QUEBEC CITY, on the St. Lawrence River three hours’ drive north of Montreal, is ridiculously picturesque — the oldest parts, anyway, where stone houses, some from the 17th century, form an Upper Town and a Lower Town on a steep escarpment, and much of the original city wall, below, a fortification from the days of the early European settlers, remains perfectly intact (it’s the only walled city in North America).
In a two-day stay, I especially enjoyed the outstanding municipal plantings — oversized annuals that provide wowie-kazowie color in the city’s extensive park system — and wandering the streets of the residential neighborhood surrounding the lovely church of St. Jean le Baptiste, below.
The vintage townhouses in Upper Old Town — a couple of choice examples, below — are mostly spiffily restored.
The funkier houses on hilly neighborhood streets outside the wall, like Rue Richelieu and Rue Olivier (where our Air BnB was located), below, are in varying states of repair. Their gabled or mansard rooflines, steeply pitched to shed snow, clearly reflect French influence.
The atmospheric Rue St. Jean is lined with phenomenal Victorian storefronts still in use as grocery stores, pubs and cafés, below.
What you have to close your eyes to is a fair amount of unfortunate 1970s architecture, large blocky buildings bearing corporate logos that mar the city skyline and aren’t going away any time soon.
August in Quebec City — especially Sundays in August — is jam-packed with visitors, many concentrated around the riverside landmark Chateau Frontenac, below, a 600+-room city unto itself that looks like a Disney castle, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway and opened in 1893.
Down a steep staircase (you can also take a funicular) are the even more ancient streets and stone houses of the Lower Town, now all about souvenir shopping.
There’s an impressive daily farmers’ market at the old port, below.
In a hectic couple of hours toward the end of our stay, we tore off to the Musée Nationale des Beaux-Arts du Quebec to catch an amusing exhibition of the work of photographer Philippe Halsman, below, famed for his LIFE magazine covers, lively celebrity portraits and long collaboration with Salvador Dalí.
Final stop: the 15-acre Van den Hende botanical garden at nearby Laval University, below, whose extensive greenhouses yield those super-sized flowers in which Quebec seems to specialize, putting those of us with longer growing seasons to shame.