Though most people know that Quebec is Canada's French-speaking province, not many are aware that it's huge: bigger than Alaska and nearly three times as large as France is (more than 950,000 sq. km/600,000 sq. mi). Yet most of Quebec's residents, more than seven million of them, live in the extreme south of the province. Three million of them live in Montreal alone. That leaves plenty of wide-open spaces in most of the rest of Quebec, particularly in the northern four-fifths of the province, much of which looks virtually the same as it did more than three centuries ago when the first French settlers arrived.
Even with the scenic beauty of the Laurentian Mountains or unusual rock formations of The Gaspe, most travelers today head for Montreal, Quebec City, and other parts of the province that lie within convenient driving distance. But they need no excuse for exploring just this area; these two cities, along with the areas they're near, are beautiful indeed.
Quebec City is best known for the charm of its Old Town, a maze of twisting, narrow streets that rivals anything in Europe. Along these corridors, you'll discover shops, boutiques, and cozy cafes and bistros. It's ideal to explore on foot, but you can always hail a horse-drawn caleche.
The old city begins just below the towering, turreted Chateau Frontenac, the city's landmark hotel, and slopes all the way down to the Saint-Laurent River. There, along the waterfront, you'll find historic sights including Place-Royale, a concentration of 17th- and 18th-century restored structures.
Montreal also has its share of historic buildings. You'll find most of them along the Saint-Laurent between McGill and Berri streets. This is Old Montreal, the place where the first European settlement, called Ville-Marie, was founded by de Maisonneuve in 1642. The original buildings no longer exist, but there are a good number of later structures that are well-worth visiting. Among them is Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Church. Built in 1772, it's the city's oldest church.
The modern delights of Montreal include major league sports, a lively cultural scene, hundreds of superb restaurants, and an extensive network of underground shopping complexes, all connected by the city's sleek subway system.