A drippy, not snowy, winter day in Quebec City is a perverse joy.
You practically have the oldest part of the city – the tourist area filled with shops, restaurants and historic buildings that teems with visitors in summer – to yourself. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s almost yours alone.
However, it’s winter – and it’s before the crowds of Carnaval de Quebec, the pre-Lent blowout of winter revelry, show up. Few are out on the cobblestone streets and the slick and steep sidewalks.
Every step is an adventure. You’re either splatting into a pile of slush or gingerly stepping onto a spot that you really, really hope isn’t ice. It’s akin to being in the marching band that’s behind an equestrian unit.
It really doesn’t matter, however, because you’re surrounded by history.
French explorer Samuel de Champlain, whose statue shivers in the cold outside the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac Hotel, founded Quebec in the early 17th century.
Finding proof is easy. Just walk down Rue St. Louis to find Aux Anciens Canadiens. It’s a restaurant now, but it was built as a house – in 1675.
The historic district is in two parts. Upper Town is high atop a cliff. Fortified ramparts and other defensive works stand guard, holding back the high-rise hotels and office towers just beyond, and Lower Town is at the foot of the palisades along the ice-clogged St. Laurence River.
A narrowing of the river and the impressive cliffs make Quebec’s strategic value obvious. This was where the colonial powers saw a choke point. Whoever controlled this spot controlled access to the Great Lakes and to the interior of North America.
The French came first, then the British, but the French influence is what persevered.
And that’s what’s so magnetic – even on a drippy winter day.
(You’ll find visitor information here. Quebec City is accessible by car, train, airplane – less than two hours’ flight from New York City – bus and rickshaw.)