I had traveled the world before traveling to Quebec, and if my foot could reach my behind, I would kick myself for doing so. Of all the places I have visited, Quebec surely ranks in my top ten. The irony is that I traveled halfway around the world to visit less-inspiring places when Quebec was (and is) fewer than three hours by air from my home. The French-speaking Canadian province is practically in my own backyard, and yet it took a cruise (from Boston) and 49 years to get me there.
While many travelers embark on Canada/New England cruises for the blazing fall foliage, few water-bound travelers venture all the way down the St. Lawrence Seaway to end their cruises in Quebec (cruises, of course, also start in Quebec). From Boston, our cruise called on Bar Harbor, Maine; Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Saguenay Fjord; and Quebec City before ending in Montreal. Of those ports, I had been only to Halifax, which I loved.
A few years ago, I stepped into the cruise terminal in Halifax and sneezed, causing no fewer than five Nova Scotians to look up and reply, ‘Bless you.’ My feet had been planted only a few minutes on Canadian soil, and yet it appeared what the Scottish hairdresser working for Princess Cruises told me just might be true — that the people in Halifax were the nicest people she had ever met in a port. Step off the ship, and people politely offer you directions, maps and literature about the area — without trying to sell you anything at all.
But even as an avid cruiser, I had not given Quebec a lot of thought until The Avid Cruiser’s Summer 2005 issue, when Holland America Line Captain Jonathan Mercer chose Quebec City as his favorite port to sail into. It took me going there to see why Captain Mercer made his choice.
Known as the ‘most European city in North America,’ Quebec City is perhaps the most romantic city in North America too. Pitch camp at the legendary Le Chateau Frontenac, dine on fine cuisine at sidewalk cafes over a bottle of French wine, step into a horse-drawn carriage and listen to the clack of hooves on narrow cobblestone streets. The language, the lifestyle, the cuisine — nothing suggested we were just a few hours from the U.S. border.
Montreal was equally enchanting. The two cities, in fact, rank among the best I have ever visited. I liked them so much that I found myself looking for apartments to rent, a hazard of my profession.
I loved Saguenay too. I found it charming and relaxing and other-worldly. Life there seemed to revolve around the fjord and the fresh breezes off the water. As noted in one of the preceding stories, a hotel receptionist in La Baie, said of the Saguenay lifestyle, ‘We know how to breathe.’ That’s an important attribute that residents in few other places in the world can claim.
If you’ve read the stories preceding this one, it should be apparent that I also loved Quebec because it has many of the positive aspects of being in France — and none of the negative ones.
There’s no jetlag, as Quebec is only a short flight from most U.S. gateways. And although the Canadian dollar was gaining strength against the U.S. dollar when I was there and when this article went to press, Quebec is still a bargain when compared to most of Continental Europe. The fact that you can bring your own bottle of wine to many restaurants also makes Quebec even more of a bargain.
While my intention is not to bash France, comparisons are necessary with two places that are so much alike — and so very different. Quebec has none of the snobbery that many tourists attribute to France, deserved or not. Quebecers, in fact, are some of the friendliest and most hospitable people I’ve ever met.
If you’re ending or beginning a cruise in Quebec, you owe it to yourself to add a week (two nights in Montreal, three nights in Quebec City, and two nights in Saguenay). And if not, then it’s time to begin planning. Don’t do what I did and put off visiting Quebec. If you do, you’ll want to kick yourself for waiting so long.