The ten square kilometres of Vieux-Québec’s Haute-Ville, encircled by the city walls, form the Québec City of the tourist brochures. Dominated by the Château Frontenac, it holds a glut of historic architecture and several compelling museums. The whole area is undeniably enchanting, and simply strolling along its maze of streets is one of the city’s great pleasures.
Place d’Armes and around
Haute-Ville’s centre of gravity is the main square, the Place d’Armes, with benches around the central fountain serving in the summer as a resting place for throngs of weary sightseers. Champlain established his first fort here in 1620, on the site now occupied by the gigantic Château Frontenac, probably Canada’s most photographed building. Beside it stands the Maison Maillou, which houses the Québec chamber of commerce. Dating from 1736, this grey-limestone metal-shuttered house, with its steeply slanting roof, displays the chief elements of the climate-adapted architecture brought over by the Norman settlers. On the west side of the square, on the spot where the Récollet missionaries built their first church and convent, is the former Palais de Justice, a Renaissance-style courthouse designed in 1877 by Eugène-Étienne Taché, architect of the province’s Parliament buildings.
New York architect Bruce Price drew upon the French-Canadian style of the surroundings to produce the Château Frontenac, a pseudo-medieval red-brick pile crowned with a copper roof. Although the hotel was inaugurated by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1893, its distinctive main tower was only added in the early 1920s, resulting in an over-the-top design that makes the most of the stupendous location atop Cap Diamant. Numerous notables, including Queen Elizabeth II, have stayed here.
Fronting the Château Frontenac, the wide clifftop boardwalk of the Terrasse Dufferin provides a spectacular vantage point over Basse-Ville and the St Lawrence. Underlying part of the boardwalk are the foundations of Frontenac’s Château St-Louis, which served as the governor’s residence for two centuries until a fire destroyed it in 1834. The leafy park running alongside the boardwalk was the château’s garden – hence its name, the Jardin des Gouverneurs. To the south, a long flight of stairs leads up to the Promenade des Gouverneurs, a narrow boardwalk perched precariously on the cliff face below the Citadelle that leads to the Plaines d’Abraham.
At the north end of the terrace – which offers charming views of the river – stands a romantic statue of Champlain and, beside it, a modern sculpture symbolizing Québec City’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From here a funicular descends to Vieux-Québec’s Basse-Ville; save that for the weary walk back up, and instead take the stairs down at the north end of the terrace to the Porte Prescott, one of the city’s four rebuilt gates.