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Quebec: overview

If only all Canadians would visit Québec, most would acknowledge that it is not only the ‘original’ Canada of the first European settlement, but also the province that most comprehensively encompasses within its borders the world’s image of this huge country. To begin with, the province itself is huge: seven times the size of Britain or three times that of France. Forests cover two-thirds of the land: conifers in the north, and deciduous trees in the south, in particular the maple – whose leaf features on the national flag and which provides the delicious syrup – and the ash, oak and beech trees that blaze into crimson, amber and gold in autumn. Deer and moose abound; and further north there are herds of caribou.

Where it’s not forest, city, or the farmland established by the habitants of the St Lawrence Valley and the Eastern Township Loyalists, it’s water, water everywhere. The mighty St Lawrence River and Seaway link the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. Gigantic dams harness the water’s hydroelectric power north on James Bay, and east on the Manicouagan River. Lakes and streams shimmer with salmon, trout, eel and pike.

Although Montréal is bilingual, Québec City, New France’s old capital, and the rural villages along the St Lawrence and around the Gaspé Peninsula, are resolutely French-speaking. The Québécois can justly claim to be co-founders of the Canadian nation. Abandoned by what many called the ‘damned French’ (maudits français), they felt that they alone had earned the name of canadiens, and that their British conquerors usurped it. As a tribute to their own past courage, there is both pride and resentment in the Québécois motto ‘Je me souviens’ (‘I remember’). It was they who made the first and hardiest effort to hew a modern living out of this hard land. 

Outside Montréal, people don’t necessarily speak English. Many make it a point of pride not to, until you’ve at least paid them the courtesy of a ‘Bonjour’. By Québec provincial law, public signs are predominantly in French.

Places to visit in Quebec

Montreal

Quebec's largest city is a sprawling mix of neighbourhoods. Read more about Montreal...

Quebec City

The French heart of Quebec province is a delight to stroll around. Read more about Quebec City...

Parc du Mont-Tremblant

The full natural beauty of the Laurentians is best appreciated in Parc du Mont-Tremblant. Hire a canoe or kayak to explore some of the 500 lakes and rivers that sparkle across an area of 1,500 sq km (579 sq miles). It was the rush of those streams that inspired the Algonquin name Manitonga Sontana, Mountain of the Trembling Spirit. Its 1,058m (3,468ft) Johan nsen peak is the highest in the Laurentians. At the St-Donat reception centre and other entry points to the park you’ll find detailed maps of nature trails with signposts describing the forest’s flora and fauna. The park also provides forest guides for group tours.

The wildlife, even more abundant in the Rouge-Matawin Nature Reserve to the north, includes moose, deer, bears, otters, mink, musk rats, foxes and beavers, as well as grouse, loons, herons, finches and warblers. Anglers can hope to catch speckled and lake trout, pike, bass and walleye.

Parc National du Canada Forillon

At the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula, Parc National du Canada Forillon (Forillon National Park) offers great facilities for fishing, boat cruises, diving (wetsuits are obligatory) and hiking. In the midst of these spectacular land and seascapes, even the least artistic may be tempted to take up painting, or simply to take as many photographs as possible. In the waters of the Gulf of St Lawrence, look out for humpback and minke whales, and harbour and grey seals. Wildlife inside the park includes fat little porcupine, hares, red squirrels, deer, moose and the occasional bear, lynx and fox. Birdwatchers are spoilt for choice: some 225 species live here, with guillemots and cormorants among the easier ones to spot. 

Top hotels in Quebec

  • Hotel Gault

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449 rue Sainte-Helene

Montreal

tel: 904-1616/1-866-904-1616

In Old Montreal, a marvellous conversion offers 30 ultra modern loft-style rooms. 

  • Hotel Le Germain

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2050 rue Mansfield

Montreal

tel: 849-2050/1-877-333-2050

A chic boutique-hotel in a former office building, trendily located in downtown Montreal. 

  • Hotel Nelligan

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106 rue St-Paul Ouest

Montreal

tel: 788-2040/1-877-788-2040

Beautifully restored stone-and-brick building, dating to the 1830s, in the heart of Old Montreal, with 63 comfortable and spacious rooms and a superb restaurant, Verses.

  • Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac

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1 rue des Carrieres

Quebec City

tel: 692-3861/1-866-540-4460

600-room castle set atop a cliff overlooking the St Lawrence River - worth seeing even if you don't stay overnight.

  • Hotel Clarendon

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57 rue Ste-Anne

Quebec City

tel: 266-2165/1-877-778-8977

The city's oldest hotel. Centrally located and good value. 

  • Hotel 71

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71 rue Saint-Pierre

Quebec City

tel: 692-1171/1-888-692-1171

In Le Vieux-Port, a designer-boutique hotel within a neo-classical building, formerly the National Bank's first head office. 

Top restaurants in Quebec

  • Au Pied de Cochon

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536 rue Duluth Est

Montreal

tel: 281-1114

Hugely acclaimed for very generous portions of fresh seafood, meat - including bison and venison in season - and fowl, all prepared to perfection. 

  • Cluny

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257 rue Prince

Montreal

tel: 866-1213

A cafeteria and self-described 'Art-Bar' in Old Montreal that serves overstuffed sandwiches filled with fresher than fresh ingredients. 

  • L'Express

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3927 rue St-Denis

Montreal

tel: 845-5333

The essence of Montreal dining, with marble tabletops, a long narrow bar, and great, unpretentious French bistro food. 

  • Aux Anciens Canadiens

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34 rue St-Louis

Quebec City

tel: 692-1627

Housed in one of the oldest houses in Quebec, this hugely popular restaurant serves large helpings of delicious Quebecois fare. 

  • La Marie Clarisse

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12 Petit-Champlain

Quebec City

tel: 692-0857

One of the city's best seafood restaurants, in the Lower Town. 

  • Laurie Raphael

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117 rue Dalhousie

Quebec City

tel: 692-4555

A bright, airy restaurant in the Old Port, its menu devoted to regional ingredients. 

  • Toast

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17 Sault-au-Matelot

Quebec City

tel: 692-1334

A gastronomic adventure in an intimate setting; try to leave room for dessert. 

Read more about Canada

Read more about Canada in Insight Guides: Canada

Insight Guides: Canada

Insight Guide Canada is a comprehensive, full-colour guide to getting the most out of one of the world's most beautiful countries. Engaging History and Culture chapters explain the tumultuous histor...

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