It’s no surprise that the contestants on The Amazing Race Canada ended up in Quebec City this week. The city recently surpassed Vancouver’s as the most popular city in Canada. Several reasons for this are readily available:
- Its walled old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with well-preserved bastions, gates, and fortified structures dating back to the city’s founding in the 17th century.
- The city has fantastic restaurants and hotels, including the palace-like Chateau Frontenac, one of the world’s most photographed hotels.
- In winter, it hosts the largest winter carnival in the world, a celebration that’s often compared to Rio’s Carnaval or Mardi Gras.
These are all sound reasons to plan a trip to Quebec City, but there’s something more to it. A feeling one gets walking on the cobblestone, and an ambiance that greets you under the stone archway of Rue Saint-Jean. Visitors feel they have been transplanted somewhere in Europe, somewhere far more…romantic! Whether you’re in a T-shirt or bundled up with a cup of steaming hot chocolate, Quebec City wants to hold your hand, give you a spontaneous embrace, and a deep whimsical look in the eye.
Picture a young couple in love, call them Peter and Angela, visiting Quebec City for the first time. In Peter’s pocket is a diamond ring, in his heart the nerves of knowing what he has to do with it. But the right moment has to present itself.
Old town is small enough for them to explore in a couple of hours. They spend their time popping into galleries and chocolatiers in the beautifully restored Le Petit Champlain, walking past stained old statues and gothic churches. From here, they head to the Upper Town via a funicular that is reminiscent of the one located in Paris’ Bohemian Montmartre district. Opened in 1879, the funicular is one of its kind in North America. The glass encased car slowly ascends as they gaze out over the narrows of the St Lawrence, their hands joined, a memory to treasure.
Peter wonders if he should have waited for the winter. That’s when the city builds one of the most unique, and romantic hotels in the world. The Hotel de Glace uses 500 tons of ice and 15,000 tons of snow to create a glittering winter wonderland, consisting of 36 themed rooms and suites decorated with gorgeous carvings by local ice-sculptors. Surrounded by ice crystals, they could explore each room and grab a drink in the bar (served in an ice glass, of course). He could propose in the fur-lined chapel, before they spend a memorable night in one of the rooms. Of course, it would be -5C and they’d have to cover themselves head to toe with Arctic-grade sleeping bags to keep toasty through the night. Angela doesn’t handle cold too well, so perhaps it’s a good idea he waited until the summer.
They pack a picnic of fine cheese, a fresh baguette, French wine and artisan chocolate for a picnic on Dufferin Terrace. To work it off they climb the 310 steps up La Promenade des Gouverneurs, the St Lawrence flowing to their left. There’s summer festivities happening up ahead in the Plains of Abraham, but they return to the Chateau Frontenac to freshen up for the evening’s event.
That night, they take a sunset dinner boat cruise on the St Lawrence. The weather is perfect, and their timing is excellent. It’s the final night of the L’International des Feux Loto-Québec, one of the world’s best fireworks competitions. The sky explodes into a pyrotechnic palette of colours. Like millions of spectators around the city, Angela is mesmerized. She turns to Peter to see his reaction, and finds him on his knee. In his hand is a diamond ring reflecting the exploding crimson, gold and emerald colours from the sky.
Ten years later Angela and Peter return to Quebec City in the winter. I meet them in the hot tub outside the Hotel de Glace, as guests warm up for the night ahead. Angela says she would have said yes in the winter, summer, spring or fall. Peter is a great guy, and this is, after all, the most romantic city in Canada.