an Acadian Alphabet" which has just been published.