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Judy Crowell: Joyeux Noël En Quebec

But you don't have to speak French to experience the Canadian city's long history, rich culture — and magical Christmas spirit

[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery of Quebec.]

A hilltop castle surrounded by fluffy white snow and overlooking the majestic Saint Lawrence River, glittering Christmas trees and a cuddly Bernese dog named Santol greeting you in the lobby, a sumptuous six-course dinner dance in the elegant Grand Ballroom, animated entertainment and a visit from Santa Claus …

This is Christmas Day in Quebec City at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.

With Christmas festivities beginning in November, you can stroll past the quaint, one-of-a-kind shops along the cobblestone streets of Old Quebec City while taking in the historic sites of Dufferin Terrace, Latin Quarter, Old Port and Petit Champlain. Save your knees and hop on the Funicular to take you back up the hill to the towering presence of the granddame simply known as "Le Chateau" (the castle), perhaps the most photographed hotel in the world.

As Quebec is known as the heart and soul of Canada, Le Chateau is the heart and soul of Quebec. Dominating the skyline, it draws hordes of tourists to its massive lobby and expansive boardwalk. In spite of its immensity and the many delightful restaurants, arcade shops and comfortable rooms (too many to count) — it all works.

For a quieter, less tourist-y stay, there’s the ultramodern Auberge Saint-Antoine, a Relais & Chateaux property in the Old Port district. Also in Santol, this rarified area is the tony L’Initiale, the ultimate in French cuisine served in a minimalist setting.

Francophiles will delight in the countless restaurants scattered along the Upper and Lower Old cities, where half the fun is in the discovery: Le Cavour for Italian and French seafood; Le Lapin Sauté for country cuisine specializing in rabbit pie (if you can handle Peter Cottontail gastronomy); Le Marie Clarisse for the taste of Provence; and Ciccio Café, a neighborhood favorite for marvelous Italian and one of the most unique music systems I’ve ever seen or heard.

A trip to Quebec City is like going to Paris — only quicker and cheaper. Experience the ease of this first French settlement in North America and history at first hand, all within easy walking distance: the Citadelle, Place-Royale, Parliament, Tourny Fountain, the Remparts, Basilica, Montmorency Falls Park and the Parc Aquarium. If you have the time, enjoy a dinner cruise under the stars aboard the Louis Jolliet or spend a day in the lovely Charlevoix region, a UNESCO World biosphere reserve, known for its incredible gastronomy and charming landscapes.

Quebec’s motto, Je me souviens (I remember who I am), is proudly lived and proclaimed by its residents — the Canadian province in which French is spoken and all signs (storefronts, road signs, etc.) are in French. Theirs is a staunch separatist ideology stemming from a storied French heritage, the details of which I won’t bore you with (just imagine the state of Texas requiring that all of its residents speak Spanish). Not to worry. Within Quebec City and certainly at Le Chateau, almost everyone — including Santol — speaks English.

Live vicariously and brush up on your high-school French, remembering that at this festive time of the year, Joyeux Noël will suffice.

— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and part-time Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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