Quebec's main attractions are Quebec City, beautiful scenery, outdoor recreation of all kinds, Montreal, French Canadian culture, wildlife, fall foliage, historic sites, magnificent river and ocean shorelines, whale-watching, the Saguenay River and Fjord, winter sports and the Gaspe Peninsula.
Practically every traveler will find something of interest in Quebec, especially those who enjoy history, scenic beauty and French culture. Be aware that on occasion there may be no one present who can speak English, particularly in rural areas.
There's less talk these days about Quebec becoming an independent country. But for most visitors to the province, it's already a place quite distinct from the rest of North America. Those differences are why people visit.
Language, of course, is the most obvious distinction, but the most enjoyable one has to do with lifestyle. There's a bon-vivant temperament to Quebec that's hard to find in the English-speaking provinces of Canada. Quebecois tend to spend hours talking, drinking and eating. In the cafes and restaurants, servers rarely rush you. And like their counterparts in France, the Quebecois take food seriously: You will eat well there.
One joy of traveling in Quebec has little to do with culture or language: It's simply a beautiful place. The wide St. Lawrence River is the backdrop for many of the province's cities and towns, with mountains rising to the north of the river. In fact, a tour through the St. Lawrence Valley will let you experience picturesque islands, rugged fjords and rustic countryside. Remote wilderness can be found in the farther reaches of this vast province.
Much of Quebec is made up of the Laurentian Plateau, which is part of the barren Canadian Shield. In some places, such as the Laurentian Mountains northeast of Montreal and in the Appalachian highlands in the southeast, there are a few peaks with relatively high elevations. The southernmost 100 mi is primarily farmland, rolling hills, lakes and pleasant scenery. The province's most prominent feature is the mighty St. Lawrence River, along which the major cities lie.
In previous centuries, Quebec's lands were used as hunting, trapping and fishing grounds for the Nipissing, Algonquian and Inuit people. The Vikings may have visited Quebec around AD 1000, but the first documented European explorer to see the province was Jacques Cartier, who arrived in 1534. In the early 1600s, Samuel de Champlain and other French explorers began to establish a few trading posts and settlements, including one at the site of Quebec City. But it wasn't until the late 1600s that French colonists began to settle the land in larger numbers.
Soon, Britain began to squeeze the French out of the Atlantic provinces. Many of the refugees ended up in what is now Quebec, making the colony's French character even stronger. By the 1700s, France was losing its hold on its North American possessions altogether.
The area grew strong economically—its strategic location on the St. Lawrence River (now called the St. Lawrence Seaway) between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes helped make it an essential center for commerce and westward expansion. As a result, Quebec had some leverage with which to retain its French culture and language when it joined the Canadian confederation in 1867.
But repeatedly over the past century, some groups in Quebec have called for greater provincial autonomy, stirring debate, controversy and occasional violence. The collapse in 1990 of the Meech Lake Accord, which would have shifted more power from the national government to the provinces and given Quebec recognition as a "distinct society" was followed by the province's 1995 referendum on secession from Canada. The referendum was defeated—but just barely. The separatist movement seems to have less support of late, but the issue has not been put to rest.
SEE AND DO
The original voyageurs began exploring Quebec's rivers and waterways hundreds of years ago, and the powerful rivers and majestic lakes they discovered continue to draw canoeing enthusiasts from around the world. Some of the most popular rivers are the Bonaventure, which begins high up in the Chic-Choc mountains, and the Coulonge River in the Laurentians, which features stretches of dramatic white water and abundant wildlife including moose, deer and caribou. Although it is possible to paddle down the St. Lawrence seaway from Montreal to Quebec City in about five days, the heavy boat traffic means that most people prefer to travel on sail or motorboats, completing the journey more quickly and more comfortably.
The vast size of the province means that it boasts a wide variety of forests, from tundra to subalpine and boreal, making it a hiker's paradise.
Quebec's alpine areas have a special old-world ambience that you just can't find elsewhere in North America. In addition to plentiful amenities at the ski resorts in Charlevoix and the Laurentians (les Laurentides), consider the "Big Four" area, southeast of Montreal in Quebec's Eastern Townships (near the border with Vermont). The peaks of Bromont, Mont Sutton, Mont Orford and Owl's Head form an interconnected ski complex for serious skiers (all four peaks are located within a 25-mi radius of Knowlton).
This mountainous region, the northern extension of the Appalachians, is still very much a farming community: It does not have the bustle of the resorts in the Laurentians. The skiing, however, is some of the best in eastern North America—comparable to that at any of the resorts in Vermont.
The aboriginal artisans of Quebec produce beautiful wood and stone carvings. Soapstone carvings of polar bears, whales and other marine wildlife are particularly plentiful. (If you want to be sure a piece was made by an aboriginal artisan, ask for the government-provided certificate of authenticity.) There are many galleries along the St. Lawrence Seaway that sell the work of local artists, from watercolors to porcelains.
The fur industry is alive and well in Quebec (as in all of Canada). You'll find fur coats, fur hats, fur gloves, even fur purses. Canada produces more than 70% of the world's pure maple syrup, 91% of which is made in Quebec, where there are more than 200 varieties of maple syrup to choose from.
You'll find some of the most sophisticated cuisine on the continent in Quebec's major cities—prepare to eat well and often. Seafood bisque, consomme and cream sauces over seafood are common. The Quebecois menu relies heavily on pork, beef steak, lamb, veal, sweetbreads and duck. (Smaller towns in the province can present a challenge for vegetarians.) You'll also find French quiche, crepes and croissants. Wild game is plentiful: Many restaurants offer venison, buffalo and other choices in the fall.
In recent years, the dining scene in both Montreal and Quebec City has had an influx of exciting new restaurants. The trend is toward highlighting regional, seasonal ingredients while rediscovering and updating traditional Quebecois cuisine.
DOS AND DON'TS
Do have a smoked-meat (usually pork or corned beef) sandwich in Montreal: You can get one at any delicatessen. Smoked-meat sandwiches are to Montreal what deep-dish pizza is to Chicago.
Do take your own wine into restaurants with "apportez votre vin" displayed in the window. The restaurants are not permitted to sell alcohol.
Do be aware that a voter's registration card is no longer sufficient proof of U.S. citizenship when crossing the border to and from Canada. You need either a passport or a birth certificate accompanied by a photo ID.
Don't turn right on a red light in Montreal. And don't use a radar-warning device in your car—it's forbidden.
Do secure the necessary permits for freshwater fishing and the special permits for salmon. They are available at most hunting and fishing retail stores as well as convenience stores. A number of licenses are available, and the cost depends on how long the license is valid as well as what types of fish the license holder may catch.
Don't make sweeping statements about politics unless you are up for a debate. The Quebecois are passionate about their politics, and this complex and divisive issue is best left to the locals.
Those who named the town of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! were not making a joke: To French explorers, a haha was a barrier—a reference to the end of the lake.
On the Ile aux Grues, a small 5-sq-mi island in the St. Lawrence River, the people still celebrate mi-careme, a medieval tradition where everyone puts on elaborate disguises and parades from house to house, hoping to fool their hosts as to their true identities. The weeklong festival, which includes much drinking and dancing, takes place during Lent.
Chateau Montebello, a sprawling resort on the Ottawa River between Montreal and Ottawa, is the world's largest log cabin. Elk, bison and wild boar roam through nearby Omega Park.
At the Saint-Benoit-du-Lac Abbey, overlooking Lake Memphremagog in the Eastern Townships, you can buy the abbey's superb apple butter and cheese (along with recordings of Gregorian chants, for which the monks are justly famous). You can also stay there overnight.
If you're not a skier, you can still enjoy schussing down the slopes of Quebec's mountains. Tubing—sliding down the mountain on an inflated inner tube—has become popular at many of Quebec's ski resorts, and no previous experience is necessary.
Many Quebec villages, distinguished by Victorian-style houses, were settled by loyal British subjects who fled the U.S. at the time of the Revolutionary War.
The correct (and certainly politically correct) pronunciation of Quebec is keh-BECK. Montreal is MUN-tree-all.
The Quebec flag includes the fleur-de-lis, once the symbol of the French royal family.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Take along proof of legal custody if you're arriving from the U.S. with your child and the other parent is not accompanying you. (For proof, you'll need birth certificates and passports for both you and your child and a notarized letter from the other parent giving permission for travel. If you have joint custody, the custody papers are also necessary.)
All U.S. citizens must have a passport when traveling by air.
Passports are required for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders with the U.S. and for cruise passengers returning to the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada or Bermuda.
Reconfirm travel-document requirements prior to departure.
Languages: French, though some English is spoken, especially in large cities and tourist areas.
Predominant Religions: Christian (Roman Catholic, Protestant).
Time Zone: 4-5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-4 and -5 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October.
Voltage Requirements: 110 volts.
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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