Finding Nature and Night Walks, Music and Magic beyond Québec City’s Walls

Québec City, the capital of the Canadian province of Québec, sits regally overlooking the Saint Lawrence River and exuding a sort of aura reflecting its 400 years of history. Although the city is only 100 miles from the United States, its native French speakers and grand architecture lend a decidedly European flavor. You’ll feel this especially in the walled Old City — Vieux Québec — where visitors congregate to stroll its pedestrian-friendly cobblestone streets.

Old Québec is also home to a cruise port, which serves as a turnaround port of Silversea’s autumnal sailings through Canada and New England. If you’re on a leaf leaf-peeping journey, consider staying before or after your trip (or both) and extend the magic. It’s well worth tacking on some additional time, especially in the fall.

Here are four ideas for spending an afternoon or evening beyond Québec’s historic walls. (And yes, for the motivated, you can see more than one of these in a day, but taking your time to savor the season, as I recently did, has its rewards.) Hop in a rental car and get ready for a scenic drive.

Montmorency Falls and Î’lle d’Orléans

Montmorency Falls, Quebec/Photo Wikimedia Commons by Abubakr Saeed

The closest and easiest jaunt from Québec City is the Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, just 15 minutes by car outside Old Québec. Montmorency Falls, nearly 100 feet taller than Niagara Falls, is an awesome natural wonder to behold, whether you are gazing on its cascade from the suspension bridge, cable car or a park bench among the orchards.

Quebec”s Manoir Montmorency about 1900 and in recent times/Photos Wikimedia Commons and at right by Stefanos Stefanos

A 487-step leads to a panoramic view, but if you’d rather relax on your vacation, consider brunch at the onsite Montmorency Manoir instead. Book online for access to the falls (about $7/person) plus a parking pass ($3.78). (Prices are in Canadian dollars.)

Ten minutes from Montmorency, across the stunning Pont de Î’lle bridge is Île d’Orléans. This pristine island in the center of the St. Lawrence River is an autumnal wonderland filled with farms, apple orchards, cideries and wineries. Spend the day sampling wine, cheese and fresh produce from the six quaint villages of this agricultural escape.

Take the Chemin Royal — the island’s only road and a 47-mile jaunt — to circle Orléans. Popular stops include Cassis Monna & Filles, family-owned producers of black currant wine, spirits and other products; La Midinette bakery, overlooking the 18th-century Church of Saint-Jean and the island’s observation tower to work off some of that fromage and take in panoramic views of the foliage.

Canyon Sainte-Anne and Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Shrine

Fall in Montmorency Falls/ Photo by Wikimedia Commons by Ummi.zaynab.hossain

The gushing falls of Canyon Sainte-Anne, which recently marked 50 years as a park, carve into rock that’s about 1.2 billion years old. Spend some time here admiring the vistas from every angle, made possible with a winding nature trail and three well-placed suspension bridges (photo at top by Wikimedia Commons by Jiaqian AirplaneFan) that guarantee an envy-inducing photo. The McNicoll Bridge, not for those with vertigo, stretches 196 feet above ground. Luckily, you’ll have the time to creep across; the canyon is just a 45-minute drive from Old Québec.

Despite its slightly intimidating name, the AirCanyon, a seated suspension ride, zips you across the canyon and the Saint-Anne River at 32 mph. If you’re looking to take it a little slower, look for the stories of mythical creatures called the Petraminis at each observation deck. For those with reduced mobility, a shuttle service provides access to the north rim of the canyon, including two of the suspension bridges and a flat path across multiple lookout points. General admission to the Canyon Saint-Anne is $14 a person. The park is open annually until Oct. 20.

Less than 15 minutes into your drive back into Vieux Québec, you will come to the marvelous sanctuary and shrine of Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré, whose 300-foot-tall spires are hard to miss. This basilica is one of eight nationally recognized shrines of Canada, built to honor Saint Anne, mother of Mary (grandmother of Jesus).

The basilica, associated with miraculous healing, hosts nearly half-a-million pilgrims each year. St. Anne is also the patron saint of sailors. The gilded ceiling mosaic alone is well worth a look inside. It’s free to enter, but donations are accepted.

Wendake and the Ohnwa’ Lumina Experience

Ohnwa’ Lumina Night Walk/Photo courtesy Onhwa’ Lumina

A half-hour ride northwest of the Old City is Wendake, the dedicated territory of the Huron-Wendat Nation. This First Nations reservation showcases the touchstones of regional indigenous culture while also offering excellent fine dining, shopping and accommodations. Visit the Huron-Wendat Museum, take a bike or canoe ride, join a “Myths and Legends” storytelling session and even book a stay in the lodge or inside a traditional longhouse. Prices vary by activity.

If you’re looking for an immersive and enchanting endeavor after sundown, book the Ohnwa’ Lumina night walk. This magical, multimedia experience guides visitors along a .7-mile pathway through the woods, evoking the ancestral stories and rich emotions of the Huron-Wendat culture. Tickets cost $31.50 per adult, and a $10.50 parking pass is also required. Be sure to dress for the weather.

Just outside Old Québec

Grand Théâtre de Québec/Photo Wikimedia Commons by Jeangagon

Want to stick very close to Old Québec but don’t care to venture into the broader city? Plan a date for dinner and a show. From the St. Louis gate off Esplanade Park, it’s a half-mile to the Hotel le Concorde (an 11-minute walk or three-minute ride). Perched at the top of this hotel is Ciel! Bistro-Bar, a 360-degree rotating restaurant open for lunch or dinner. You can choose the bird’s-eye views by day or  the illuminated views by night. The menu is French inspired whose offerings include such local options as duck and Arctic char. The restaurant’s full rotation takes 90 minutes, just enough time to linger over a satisfying meal.

From Ciel! It’s a five-minute walk to the Grand Théâtre de Québec. The program is stacked with classic and modern musical artists, comedy, theater and more. these shows feature French-speaking acts.