Cobbled streets, quaint shops, and patio cafes. A market square where sellers call out the names of their wares in lyrical French. Stop a while, order a glass of wine or dine on escargot. All the delights and sophistication of a Parisian weekend away are within reach and much closer than you think. You might not even need to get on an airplane at all. Even if you do, it’s just a quick jaunt north and nowhere near Europe.
This is Canada’s “belle province,” better known as Quebec. And if you haven’t been yet then you’re missing out.
Quebec is Canada’s largest province and borders on four American states; Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.
As soon as you venture into Quebec’s borders you will immediately notice the difference and may well feel that you’ve landed on another continent.
“Stop” signs read “Arret,” shop names and road signs are written in French. Even the fries are different. Here they are served with gravy and cheese curds and go by the name “poutine” (pronounced POO-teen).
At the center of this vast and varied province is its heart, Quebec City.
Quebec City is the only walled city north of Mexico, and it has a 400-year history. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ancient capital brims with charm and French style.
The iconic Chateau Frontenac hotel dominates downtown with turrets and old-world charm. Overlooking the St Lawrence River, the castle exudes a romantic fairytale quality. Tour the city’s old battlements and fortified walls to imagine all the conflicts that took place here between the French and the English centuries ago.
The city also offers some of the finest French dining this side of the Atlantic and a collection of boutiques as well as all the historical battle sights you can handle.
Quebec City: can be reached direct from major Canadian cities, Eastern US and Europe by flying straight into Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport, 10 miles from downtown.
Quebec is also home to the cosmopolitan trendy Montreal. Montreal rivals many larger cities such as Paris in terms of French sophistication, fashion, and dining.
My husband is a Montrealer and the first time I went there I fell in love. It has all the convenience and modernity of a large North American city, yet it includes classic French touches with its total immersion in French. (Beware: On my first trip, I only packed stilettos, my twentysomething wardrobe staple, and found the cobbled streets tricky to navigate on spike heels!)
We sat in trendy al fresco cafes, toured the old port and took in a show.
From the city’s heights of Mount Royal, visitors see both a view of Montreal’s skyline as well as the cobbled streets of Old Montreal with cathedrals, cafes, art galleries, and boutique hotels.
By night Montreal transforms into a happening spot of night clubs, cabarets, and bars where there is always a festival or event. In one lazy summer you could take in the Jazz Festival, the “Just For Laughs” comedy festival, The International Firework Festival, and The Grand.
Montreal offers a weekend retreat for the fashionistas who might find Paris too expensive and too far to travel.
Montreal:Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau International Airport is accessible from most large cities and is only 20 minutes from downtown.
Countryside retreats and small towns dot the province with the Gallic charm.
The Laurentides offer an outdoor playground of hiking trails and nature reserves.
Mont Tremblant is a resort centered around a ski hill and features colorful (almost Swiss looking) buildings, hotels, and gift shops. If you visit in winter, look for for the snow taffy. Tree sap is poured straight onto the snow and ice and then quickly twirled around a stick.
Many of the hotels have pools or hot tubs visible from the heights of the gondola that takes visitors up and down the mountain side.
I have spent many romantic breaks and lively girls’ weekends in a little town called St. Sauveur. This charming mountainside town about an hours drive from Montreal, sports skiing on its hill in winter (which becomes a water park in the summer). The town is littered with auberges (B&Bs) that entice with gastronomic themed weekends. These stays have creative table d’hote evening meals (a set menu, usually of multiple courses) which will transport your taste buds to a classic French bistro. All over the mountain, European-style spas draw guests with hot baths and beauty treatments nestled into the natural beauty of the area.
Quebec is very much a four-season destination and a touch of Gallic class and flair that is much closer and more affordable than a trip to France.
Beyond that, the countryside beckons visitors with opportunities to hike, bike, and paddle in the warmer months and ski or snowshoe as it gets colder.
Mont Tremblant–Mont Tremblant is about a 7-hour drive from Boston and about the same distance from New York. From Canada’s largest city, Toronto, it takes about 6 ½ hours to drive.
St. Sauveur-An hour’s drive from Montreal and just under 3 hours from Vermont or 6 hours from Maine.
All your Parisian fantasies can be found in Quebec City or Montreal and lazy days spent in the French countryside of Provence can be experienced in less time and for less money in Canada’s chic choice for a European adventure closer to home.