Quebec City is the last rampart of the Laurentians as they come tumbling down into the St. Lawrence River.
This tension between vertical cliffs and horizontal water gives the entire Quebec City region a unique character. The tension is perhaps best illustrated by nearby Montmorency Falls (shown in the feature image at the top of this post).
Wherever one goes in the Upper and Lower Towns of Quebec City, one is reminded of this proximity to mountains and the river.
I like the way Quebeckers have maintained close contact with the river, unlike Montrealers. The name “Quebec” comes from the Algonquin Kébec for “the place where the river narrows.” Quebec City is the meeting-place of fresh and salt water, of rolling hills and (in season) ice floes borne upstream on the tide, then downstream again towards the ocean.
I remember in February once, while reporting for a news-magazine about a container-ship bound from Montreal for Antwerp, descending the ship’s ladder in the middle of the night, as it swung this way and that in a stiff, chilling breeze, and jumping onto the pilot boat rocking in the water. My photographer and I had come along for the Montreal-Quebec portion of the voyage. I will never forget the great star-spattered night sky spreading out above us, and dark, restless waves looming below. How friendly the Château Frontenac looked, as we nudged finally up to the dock at the pilot-station so I could get my land-legs back!
Montreal is a lowland city largely cut off from the river.
Quebec City still has fortified city walls going back to New France, where Montreal’s fortifications long ago moved mostly underground, beneath layers of detritus and new construction.
Quebec’s well-preserved colonial architecture make it seem like Siena, in Tuscany: a compact, mid-sized jewel of a city full of charm and flair, with stunning views at every turn, meandering streets and so much atmosphere. It is the most beautiful city in North America.