Ever looked at a Christmas Village and wondered what it’d be like to live in one? If you have, then you should visit Quebec City during its Christmas festival season (mid-November to end of December).
To begin with, Old Quebec City, founded in 1608 by the French, is the most European and Christmas Village looking city in North America. Check these out:
The last video above is especially romantic: small rustic restaurant named “Lapin Saute” (The Jumping Rabbit), steady falling snow outside, and they even use a real fireplace so you hear the wood crackling.
Before you romanticize the scenes above too much, keep in mind that Lapin Saute specializes in serving furry and adorable rabbits. I had the kidney and liver rabbit salad:
Quebecoise cuisine is rednecky. Game meat — deer, rabbit, guinea fowl, and duck — is on the menu at most restaurants in Old Quebec City. Deer tartare (my first time) at Le Clan, a modernist restaurant (there are six of them there I’m aware of), below.
I also had deer tartare at a diner, and in both cases, the deer didn’t taste gamey, it’s more of a lighter version of its beef counterpart. Guinea fowl, which I tried for the first time, is a bit denser and stronger in flavor than chicken. Rabbit is also similar to chicken, but denser and earthier. Duck is fattier and more flavorful than chicken. Below is duck confit drumsticks with veggie (beets, yams, and potatoes) fries, from Sam Bistro.
Above is pan seared foie gras from La Buche (the log) a redneck diner that plays music from Quebec Redneck Bluegrass Project.
Main difference is that the redneck foie gras is sweeter than usual because it has so much maple syrup. And they added bacon to it. On the fish side, Salmon — smoked or served as tartare — is most common.
When to go
I went the last week of November for nearly a week. Temperatures ranged from 40F to 10F, which is typical, and it snowed for a few of the days. If you go in mid December, when the temperatures rarely get above 30F and will sometimes dip below 0F, but the toboggan rides next to the Saint Laurent River and the Frontenac Castle Hotel are open!
It should also be cold enough by then that you can visit the construction of the Ice Hotel outside of Old Quebec City.
It’s cold but at least they provide open air fire pits for you to warm up to. Here are a few at the German Christmas Market that’s open over the weekends.
At the German Market, you can buy small hand crafted gifts and food, including fondue, homemade candy, and hot (as in temperature) tomato wine and hot ginger shots.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Fairmont Frontenac, supposedly the most photographed hotel in the world. I’d stay there again, even though I did research boutique alternatives for the same cost ($200/night). First, it’s a great location especially if you’re there during the toboggan ride season starting in mid December. The river is there, as is the funicular to visit the lower part of the city, which is also where the art galleries are. Unlike comparably rated hotels, it has a gym and a pool, great to have in case there’s a cold snap or because the the sidewalks are difficult to walk on. WARNING: they surprisingly don’t do a good job of shoveling and salting sidewalks so bring snow shoes, hiking shoes aren’t good enough.
It’s a big ass hotel, with several wings and up to 17 floors. Inside are cute and pricey shops and four restaurants, so there’s enough going on in there to keep you busy for an entire day if you don’t feel like going out.
DON’T stay at a low rated hotel, where safety measures will be lax and guests are more likely to do stupid shit like start a fire. That’s what happened a few blocks away, and it shut down power on several city blocks, including at the Frontenac for two hours. Imagine standing outside in the cold for hours, waiting for the fire department to finish working.
Since it’s a famous hotel with a couple of well known restaurants, it’s busy with tourists. The lobbies will be crowded and noisy. If that bothers you, then consider a comparably priced boutique hotel where you’ll probably get more intimate service. Oh, and don’t expect Frontenac to look like a Fairmont. My basic room with city view was perfect size — large enough for yoga and there’s a desk to use as a workstation. But perhaps because the hotel opened in 1893, it feels a bit dated and some of their updates are questionable. The shower head, for instance, is great for residential use, but too complicated for hotels. Otherwise, everything works well, as expected from a Fairmont.
Quebec City isn’t just the capital of Quebec, it’s the cultural capital of French-Canada. Most everyone who works in the Old City speaks English in addition to French so English speakers don’t have to worry about language barriers. Those of you who want to practice French, Quebec City is better than Montreal. People in QC were more likely to help you practice French than in Montreal, where French speaking folks aren’t as protective of the French language and they all seem to speak English perfectly.
Bacon and two eggs breakfast is $18 CND. An IPA is $9 CND. Take 20% off and that’ll be your cost in USD, so prices are comparable to what you’d find in the US.
Clean, no visible drug users, street whores, and homeless. A lot more tourists than expected, Saturday evening was shoulder to shoulder. Has a Disney atmosphere except everything is real.
Restaurant food could’ve been more varied, seemed like most restaurants served the same ingredients — game meats, poutine, fondue, fish and chips. I suspect locals have a more varied diet, as there are a bunch of ramen places just outside of Old Quebec. I saw a Japanese restaurant, but it was closed, for some reason.
Next up, Mexico City and Queretaro. Followed by Guanajuato and then Lima, Peru.