Quebec City: A Rockin’ Place to Visit in the Summer

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Bucket List Worthy  

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Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry plays the Festival d’été de Québec on July 15, 2016. Photo: Lucas Aykroyd

The Festival d’été de Québec (Quebec City Summer Festival) is the highlight of summer in North America’s most European city – and it’s a must-attend for serious music fans.

You can just feel the joie de vivre pulsating through the Quebec provincial capital’s humid cobblestone streets during the 11-day event in July. More than a million people attend the Festival d’été annually. A $90 all-access pass gets you into dozens of shows at 10 outdoor and indoor concert venues citywide. An eclectic range of musical styles is represented, from jazz and worldbeat to rock and hip-hop. You’ll catch up-and-coming artists as well as the world’s biggest names. Nightclubs and bars stay open until 3 am, and the restaurant terraces along the Grande Allée are packed with jubilant patrons.

The Bell Stage, the main concert venue, is situated on the Plains of Abraham. In 1759, the pivotal British victory over the French in the Seven Years War that determined the fate of North America was fought here. Today, the vibe is more peaceful – while also pretty loud. In past years, featured main-stage performers have included the Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, Iron Maiden, Elton John, and the Foo Fighters.

The 2016 roster was no exception to the star-studded rule. The headliners on the last three nights blew away crowds of close to 100,000.

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Duran Duran’s John Taylor (L) and Simon Le Bon thrill pop fans on July 15, 2016. Photo: Renaud Philippe

Duran Duran brought 1980’s swagger and spectacle with a hits-laden set that featured “The Wild Boys,” “A View to a Kill,” and “The Reflex.” Lead singer Simon Le Bon struck a timely and poignant note by dedicating “Save a Prayer” to the victims of the Nice attack.

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The Red Hot Chili Peppers rock Quebec City for the first time in 10 years. Photo: Renaud Philippe

Red Hot Chili Peppers vocalist Anthony Kiedis may have been recovering from a knee injury, but his best-selling alternative rock outfit still put on a dynamic show. Bassist Flea was everywhere in his jester-like costume, pogoing around the stage and walking out on his hands for the high-energy encore, “Give It Away.”

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Massive pyrotechnics define Rammstein’s festival-closing show on July 17, 2016. Photo: Renaud Philippe

Rammstein, the kings of German industrial dance-metal, delivered one of the most carefully choreographed and apocalyptic performances in festival history. Best-known for “Du Hast,” the sextet spiced up their set with flamethrowers, concussion blasts, and mad-scientist outfits.

It all whetted visitors’ appetites for what’s to come when the festival celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017. And meanwhile, there are plenty of other rockin’ things to do in Quebec City in the summer.

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More than 100,000 visitors seek adventures at Canyon Saint-Anne each year. Photo: Quebec City Tourism

Head to the privately owned Canyon Saint-Anne, 40 minutes east of downtown on the Beaupré Coast, to enjoy ziplining and a Via Ferrata (a protected rock climbing route where participants are attached to a steel cable and can use metal hooks and footholds) operated by Projet Vertical. After you stroll past carved wolf and woodpecker statues, your adventures kick off at the 1979-built, 58-metre-long McNicoll Bridge, suspended 55 metres above the gorge. It’s controlled adrenaline with a rushing torrent beneath you.

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At 83 metres, Montmorency Falls is the highest waterfall in Quebec. Photo: Lucas Aykroyd

More daredevil ziplining and Via Ferrata options await at the majestic Montmorency Falls, which stand 83 metres high, outstripping Niagara Falls. The site began supplying hydroelectric power to Quebec City as early as 1885. Ride the 2013-renovated cable car to the summit, and admire the stunning vista from the bridge that spans the falls, or on the patio of Manoir Montmorency, the on-site restaurant.

In the mood for traditional French-Canadian cuisine? Options abound. On the Beaupre Coast, visit Chez Marie, a family-owned bakery in a 1652-built stone house, to sample delectable raisin bread with maple butter.

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Chow down on tourtiere and other traditional French Canadian dishes at La Buche. Photo: Lucas Aykroyd

Back downtown, La Buche is an urban sugar shack decorated with old tube skates and snowshoes. The menu puts a twist on Quebec staples, dishing up everything from meat pies with Nagano pork and fruit ketchup to venison tartare to rabbit wings. (One waiter quips: “Why do rabbits have wings in Quebec? When it gets to -40, they fly to Florida.”) Year-round, La Buche is also a great place to sample Caribou, the drink of the Quebec Winter Carnival, blending red wine, whiskey and maple syrup. La Buche’s bathrooms are an attraction in themselves, with doors and walls hilariously adorned with colorful customer graffiti. You wash your hands in a communal bathtub.

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Le Chic Shack offers fun, contemporary takes on poutine — plus great milkshakes. Photo: Lucas Aykroyd

At Le Chic Shack, fast food with local artisan ingredients awaits, as tunes from the Four Seasons’ “December 1963 (Oh What A Night)” to the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” play in the background. Dig into La Braisee, a braised-beef poutine topped with marinated onions, horseradish, and Parmesan cheese. Wash it down with a fantastically rich milkshake with maple syrup and salted caramel. Sit by the open window and enjoy the view of the grand Chateau Frontenac Hotel as horse-drawn carriages pass by.

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Sip craft beer at La Barberie, a cooperatively owned Quebec City brewery. Photo: Lucas Aykroyd

Ready to experience Quebec City’s nascent craft beer scene? Hook up with Broue Tours, which offers a laid-back, guided walking tour that visits three microbreweries in the Saint-Roch neighbourhood.

Noctem, which opened in October with quirky cat-themed decor, specializes in innovative takes on American farmhouse-style beers. La Herbosophie is their flagship saison brew, incorporating thyme, rosemary, sage and Belgian yeast. As well, check out their charcuterie, from pepperoni to pork jerky, and homemade soft drinks.

At the cooperatively owned La Barberie, founded in 1995, sit on the open-air terrace surrounded by trees and sample some of the 200-plus beer recipes created here. Quebec City’s second-oldest microbrewery recently invested $500,000 in new brewing facilities. Pale Ale Lime & Gingembre, Porter Americain, and I.PL. de Belge come highly recommended.

The marine-themed La Korrigane is operated by Catherine D. Foster, whose beers carry on her father’s tradition. Check out Cornik, a stout with notes of coffee and chocolate, as well as the Feu Follet, a seductive English cream ale. During the Festival d’été, it’s a great place to grab nachos before catching a concert at the Imperial Bell theatre, just down Rue Saint-Joseph Est.

If you’re really into your beer, participate in the “I Drink Local” program, which will earn you a T-shirt after you get stamps at 10 area breweries.

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Quaint galleries and shops in Quebec City’s Old Town attract summer visitors. Photo: Lucas Aykroyd

Meanwhile, culture vultures can escape the heat at Quebec City’s rockin’ museums and galleries.

The 1965-opened Musee du Fort, in a 19th-century house next to Le Chic Shack, offers a captivating diorama depicting Quebec City circa 1750 from the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. Stirring martial music and special effects bring to life the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and its aftermath in a 30-minute presentation.

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Art buffs can’t miss the Pierre Lassonde Pavilion, which opened on June 24, 2016. Photo: Lucas Aykroyd

Don’t miss the eclectic, fun exhibits at the brand-new, $103-million Pierre Lassonde Pavilion at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec. From cathode-ray TVs arrayed like a waterfall to a giant mirrorball illuminating a room where a slowed-down Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” plays, the contemporary installations are amazing to behold. Don’t miss the full-sized wooden Mercedes replica by Quebec art collective BGL.

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Terminator fans will dig the Musée de la Civilisation’s nanotechnology exhibition. Photo: Lucas Aykroyd

At the Musée de la Civilisation, housed in a spacious waterfront building on Rue Dalhousie, hockey fans will delight in the Le Temps des Quebec exhibit, where a 1950 jigsaw puzzle featuring Maurice Richard sports “The Rocket”’s autograph, and a sequined Montreal Canadiens jersey worn by singer Robert Charlesbois is displayed. (Also eye-catching is the menacing T-1000 Terminator robot who greets visitors to the Nanotech: The Invisible Revolution exhibition.)

Quebec City, founded in 1608 by explorer Samuel de Champlain, celebrated its 400th anniversary by hosting the 2008 IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) World Championship, where Russia beat Canada 5-4 in overtime in the gold medal game. The 2015-launched Centre Videotron arena hopes one day to attract an NHL team.

Right now, you can rock out at this sleek venue with a 20,396-capacity for concerts. Everyone from Metallica to Maroon 5 has performed here. Alternatively, you can make plans to return for the 58th annual edition of the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament in February. More than 1,200 future NHLers have played in the tournament, which will welcome its 10,000,000th spectator in 2017.

So bone up on your French and get ready to party, because Quebec City is a rockin’ place to visit in the summer – and all year round.

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About the Author: Lucas Aykroyd

Lucas Aykroyd is an award-winning Vancouver travel writer and public speaker. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and National Geographic Traveler. To engage his services, visitlucasaykroyd.com.

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