Few cities in Canada offer the spectacle, or even the culture, that lives and breaths in Québec City. Throughout 2005 I’ve managed to travel across the country, with stops in Vancouver, Banff, Winnipeg, around Ontario, and throughout parts of New Brunswick and even into Prince Edward Island. Compared to the raw energy and vibrance in Québec City though, I can’t think of a place I want to revist and explore more.
The heart of Québec City, unlike a lot of other big cities, isn’t the downtown core that’s littered with sky scrapers and shopping malls. Instead, Québec City has a stunning, and picturesque Old Port that is the living, breathing soul of the city. Montreal has a great example of how this kind of heritage can provide a fun diversion, but for Québec City the Old Port is more than just a diversion – it’s like stepping back in time and into another culture, all at the same time.
Numerous hotels, including the Fairmont’s Chateau Frontenac, offer unique opportunities to stay inside this part of town to explore, but none can really compare to my new favorite hotel – the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Not only is it a beautiful property with almost everything you could ask for, but it also captures the style and heart of the city and truly gives you a window into its history.
The history of the hotel, and the property the hotel sits on, is actually a big part of what makes the Auberge Saint-Antoine so special. First settled in 1687, the Auberge is situated on one of the most culturally significant areas in Canada and it was through the Price Family which owns the hotel that the artifacts were unearthed, restored, and incorporated into the current hotel. The Saint-Antoine itself was opened in 1992 as a small urban Inn, but it took its current form in 2003 when the adjacent lot to the property was used to add 64 rooms to the existing building, which currently translates into 82 rooms and 12 suites.
Thanks to an arrangement with Québec City to borrow those historical objects and put them on display for their guests, there’s truly a unique feel throughout the halls of the Saint-Antoine. Visitors can see numerous examples of settler life, including a garrison wall, china, and even two canons in the main lobby, and other items throughout every floor of the hotel. These artifacts give the Saint-Antoine a special presence that is utterly extraordinary, and the property shows off the artifacts with a lot more life than you would ever see in a museum.
While that historical frame of reference is obviously important to the Saint-Antoine, the property is much more than just a hotel with artifacts on display. There’s an intimately stylish ambience that flows all the way from the front door to the guest rooms and the incredible staff always seem ready to help with anything you need. It’s honestly hard leaving the hotel once your stay is over, and I couldn’t help wanting to plan my next visit the minute after I had checked out.
Much like the city, it’s also interesting how the hotel has managed to mix history with an entirely modern vibe. On the modern side of things, the lobby spans two floors and includes a variety of lounge space, the Cafe Artefact bar, and has no less than three fireplaces. On the other hand the stunning Panache Restaurant, which features some of the best food I’ve had at a hotel, is decorated almost entirely in wood and stone and features modern accents that contrast the space, rather than clutter it.
Upstairs, the rooms are just as diverse and stunning and offer that contemporary blend of old and new all over again – from the view of the city to the little extras like the Bose sound system, it’s a perfect fit of everything you might want. Price also needn’t be a concern since you can splurge on one of the top suites, or you can make a choice for something just a bit simpler. I highly recommend the Luxe suites, which are entirely comfortable, reasonably priced, and many of these rooms feature balconies, plus the nicest bathrooms you could ever wish for in a hotel.
Business travellers will also want to consider the Saint-Antoine when visiting Québec City as the hotel offers meeting space (the James Hunt room is a beautiful board meeting room), customizable reception facilities, and free high-speed internet access in all the rooms.
In terms of the restaurants, guests can easily settle down in the morning to breakfast in their rooms, but the hotel also offers some fantastic choices, including a buffet. For lunch or dinner, or perhaps even a late dessert, the Panache offers a delicious menu, and the service is beyond exceptional. If you find no other time to go, at least visit the Panache for a glass of wine and something from their sweets menu – the almonds and peaches were delectable and it’s definitely an experience that will make you appreciate all that the Saint-Antoine has to offer.
Whatever reason you end up visiting Québec City, whether it’s to soak up the atmosphere, for business, or to discover Quebec’s history, I can’t recommend the Saint-Antoine more. If you live in Ontario like I do, Québec City is really just a day’s drive away, and even a weekend there is enough to give you a taste of what this city’s unique culture has to offer. Personally, I’d like to imagine that when I’m ready to write my first great novel I’ll rent a suite for a month, settle into the hotel, and use that ambience to get my creative juices flowing…
Québec City Events:
Québec City Festival of Sacred Music, October 27 – November 5, 2005
“The magnificent Saint-Roch church has been host to the Québec City Festival of Sacred Music since 1997. From Gospel music to Gregorian chants, from Corsican polyphony to ancient music, the Festival features music inspired by the world’s many spiritual traditions, both ancient and contemporary, performed by artists of international repute.”
Le Carnaval de Québec (Québec Winter Carnival), January 27 – February 12, 2006
“This international attraction featuring arts, culture, sporting events and entertainment is an unforgettable winter outing for the whole family.”
Québec City Summer Festival, July 6 – 16, 2006
“For the past 39 years, this festival has been drawing crowds with its unique holiday atmosphere. For 11 days the city is transformed into a giant outdoor stage where hundreds of performers show off their talents at some 10 venues in and around Old Québec City, all within easy walking distance.”
Fêtes de la Nouvelle France (New France Festival), Early August
“The only one of its kind in North America, the SAQ New France Festival will transport you to another era with its re-enactments, atmosphere, and hundreds of costumed festival-goers. And you won’t want to miss the ball and parades!”
Québec City – 400th Anniversary, July 3, 2008
“July 3, 2008 will mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec City, a milestone reached by very few North American cities. Québec City is hard at work preparing the commemorations of this historical event. It will be a time to celebrate past achievements, but also an opportunity to better understand the present, and to look towards the future.”
Images 1-4 copyright W. Andrew Powell, 2005.
Images 5-8 courtesy the Auberge Saint-Antoine.