D.he most powerful river in Canada seems frozen in time. Like a tank made of ice, it slowly pushes past the city. But there is currently no time for the magnificent view of the St. Lawrence River. Because the hands are already clutching the red rope in gloves.
Then the metal brake releases and the wooden sledge rushes down into the depths. After a few seconds you have reached 60 kilometers per hour, the edges of the ice channel crunch and scratch, small flakes patter on your cold cheeks.
A mountain of snow finally brings the vehicle to a stop in front of the Château Frontenac, the elegant landmark of the Canadian city of Quebec. Since 1884, visitors have been enjoying the thrill of the wintry ride on the wooden Dufferin terrace, which was built 80 meters above the river in the upper town and is also connected to the lower town by a funicular.
For vacationers from the USA, Quebec is a piece of Europe
Quebec, the capital of the Canadian province of the same name, feels like a piece of Europe for tourists from the USA. The two-part old town has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1985.
Its Norman architecture is completely different from what is known from other places on the continent. North of Mexico, the only preserved city fortifications in America can be seen here. The French language, which is the only official language in this province of Canada, also has an exotic appeal for Americans.
For guests from Europe, on the other hand, Quebec is a kind of “America light” – they are spared from skyscrapers and traffic chaos. You will also look in vain for the logos of restaurant and fashion chains. Or rather: they look different.
“Companies that want to hang their sign on a house facade must ensure that it adapts to the dignified style of the old town,” says Robert Lancup, who takes travelers on a stroll through Vieux-Québec to familiarize them with the many peculiarities of the city and region.
Much is more French here than in France
A mere 8.5 million people live in the province of Quebec in an area three times the size of France. Much of it is so far in the arctic north that you have to be damn hardboiled to live there. Quebec is known for apples, cider, and maple syrup. The outline of the maple leaf even adorns the Canadian national flag.
The province’s politics are heavily influenced by the debate about the role of Francophonie in the largely Anglophone Canada; many efforts are in the direction of greater sovereignty. In the past 40 years there have already been two referendums on independence, but each of them just failed.
The Quebecers attach great importance to maintaining their French history, which began in 1608 with the founding of the city. “A lot is more French here than in France,” says Dagmar Lombard, who runs a boutique hotel in the old town with her husband Guy.
You can already see this when you walk across the street: The many stop signs in the historic alleys do not say Stop, but the French word Arrest. The Quebec dialect has also retained some archaic terms that are long out of date in France. The cooking pot Casserole will be here Chaudron called, which means something like boiler. Anglicisms have also been deleted from the language. When Quebecers talk about the weekend, they don’t say Week-endbut – classically French – Fin de Semaine.
Ski holidays and city trips can be easily combined
Tourists from Germany have been discovering Quebec for several years. Around 40,000 of them visit the city every year – unless a pandemic is preventing them. In winter it is above all the 100 percent guaranteed snow that attracts people.
The slopes are so close to the city that a skiing holiday and a city trip can be easily combined. Those who want to go cross-country skiing can even do so directly in the city park. Today, official cross-country trails run through the Abraham Plain, where a battle between French and British troops took place in 1759. Those who prefer downhill skiing can reach groomed slopes within 30 minutes from the city center.
The drive to the most spectacular sight in the area takes just as long: the confluence of the Montmorency River into the Saint Lawrence River. Over an 83 meter high waterfall – that is 30 meters more than the Niagara Falls – the water plunges over a rock face into the depths and forms bizarre ice formations in the winter months.
A small suspension bridge connects the two banks of the river. However, you should hold your smartphone firmly when taking pictures; if it slips out of your hand, you will probably never see it again.
Warm up at the fire pits in town
Christmas lovers in particular will get their money’s worth in wintry Quebec, and will continue well into the New Year. Because all the jewelry in the streets and on the houses will only be removed again when the carnival is over at the end of February.
The buildings in the old town are particularly splendidly decorated: at the foot of a cliff is the Rue du Petit-Champlain, a pedestrian zone with many residential and commercial buildings from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Dozens of outside staircases connect the lower and upper town with each other, often with wooden steps.
And if you start to shiver while strolling through the narrow streets despite thick clothing, you can warm yourself at the dozen fire pits that are spread across the city and are flanked by sawn ice sculptures. Or, with a hot drink in hand, you can watch the ice skaters doing their laps on the many courses.
If you want to go on the ice yourself, you can rent a pair of ice skates by the hour and just run along. For an indoor stop, the Musée de la civilization (Museum of Civilization) is recommended, with permanent exhibitions on the cultural history of Quebec and the indigenous people.
The view of the ice floes in the river falls from the whirlpool
This winter everything was different, of course. The corona pandemic has resulted in numerous closings and restrictions. Tourists stayed away, and the locals also had to limit their free time. But the winter customs in Quebec City make you want to visit the lively place in the coming winter season.
Then you shouldn’t miss a visit to the Strom Spa, a thermal bath with lots of wood and stone elements, which was built right on the bank of the St. Lawrence River and is within walking distance of the old town. In a special pool with a 30 percent salt content, drifting feels like being in the Dead Sea.
In addition to the swimming pool, torches provide subtle lighting. When you relax in one of the whirlpools, your gaze follows the ice floes floating on the river towards the sea. Sometimes you don’t believe your eyes, because at high tide the tidal range ensures that the icebergs move exactly in the other direction – upstream.
Quebec is a lot different from the rest of North America. However, some special features also make it easy for visitors. A common example of this is the potato, which isn’t here Pomme de Terre as it is called in France, rather Patate. Even visitors from the USA should understand this, who otherwise only Potato know.
Tips and information for Canada
Getting there: Usually with, for example Air Canada or Lufthansa to Québec. German citizens do not need a visa to enter the country, but the electronic entry permit eTA; it must be requested on the Government of Canada website prior to commencing your flight.
Corona situation: There is currently an entry ban for Canada. Before entering the country, all entrants must also register using the ArriveCAN app and provide contact information for the mandatory 14-day quarantine plan.
Accommodation: The “Fairmont Le Château Frontenac” is considered the most photographed hotel in the world. In 1894 the Canadian Pacific Railway opened the building complex that characterizes the cityscape, double rooms with breakfast from 350 euros, www.fairmont.de/frontenac-quebec/. The recommended boutique hotel “Auberge Saint-Antoine” is located directly in the old town, double rooms with breakfast from 130 euros, saint-antoine.com.
Upper Servatoire de la Capitale: The viewing platform at a height of 221 meters offers a wide view, observatoire-capitale.com
Chute Montmorency: The waterfall is located eight miles northeast of Quebec. A cable car transports visitors up; a suspension bridge connects the river banks directly above the waterfall.
Information desk: bonjourquebec.com/en
Participation in the trip was supported by Bonjour Quebec. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.de/independence.