Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Quebec: Haute-Ville

Hotel Frontenac

We have now arrived in Quebec on the next leg of our Canadian tour. The old town is divided into two parts: the Basse-Ville (the lower town, where we are staying) and the Haute-Ville (the upper town, today's walk). Quebec is famously the only walled city in North America and we wanted to do the tour of the walls so far as it can be done. You can reach the Haute-Ville by a funicular, but true to type we started the walk by walking up a couple of steep flights of stairs.

You emerge at the top in front of the Hotel Frontenac ("Le Chateau", as it is known locally) which dominates the Haute-Ville and Basse-Ville alike. It was built in 1892-3 and has an amazing 618 rooms. You can even take a guided tour.

We walked along the wide board-walk overlooking the St Laurence river and swung to the right to climb up a hill with fantastic views over the river and beyond.

Further along we saw a pair of charming late 19th century buildings ...

... and then followed the edge of La Citadelle to finally reach its main entrance. This star-shaped fortress was built to defend against American attacks after the end of the war of 1812. The fort has such a low profile that it is almost invisible from most angles. Sadly - or perhaps happily - it has never been called on to defend the city.

After walking around the perimeter we walked away from both fort and river along the line of the old city walls.

To the left as you walk along the walls there is the famous Plains of Abraham where bold Wolff (to quote the folk song) defeated the French general Montcalm in 1769. A bit further on we reached the Porte St Louis. The original gate was built in 1693, but what you see today is a reconstruction of 1878. It has a disturbingly Disneyland look about it.

Happily the ramparts continue onwards towards the Porte St Jean.

From here the route follows the line of the walls but now you are on top of walls which simply fall away below, without any clear battlements or sense of classic city walls. However, we did see this fine pair of (presumably) turn of the twentieth century houses. They would have looked well in Brussels or Vienna.

We followed the rue des Ramparts past the Catholic Seminary and the took a right to reach the Basilica-Cathedral of Notre Dame. It dates back to 1647, but most of what you see today is from the reconstruction of 1771.

Opposite is quite lively little square where a succession of acts entertained the public: we watched some acrobats and saw them give way to a musician.

From here we walked past the undistinguished Anglican Cathedral (1804), saw the oldest house in Quebec, Maison Jacquet of 1677 (now, almost inevitably, a restaurant), looked with interest in a shop selling Inuit sculpture and then returned to the square in front of the Frontenac hotel.

Conditions: cloudy but warm.

Distance: maybe three miles.

Rating: Four stars. Enjoyable, with some fine views and sights, but maybe more could be done to create a more continuous and coherent "tour of the city walls" on the model of say Chester.

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