If you visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Quebec City, you can’t miss the 611-room Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. The massive hotel with its multiple levels and turrets looms over the historic walled Old Quebec and the St. Lawrence River like some kind of magical sentinel. With good reason, Le Château Frontenac is the most photographed hotel in Canada and most likely in the world.
The second in a series of grand hotels built by across Canada by Canadian Pacific Railway, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac was built between 1892-93 in the romantic chateau style. In subsequent years, other architects added layers, levels, pools, shops and more turrets, always in keeping with the hotel’s castle-like silhouette. The most recent $75 million renovation, completed in 2014, has restored the interiors to their original grandeur, totally revamped the restaurants and spa, and updated guestrooms in a chic and sophisticated style.
Old and New Blend Seamlessly
Walk into the lobby of this 120-year-old grand dame and you’ll be treated to dark woods, ornate carpets, Italian blue onyx panels and a custom, 15-foot crystal chandelier. And, of course, the Fairmont’s signature service that’s always gracious and attentive.
My room was located on the 9th floor. At one time in the hotel’s history, floors 9-11 of this wing were used as offices for staff, which explains why the old style elevator number wheel didn’t go above the eighth floor. To get to my room, I’d take an elevator to eighth floor, get off and walk down a long hallway to another smaller elevator that services floors 9-11. Because the 9th floor wasn’t originally intended for guests, the hallways are much narrower and staying on this floor felt a bit like being a princess hidden away in a secret part of the castle.
While my windows were a somewhat smaller than those of rooms on lower floors, my view was of the St. Lawrence, the Citadel fortress, and The Terrasse Dufferin, a wooden walkway along the river that leads to the Plains of Abraham battle site, and other historic places. My bed was an uber-comfy king with luxe sheets and a thick duvet, a small writing desk and chair, mini-bar and coffeemaker, and, in the bath, a tub-shower combo and extra large, fluffy towels and upscale toiletries.
My room was certainly comfortable, but the thrill for me was staying in this piece of history. Downstairs, just off the lobby, are interesting shops and boutiques. There’s a beautiful indoor pool that’s been recently renovated in a grand, conservatory-style room that lets in plenty of natural light. There’s also a full-service spa offering the all the services from massage to manicure. During my visit, the fitness center had been temporarily relocated to a couple of guest rooms while this part of the hotel is still undergoing an update.
I found the lowest level of Fairmont Le Château Frontenac one of the most interesting. Guests can wander through the hotel’s own history museum, filled interesting stories, anecdotes and artifacts excavated from the building site like old coins and pottery. There are also displays about the hotel’s colorful life, including old dinnerware and images of famous past guests like King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Princess Grace of Monaco, Chiang-Kai-Shek, Charles de Gaulle, Ronald Reagan, and even Hollywood filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. During World War II, the Frontenac was where U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King met to discuss strategies. Standing in front of the displays, you can feel past is part of the very walls of this magnificent hotel.
Food Front and Center
Both the past and present are alive and well at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac and one of the tastiest new aspects of the hotel is the completely renovated Champlain, an upscale restaurant with a 1600-bottle, temperature-controlled, floor-to-ceiling glass wine ‘cellar,’ an undulating glass sculpture of the St. Lawrence suspended from the ceiling and gorgeous views the city and the actual river below.
When we enjoyed dinner at the Champlain, Culinary Director and Executive Chef Baptiste Peupion treated us to a mise en bouche (appetizer) of a delicate yet meaty tuna tartare with a creamy jasmine mousse. Hungry from my day of travel, I helped myself to the basket of ciabatta rolls, warm with soft insides and chewy crust slathered with rich, European-style butter.
These dishes were followed by lobster two ways: hot and cold in coconut milk with puffed rice for a bit of crunch, apricot jam for sweetness, an accent of oil of paprika, and a piece of crisp, smoky prosciutto. Next came a roasted scallop, perfectly cooked with just the right crust on the outside and delicate sweetness inside, served with artichoke ‘milk’ that formed a silky mousse, truffle oil, and chips made from coppa (similar to dried prosciutto). A few more of these succulent scallops would have made an excellent entrée.
The juicy, medium rare prime beef filet entrée hit the spot and almost made me forget swooning over that scallop. The beef was served with silky mashed potatoes with garlic flower, made with ratte potatoes, a tiny variety with a nutty flavor and buttery texture. There were also late season veggies (baby carrots, squash, onion, and mushroom), and a flavorful black pepper sauce perfect sopping up with the beef. The meal was rounded out perfectly with a fun dessert that explored the textures of maple, one of Canada’s iconic ingredients, including as a jelly, a cookie, pistachio brittle, butterscotch with maple, chocolate covered sea foam (aka sponge candy) and even a silky maple ice cream. Delish!
In the morning, we enjoyed a breakfast buffet (guests can also order off the menu) that went well beyond the usual, including eggs, potatoes, all kinds of bread (croissants, bagels, toast, pastries), and meats and cheeses, including salmon lox and delicious duck rillettes and foie gras. Fruits, juices, smoothies, coffee, tea, and even desserts were also readily available. Guests can book room plans that include breakfast or pay separately ($27 per person).
Champlain isn’t the only food venue at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac to get a makeover in the recent renovation. 1608 Wine & Cheese Bar is a stunning bar that offers one of the city’s largest cheese selections and it’s a great place to hang out with a cocktail. Casual Bistro Le Sam offers an “evolving” menu of lunch, dinner, high tea, weekday business lunches, and Sunday breakfast.
Real bottom Line: Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to stay in a fascinating piece of history. The upscale amenities, the inventive food and the attentive service will make you feel like a queen (or a king) in your own private castle. — Photos and review by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor