Out of Town: Exploring Québec City

: The iconic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac sits high on a bluff in the heart of Old City Québec.
Photo: Andrew Collins
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: The iconic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac sits high on a bluff in the heart of Old City Québec.  Photo: Andrew Collins

: The iconic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac sits high on a bluff in the heart of Old City Québec.
Photo: Andrew Collins

By: Andrew Collins*/Special to TRT—

With its fairytale setting high on a cliff-top overlooking the St. Lawrence River, Québec City ranks among the most romantic and historic destinations in the Western Hemisphere. Although it’s grown over the years into a thriving metropolis of slightly more than 500,000, Québec City’s ancient core, which lies inside a formidable masonry fortification, retains an intimate look and feel that reminds one more of Europe than the rest of North America. Abundant with old-world galleries and antiques stores, cobbled lanes, inviting sidewalk cafes, historic inns and B&Bs, Québec City is a perfect place to steal away for a days with your partner.

Just three hours from Montréal, Québec is also within an afternoon’s drive of such major metropolitan areas as Boston, New York City and Toronto. Québec is a wonderfully intimate city, highly walkable and oozing with history. Geographically, it is divided between two levels, Upper Town and Lower Town—the latter section lies low along the St. Lawrence River, and the former rises high above it, perched atop a magnificent ridge on the city’s eastern flanks. [pullquote]Just three hours from Montréal, Québec is also within an afternoon’s drive of such major metropolitan areas as Boston, New York City and Toronto. Québec is a wonderfully intimate city, highly walkable and oozing with history.[/pullquote]

Just beyond the city’s western wall is the quaint heart of the city’s small but lively LGBT scene, concentrated along Rue Saint-Jean, where you’ll find several bars and boutiques popular with the gay community, and down the hill from here, the once prosaic Saint-Roch district has undergone a considerable renaissance, with a number of hip restaurants, bars, and shops having opened in recent years.

Dominating Upper Town, the city’s most recognizable feature is the 120-year-old Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, whose steep copper roof defines Québec’s distinctive skyline—even if you don’t stay here, be sure to peek inside for a look. Farther up the hill is La Citadelle, an imposing fortress that was begun by the French to protect Québec from the British and, when this failed, completed by the British to protect the city from reprisals by the French. Tours of this regal facility are a must for fans of history.

From here, stroll along Grand Allée, which commences just west of the original city wall, taking in the blocks of trendy eateries and straight but gay-friendly hangouts before eventually reaching the 1930s Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, which contains more than 25,000 works of most French-Canadian art that span the region’s history. The museum is surrounded by Plains of Abraham Battlefield Park, which is laced with trails and sports fields, with many spots affording expansive views of the river.

Down in Lower Town, much of the fun is had simply by strolling the narrow lanes, visiting the atmospheric Old Port area, and popping in and out of quaint sidewalk cafes and shops. But be sure to set aside time to visit the city’s must-see attraction, the superb Musées de la Civilisation de Québec, a trove of interactive multimedia and computer exhibits that sheds light on every epoch of the city’s fascinating history

In a city famed for its history, many top restaurants occupy old-world buildings with stone walls and low ceilings, where traditional French and Continental fare dominates. Delightful Aux Anciens Canadians (www.auxancienscanadiens.qc.ca) is a wonderful example of this sort of establishment—it’s in a lovely 1675 house with a red steep-gabled roof. With outdoor tables overlooking a leafy green and Château Frontenac, Auberge du Tressor’s Restaurant 1640 (www.aubergedutresor.com) is another inviting spot exuding old-fashioned charm.

But make no mistake, Québec City is also home to some of the most innovative and stylish eateries in the country, with a number of creative chefs specializing in regionally sourced ingredients. Among the top draws, Laurie Raphael (laurieraphael.com) turns out some of the most boldly innovative cuisine in town in a bright, modern dining near Old Port. Also in Lower Town, Échaude (www.echaude.com) serves outstanding modern French fare and has a charming row of tables along a quaint sidewalk—note the excellent wine list.

Within the city walls, Ristorante Il Teatro (lecapitole.com) and Chez L’Autre (www.lecapitole.com), both near the grand Le Capitole theater, are sophisticated, gay-popular spots with ample outdoor seating. And just down the street, Chez Bouley-Bistro Boréal (www.chezboulay.com) is a stylish brasserie renowned for wonderfully complex, beautifully plated fare like fir tree-scented salmon tartare with birch syrup, and confit goose and duck leg with garlic-flower pesto and cooking jus.

There are several inviting queer-popular restaurants along Rue Saint-Jean. Try Hobbit Bistro (www.hobbitbistro.com) for classic French fare and very good breakfasts, and La Ninkasi (laninkasi.ca) for craft beers and light pub fare, and Piazzetta St-Jean (www.lapiazzetta.ca) serves delicious thin-crust pizza; there’s a branch in Saint-Roch, too. For artisan coffee and lively people-watching, drop by Le Brulerie Saint-Jean (www.lesbruleries.com), and don’t miss Tutto Gelato (www.tuttogelato.ca), which is known for its long list of interesting flavors (avocado, chocolate-chili, etc.), or Snack Bar St-Jean (www.snackbarsaintjean.com), a gay fave for cheap late-night burgers and poutine.

Down in Saint-Roch, Clocher Penche Bistro (www.clocherpenche.ca) is a smart space in which you can feast on mod Canadian brunch and dinner fare (the saddle of rabbit stuffed with ricotta and arugula is memorable). Brasserie Artisanale La Korrigane (www.korrigane.ca) is an exceptionally well-regarded brewpub with tasty comfort fare, and and Le Cercle (www.le-cercle.ca) is an airy live-music venue and restaurant with high ceilings and creative farm-to-table cooking.

Québec City doesn’t have many gay bars, but plenty of nightspots around the city – especially along Rue Saint-Jean and down the hill in Saint-Roch. The most famous gay hangout is Le Drague Cabaret Club (www.ledrague.com), which is a few steps from Rue Saint-Jean and has a number of appealing attributes, which helps account for its popularity with all types – gay men, lesbians, and straight friends among them. There’s a good-size patio along the sidewalk, a big cabaret lounge with a stage on which some of the city’s top drag divas perform, stylish cocktail bar and a spacious dance floor. A block away, Bar St-Matthew is a cozier neighborhood spot that’s more male-centric and cruise-y, and also caters a bit to the leather and bear set.

Among mainstream bars definitely worth a look, check out La Barberie (www.labarberie.com) for first-rate craft beers in a slightly out-of-the-way part of Saint-Roch, and Le Moine Echasson (www.lemoineechanson.com) is a cute wine bar on Rue Saint-Jean.

As is true in Europe, bathhouses play a prominent role in Québec City’s gay social scene. The options include Sauna Bloc 225 (www.saunabloc225.com), a spacious place inside a distinctive Victorian building in the heart of the Rue Saint-Jean neighborhood; the very popular Sauna Hippocampe (www.saunahippocampe.com), which is centrally located and adjoins the inviting LGBT hotel, Hotel Hippocampe (see below); and more locally frequented Le Sauna Backboys (www.backboy.qc.ca), which is in the Saint-Roch neighborhood and pulls in more of a locals crowd.

Where to Stay 

There are enough distinctive, and downright romantic, accommodations in Québec to make choosing a place to stay something of a challenge – there are so many options to consider, and many of the best are highly gay-friendly. You’ll find one concentration of particularly cushy and inviting hotels in the oldest section of Lower Town, around the antiques district centered along rues Saint-Paul and Saint-Pierre. Here you might consider the luxurious and highly romantic rooms of Auberge Saint-Antoine (www.saint-antoine.com), which sits next to the esteemed Musee de la Civilisation – a trove of interactive multimedia and computer exhibits that sheds light on every epoch of the city’s fascinating history. Nearby, the Hotel Le Germain-Dominion Québec (www.germaindominion.com) is a chic and gracious boutique hotel renowned for its stylish guest rooms and personable staff. Set in an eight-story 1912 building that was once the city’s tallest, rooms have tall windows and plenty of historic charm as well as such modern perks as BOSE stereos and connectivity panels.

One of the city’s most famous buildings, and undoubtedly its most iconic lodging, the grand Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (www.fairmont.com/frontenac-québec) is crowned with fantastic copper-green roof of steep gables and pointy turrets that positively dominates the Upper Town skyline. With more than 600 elegant but contemporary rooms (the hotel completed a massive update and renovation in 2013), the Fairmont overlooks the St. Lawrence River and abounds with amenities, from inviting Le St-Laurent Bar & Lounge to an impressive and extensive fitness center, pool and terrace. Those wanting the vibe of a modern, mainstream hotel that’s steps from the hip shopping and dining in up-and-coming Saint-Roch should consider the TRYP by Wyndham Québec Hotel Pur (www.hotelpur.com), an 18-story property with 242 smartly furnished rooms with tall windows that let in plenty of light – rooms on the upper floors have amazing city views.

Among LGBT-oriented properties, the aforementioned Hotel Hippocampe (www.hotelhippocampe.com) has 11 handsome, reasonably priced rooms and is adjoins the men’s sauna of the same name. Situated just inside the Old City walls, the hotel is popular with guys who favor the sauna, but plenty of gay men and lesbians stay here simply because it’s a comfortable, convenient option with a friendly and helpful staff. Some rooms have private bath, but you can save a lot of money if you opt for one that shares a bathroom.

Near the Plains of Abraham parkland and museums, the gay-owned Auberge Aux Deux Lions (www.aubergeauxdeuxlions.com/en) caters to a mixed crowd and is one of the most charming small properties in the city, with 15 rooms of varying size and configuration, all with private bath. Another fine smaller inn, the moderately priced Auberge Chateau des Tourelles (www.chateaudestourelles.qc.ca) is set along bustling Rue Saint-Jean and has 10 individually furnished rooms, including some larger suites that can easily sleep four guests. On sunny days, be sure to relax on the hotel’s lovely sun deck, soaking up views of this richly historic city.

*Andrew Collins produces the website www.GayTravel.About.com and writes about travel for a variety of LGBT and mainstream publications. He can be reached care of this publication or at mailto:OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.

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