Back in the summer of 2008, I accompanied my quite adventurous grandmother to Quebec City, the heart of French-Canadian territory. French is still the primary language for most people there, although basically everyone knows how to speak English (Whether or not they’ll let you know that, well, that just depends). These Canadians are fiercely French and hold tightly to their roots. This is why my grandmother wanted to visit. Growing up as a Cajun girl in South Louisiana, French was her native tongue. When she was a teacher, she worked with an exchange program in France. She vacationed in Europe several times in her more youthful midlife years. My grandmother, when she was more lucid, was a francophile through and through. Early in 2008 she realized that she was too old and too frail to cross the Atlantic to get to Europe one last time. So we did the next best thing: we flew to Quebec City.
At the time she was relatively healthy, but it was quite obvious that my grandmother was aging and losing some of her physical ability and dexterity. Despite that, she wanted to feel like she was in Europe one last time. She wanted to do her two favorite things: make friends with random strangers and speak French to her heart’s content. She truly felt a connection to French people and the French language. That’s the core of who she was. My grandmother’s decline has since continued, but when I feel sad about it, I think back on our time in Quebec City. I think back to her last European experience. I think back to the iconic Château Frontenac.
While we didn’t stay at the Château Frontenac on our trip to Quebec City, we did stay quite close to it. We were actually on the top of the Jardin du Gouverneur, a park that sits adjacent to the hotel. The Château Frontenac is the most emblematic part of Quebec City’s skyline. The 600+ room behemoth has been a prominent fixture of Quebec City since it was first constructed as a hotel back in 1893. It’s named for Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac, a prominent and memorable governor of New France in the seventeenth century. While what you see today is larger and more expansive than the original building, the “chateau” style architecture for which the hotel is named was part of the original design.
The featured picture above was taken from the ferry that connects the small city of Lévis to the bigger, more metropolitan side of the St. Lawrence River that is Quebec City. This ferry offers the best full views of the hotel. When you’re on land and the hotel is within sight, you’re typcially fairly close to the hotel, and it’s difficult to get a sense of its scope. The building is quite massive and a bit ominous since you are in its shadows, or you at least have it within view, from many places along the riverfront.
While in Quebec City, my grandmother and I found ourselves in the Château quite often. The hotel provides free tours of the property, which includes tales of long ago times and even offers views of a couple of the hotel rooms. If you’re into old hotels and early 20th century history, this tour is for you. The Château also has a few dining options as well as a retail shops on its ground floor. We visited in the summer so it was nice to escape into the large, cool hotel to avoid the July heat. It’s an interesting building in which to spend time. I felt like I was transported back to an older time and place, which is one of my favorite feelings when traveling.
If you’re looking for a taste of Europe without having to cross the Atlantic, consider Quebec City. While you’re there, you must visit the Château Frontenac. Whether you’re a history buff, an architecture nerd, or a just someone that can appreciate something grand, you’ll find that the Château Frontenac delivers.