November/December  2005 




own the Saint Laurence River from bustling Montréal, Québec City is quieter and smaller (pop. about 800,000). It purports to be the oldest fortified city north of Mexico (it will celebrate its 400th anniversary on July 3, 2008) and is stunning with its Old World charm and architecture (in 1985 the whole of Old Québec was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site). But the city is by no means a museum. A combination of French-European and North American influences has shaped the Quebecois culture as well as it has the French-Canadian accent.

Every kingdom has its queen, and the Fairmont’s Château Frontenac is the undisputed regent of Québec City. Perched at the top of the Old City the giant hotel is at least partially visible from most of the Old City and the Saint Laurence River. The hotel’s image has been used in films, novels, and even inspired the relief stamped in the chocolate of a popular brand of cookie.

The hotel has been expanded and renovated, and is vast and beautiful, with spires, towers, rooftop gardens and mazes of hallways filled with windows that look out at the city or river, or inward at other spires. To illustrate its size and the complexity of its wings, when renovations were made in 2000, a whole hidden section of the Mont-Carmel wing (added in 1908) that had been hidden and forgotten was rediscovered.

frontenac-1While the Frontenac was never actually a permanent home for a king, many royals including Queen Elizabeth, King George the IV and King George V of England have slept among its 613 rooms, as did Princess Grace of Monaco. There is a long list of famous dignitaries and politicians, including French President Jacques Chirac, who graced its halls. Roosevelt and Churchill met at the Frontenac to plan in secret the Battle of Normandy. (The histories of such events and their exact locations are often included in the hotel’s daily tours, conducted by guides dressed in costumes from the late 1800’s, when the Frontenac was built.)

The first thing you notice at the check-in desk is the little wooden staircase with three steps and a platform. A metal sign announces this is for young guests, so they may be eye-to-eye with the staff. Just from the external appearance of the majestic château, kids and kids-at-heart will no doubt wonder if they’ll meet Harry Potter in the flesh. Paneled in wood and with hardwood floors, the palatial lobby is beautifully decorated with big glass windows, thick rugs, wood and brass accents, and comfortable furniture arranged for small groups to relax and chat. There is a boutique mall on the lower level – under the lobby – that includes a wonderful Inuit art gallery, and a few lovely little shops around the corner from the lobby. Many of the guest rooms offer views of the city or the river. They are comfortable and offer all of the usual amenities available at a Fairmont hotel, but with the additional knowledge that you are sleeping in a storybook castle in a kingdom steeped in rich history.

Club Frontenac

frontenac-2Club Frontenac, the location of the hotel’s spa treatments, fitness center and swimming pools, is situated on the sixth floor of the hotel, a bit of a walk from the main elevators, but there are plenty of signs.

Spa Services Director France Raiche enjoys her job at the Club Frontenac, a feeling evident when she talks about the facilities, the staff and the services. Regardless of whether a guest is staying for business or pleasure, relaxation is what it’s all about. “That’s our first (concern),” says Raiche seriously.

When a member of her staff attends to a guest, the main goal is to help the client mentally let go of all that stresses them as well as to physically feel better. Raiche says the staff works beautifully together, and that this translates into an equally good rapport with clients. “There is harmony in the group [of massage therapists], and everyone who works for us is concerned with the harmony of the mind and body.”

Club Frontenac’s clients are almost exclusively from the hotel, and are almost 50% male. Raiche describes each treatment as “a silent conversation between the therapist and the guest.” She adds that there is difficulty in creating spa treatments for people with whom you will meet only once or twice. “Being there in your mind is as important as physically giving a good treatment. Everyone here will attend the client by being present with them,” emphasizes Raiche, “by trying to earn the confidence of the person from the beginning.”

Before I went for my treatments I decided to get a little exercise. I descended the entrance stairs in Club Frontenac into a beautiful pool area with huge windows overlooking a grassy outdoor sitting area, high above the city. There is a children’s wading pool, a recreational/lap pool and a large Jacuzzi. The pool is always heated to a comfy 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Before I made a dash for the Jacuzzi, I needed to work off a giant buffet breakfast at the Club Frontenac Fitness Center.

While the spa menu is short, I had a terrible time deciding which treatments I wanted. I finally asked Raiche to choose for me. There are occasionally special hotel packages that include treatments, but the spa services are really meant to appeal to each individual client’s wishes. “Every time a group needs a package, they just tell us, and we give them what they need,” Raiche says.

I had been asked my preferences when I made the reservation for the treatments, but was asked to fill out a short form explaining any injuries or allergies I had, and any additional preferences. I was given a key, towels, a fluffy robe and a locker key.

The Fitness Center is cozy and bright. There is an assortment of machines, and all that don’t require weights – such as the stair-steppers, treadmills, and recumbent bikes – have flat screen televisions and earphones attached to them. There is a yoga/floor work area with a wall-high mirror. There is also a nice little free-weight-lifting area with another large mirror. There are large windows with lovely views of the sixth floor garden landscaping, so even in the gym it is easy to relax.

 I had been told I could meet the therapist by the pool or in the locker-room of the fitness center. Since I wanted to exercise and shower first, I chose the latter. The treatment rooms branch off of a hallway that connects to the locker-room, so you don’t have to go out of the warm locker room after showering: You just curl up in your fluffy robe and either enjoy the steam room, or relax in the changing room or sitting area in front of the showers. (Note: The steam room is wonderful. It is bright, and quiet except for machinery that lets out occasional blasts of delicious eucalyptus to freshen the skin and aid respiration.)

My first treatment was the 60-minute Body Wrap with Violet Clay. ($115 CA) The body is covered with a nourishing and softening cream with clay and essential oils. The client is then wrapped in a blanket and given a scalp and neck massage. There is additionally either a foot massage or arms and hands massage.

My massage therapist, Christine Lessard, escorted me to a warm, dimly-lit treatment room decorated in white and floral patterns. The soft music that was playing incorporated many genuine nature sounds, not the artificial or distorted ocean noises one sometimes hear in spa music. Lessard went behind a large partition and said to let her know when I was ready for her, so my modesty was respected but at the same time I wasn’t left lying on the massage table.

The scent of the clay was heavenly! Lessard began with a light massage, incorporating acupressure and shiatsu. She warmed the clay before smoothing it on me; an obvious-sounding step, but one not always practiced. Her movements were long and slow, and – despite my trying to stay awake – really made my mind wander into a happy doze. She spoke almost in a whisper when she asked me to roll over, and I could really see what France Raiche meant about gaining the client’s trust. Lessard had a highly educated and intuitive touch and I toyed with the idea of packing her in my suitcase and taking her home to California. After the clay was applied I was wrapped loosely in warm soft blankets to allow the clay to do its work. When it was time to get up and shower off the clay, it took every bit of effort I could muster to get off the massage table.

My next treatment was a 60-minute Swedish massage ($95 CA) that also incorporated elements of shiatsu. The purpose of the massage is not just to work out the knots, but to make the client relax completely. Again my massage therapist was Lessard – who by then had become my favorite person in Québec. I seldom fall asleep on a massage table, but I was gone after only twenty minutes; it was one of the most relaxing massages I have ever experienced. This massage is also offered in increments of 20 minutes ($45 CA), 30 minutes ($55 CA), 45 minutes ($75 CA), 75 minutes ($115 CA), 90 minutes ($135 CA), and 120 minutes ($185 CA). 120 minutes? It must be for people who want to test the concept “die of pleasure”.

Other treatments offered include body scrubs with hydrating emulsion, in which friction by circular movements with gentle exfoliating creams remove dead skin cells. Head and scalp massages are included. The Scalp, Shoulders, Neck and Facial Massage includes an actual facial. It also includes a foot massage, or arms and hands massage. The Leg Circulation Massage includes a leg wrap treatment that helps reduce swelling, a scalp and neck or arms and hands massage, and a massage application of circulation-improving cream to relieve tissue congestion. All body treatments are also offered in increments of 60 minutes ($115 CA), 75 minutes ($135 CA), 90 minutes ($155 CA), and 120 minutes ($205 CA). Most treatments are also available in the guest’s room, so you can relax and snooze like a boneless chicken on your bed after your massage.

Club Frontenac offers no product lines. It is simple, elegant, and does exactly what it sets out to do – relax the guest.

A Cuisine Dream

frontenac-3While there are half a dozen good restaurants, bistros, and lounges in the hotel – including an excellent piano bar with a view of the Old City and the river – there are two restaurants especially worth mention. The first is the elegant Le Champlain, the only one of the six that has a dress code (business attire). Treat yourself to an elegant dinner where the food is superb, with filet mignons that melt in your mouth and are flambéed at your table – dramatically! The flames were so high; I was surprised the waiters had eyebrows left. The salads are works of art, and in true Québec style, there are at least as many desserts as entrees. There are of course many maple dishes, a Canadian staple and local favorite, including the crème brûlée which is made traditionally or with maple sugar. Even the cookies are delectable. (Hint: Try the pistachio cookies.)

An excellent place to dine regularly is the Café de la Terrasse. No less romantic but far less formal than Le Champlain, the restaurant is glassed in dining with huge windows overlooking the river, the old City, and the boardwalk. Guests of the hotel and visitors can order from the menu (dinner entrees start at $9 CA), but I highly recommend their sumptuous buffets The breakfast buffet ranges around $25 CA, the lunch buffet is about $27 CA, and the dinner buffet is usually between $46 and $49 CA. The dinner buffet always includes two soups, one being the popular local recipe for pea soup. There are five or more hot dishes, fresh fruit and salad, and – truly the pièce de résistance – 15-20 of the most decadent desserts that will send you back to Club Frontenac as soon as you can roll yourself onto the elevator.

If you have children ages 5-12, Tea Time with Madame Rose meets in the afternoon at Le Champlain restaurant. The cost is $15 CA. Your children will return from the experience with their heads filled with stories and ready to instruct you as to the proper way to serve tea – and will probably correct your table manners at dinner.

Shopping and Location

Of course, another pleasure of staying in the Frontenac is the excellent location. The hotel is around the corner from the post office, is across the square from the pedestrian alleys with street performers and artists displaying their goods, and is a block away from rue de Buade with its gorgeous boutiques, cafés and Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de Québec. (Check it here).

Even closer to the main entrance, on the boardwalk is the elevator that gives visitors a bird’s-eye view of the lower city as they ride down the hill from the Frontenac. There are also several ways to walk down – most including outdoor staircases (one nicknamed the Broken Neck Stairs) so wear comfortable shoes with good traction, and if possible avoid them when icy. For a truly special experience, take a short afternoon cruise on the river and see the Bridal Veil Falls towering above you (at a safe distance). If you’re lucky you will see the veil of the ghost – a bride who lost her sweetheart – being tossed over the falls. If you’re heart is really pure or you’ve lost a love (the story varies) you may see the bride herself. Pure-of-heart or not, the cruises are a superb way to enjoy the natural surroundings and gain a photo-perfect view of the city.

Hotel Frontenac

Contact Information:


call (418) 692-3861
fax (418) 692-1751

or write to:
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
1 rue des Carrières
Québec, Québec
Canada G1R 4P5

For the Québec City & Area Tourism and Convention Bureau, visit:

or for information on the 400th anniversary celebration visit:




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