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Spread over Cap Diamant and the banks of the St Lawrence, QUÉBEC CITY is Canada's most beautifully located and most historic city.
Vieux-Québec, surrounded by solid fortifications, is the only walled city in North America, a fact that prompted UNESCO to classify it as a World Heritage Site in 1985.
In both parts of the Old City - Haute and Basse - the winding cobbled streets are flanked by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century stone houses and churches, graceful parks and squares, and countless monuments.
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Although some districts have been painstakingly restored to give tourists as seductive an introduction to Québec as possible, this is an authentically and profoundly French city: 95 percent of its 600,000 population are French-speaking, and it is often difficult to remember which continent you are in as you tuck into a croissant and a steaming bowl of coffee in a Parisian-style café. Moreover, despite the fact that the city's symbol is a hotel, the Château Frontenac , the government remains the main employee, not tourism, and some of the more impressive buildings are government-run and off-limits.
Arriving from Montréal you're immediately struck by the differences between the province's two main cities. Whilst Montréal is international, dynamic and forward-thinking, Québec City is more than a shade provincial, often seeming too bound up with its religious and military past a residue of the days when the city was the bastion of the Catholic Church in Canada. On the other hand, the Church can claim much of the credit for the creation and preservation of the finest buildings, from the quaint Église Notre Dame-des-Victoires to the Basilique Notre Dame de Québec and the vast Seminary.
In contrast, the austere defensive structures, dominated by the massive Citadelle , reveal the military pedigree of a city dubbed by Churchill as the "Gibraltar of North America", while the battlefield of the Plains of Abraham is now a national historic park. Of the city's rash of museums, two are essential visits - the modern Musée de la Civilisation , in Vieux-Québec, expertly presenting all aspects of French-Canadian society, and the Musée du Québec , in the Haute-Ville, west of Vieux-Québec, which has the finest art collection in the province.
Outside the city limits, the town of Lévis and the Huron reservation, Wendake , make worthwhile excursions, whilst the churches and farmland of the Côte-de-Beaupré and the Île d'Orléans hark back to the days of the seigneurs and habitants . The gigantic Basilique de Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré , attracting millions of pilgrims annually, is one of the most impressive sights in Québec, and for equally absorbing natural sights there are the spectacular waterfalls at Montmorency and Sept-Chutes , and the wildlife reserve in the Laurentians .
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