Rumor has it that Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is the most photographed hotel in the world … and for good reason! Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Leaning Tower of Pisa or even the Great Wall of China, this legendary structure in the charming capital of the province of Quebec is a tourist destination in its own right. Perched majestically atop Cap Diamant, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981, commands an imposing view over the mighty St. Lawrence River and has long been a symbol of Quebec City’s skyline. In fact, when weather conditions are right, you can see this iconic hotel from several kilometers away.
But if you are planning a romantic getaway to Quebec City as we recently did, you really want to be admiring the multiple award-winning Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac as a guest from the inside looking out.
Since this landmark hotel first opened its doors in 1893, it has graciously received many heads of state and leading personalities from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Princess Grace of Monaco, Charles Lindbergh and many others. In fact, during World War II, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac was the host for the Allies’ Quebec Conferences where President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, along with Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, orchestrated the fate of the world.
But putting such seriousness aside, this is a hotel which offers the royal treatment to all its guests, along with mesmerizing views from its restaurants and from many of its 613 guestrooms and suites overlooking the St. Lawrence River and the charming Old City of Quebec. Ideal for romance. I know firsthand because this is where the French side of Denis’ personality first came out in full force … and we decided to get married.
Indeed. Ever since I first set eyes on Old Quebec in 1964 , I have adored this city which I consider to be the most European city in North America (Ode to the Charming Old City of Quebec). Now, after four glorious days of being pampered at the renowned Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac while visiting Old Quebec, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I can reliably say that the charm and majesty of this Grande Dame of a Hotel proudly compliments the charm and beauty of the historic old city built by French pioneers in which it resides. Plus, there is a touch of magic mixed in with historical personages and happenings on the imposing site of Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac and almost a fairy tale flavor to this strikingly beautiful and very French “Chateau” in the “New World”.
The story begins in 1603 when the famous French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, departed from Honfleur in Normandie, France to explore the New World, a trip which led to his founding Quebec City in 1608. By 1620, the first fort of Quebec, the Fort St. Louis, was built atop a steep cliff overlooking the majestic St. Lawrence River to serve as a fortress as well as living quarters for Champlain. With the arrival of the first Governor of La Nouvelle France in 1636, the fortress was expanded and renamed Le Chateau St. Louis. Destroyed in 1690 by the British, the Chateau was rebuilt in 1692 by the flamboyant French Comte de Frontenac … and voilà, renamed Le Chateau Frontenac!
If you would be tempted to assume that this “Chateau” was in fact “the castle” that became the base of today’s hotel, you would be wrong. Sadly, Le Chateau Frontenac of 1692 was later damaged by the British and then finally burned down in 1834. But fast forward to 1892 … the people of Quebec had successfully safe-guarded their city’s most valuable of sites perched on the top of the cliff with the best views in town for the future re-building of their Chateau.
Now, inspired architecturally by the elegant Chateaux of the Loire Valley in France as well as by the home of the Comte de Frontenac in Saint-Germain-en-Laye outside Paris, the new Chateau Frontenac was erected with great pride of French heritage as a hotel on the original site selected by Samuel de Champlain for his fortress. In an impressive marriage of the old with the new, the new Chateau Frontenac splendidly offered all the most modern conveniences of the time, including indoor plumbing, electricity and elevators along with only the finest materials used in construction, from copper roofing throughout the exterior, including the turrets and towers, to the lavish interior usage of old world woodworking, including magnificently carved oak moldings and grand staircases, complemented by an overall interior design reminiscent of the old-world splendor of the Medieval and Renaissance French chateaux.
Regal, elegant, and simply stunning in a city both similarly alluring and devoted to historic preservation, the Chateau Frontenac’s fame and reputation continued to grow in the 20th century as the luxurious hotel underwent expansions and renovations, attracting more and more visiting dignitaries and luminaries from the political, entertainment and sports worlds. In 1999, the iconic hotel was renamed “Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac”, and by 2014, this historic national treasure was totally refreshed and updated with a spectacular 75 million dollars top-to-bottom renovation which included adding an extraordinarily luxurious seven-room Spa.
Ooh la la! The result of the renovations is simply exquisite. A harmonious blend of the functionality of modernity while maintaining the integrity and elegance of the old French architectural style and highlighting the spectacular summit views, the renovations affected most everything in the Chateau, from the 613 guestrooms, each of which is different, to the dining spaces, the fitness center, the business center, and the magnificent public rooms including the regal lobby and the 12 kilometers of corridors along with the art & decor around the hotel. Even the regal crest on the staff uniforms was updated! Wherever I went in this huge castle of a hotel, I was impressed with the utterly seamless renovation and charmed by beautiful reminders of the Chateau’s French heritage and historic past.
No wonder the Chateau Frontenac has long been a favorite for honeymooners, weddings, and romantic getaways. The charm and beauty of this exquisite property in Old Quebec, long considered one of the most romantic cities in the world and renowned for its joie de vivre, provides the perfect backdrop for romance. Here are some of my Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac favorites which I think compliment the spirit of Old Quebec to to create the inspiration for joie de vivre and romance …
Sunday Brunch at Le Champlain … one of the most delicious and seductive Sunday brunches I have ever experienced … I ate with my eyes and my taste buds, so seduced was I by the quality and presentation of the offerings. From the soups, salads, seafood and other cold platters, to the awesome array of main courses — my favorite was the duck — I truly ate my heart out. Believe me, you will want to save room for dessert. A large and incredibly appealing selection. Best recommendation: skip dinner the night before, or at least come hungry!
Le Spa du Chateau Frontenac … I just love the beauty and elegance of this luxurious spa and the products they use, especially the Valmont skincare line which is manufactured in Switzerland. I first encountered this extremely effective anti-aging skincare line in 1988 and have used it ever since. Not too surprisingly, after Le Spa du Chateau Frontenac opened its doors, it quickly became the top-rated spa in Old Quebec. Plus, it is conveniently located in the hotel right by the fitness center and indoor swimming pool with its awesome outdoor sun terrace.
Afternoon Tea in Le Champlain … A fabulous full English tea with a Quebecois twist … local ingredients from nearby farms … cheese, ham, smoked salmon, maple syrup and so on.
We sat in the glass enclosed veranda overlooking the Dufferin Boardwalk Promenade, Old Quebec and the St. Lawrence River and enjoyed every moment of this elegant tea and luxurious pampering experience. In terms of quality of food, taste, service and view — very hard to beat anywhere in the world.
The elegant and intricate Decor, especially the usage of blue and gold … While I was charmed by the decor throughout the hotel, from the sophisticated soothing neutrals of our comfy room with its awesome views of the St. Lawrence and Old Quebec to the high and magnificently decorated ceilings, intricate woodwork and old-world elegance of the main floor, my absolute favorite prominent decor feature in the Chateau is the use of blue & gold featured predominantly in the grand Lobby and equally grand Ballroom … the latter of which is reportedly inspired by the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. Marie Antoinette used blues and golds in Versailles, and I think they speak magnificently of French regal elegance. On a secondary note, I also was captivated by the double Staircase on the main floor said to be inspired by Le Petit Trianon of Versailles.
The Tasting Menu dinner in Le Champlain … Restaurant Chef Stéphane Modat, born in France and trained in French restaurants, including a 3* Michelin restaurant, is a successful TV Chef and cookbook author. He is the exceptional talent behind the fabulous food at Le Champlain, including the six course Tasting Menu with wine pairings. My favorites? … the Appalachian deer with juniper berries and the Scandinavian char … and the magnificence of this restored restaurant, still touting its original paneling and coffered ceiling while showcasing its wine collection in four tall stunning wine cases.
The Fairmont Gold experience … While the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac has a long history of treating its guests like royalty no matter how famous – or not – they are, if you are looking for the ultimate in private attention then you may want the Fairmont Gold experience. Simply book a room on one of the top five floors of the hotel and enjoy additional benefits away from the crowds, including the exclusive Fairmont Gold Lounge, a private concierge, an honor bar and complimentary canapés.
Enjoying a drink and the view at Le 1608 … Named for the year Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec, this elegant wine and cheese bar is decorated with old world bookshelves displaying antique encyclopedias and a strikingly beautiful glass cylinder ceiling fixture.
But the star feature is the spectacular view. I loved sitting here and enjoying a glass of wine with the view … it was just hard to get up and move on (!)
Late lunch or a pre-dinner drink at Le Sam … We had a late lunch our first day at Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac at this very trendy yet elegant bistro named for Samuel de Champlain. The food was perfection and deliciously paired with a refreshing French rosé. The next evening, we sampled the bartender’s impressive mixology skills. Refreshing and delicious.
Herb Gardens and Beehives … Proud of its awarding-winning Fairmont Sustainability Partnership platform, not too surprisingly for a hotel which seeks la crème de la crème every chance it gets, this impressive hotel maintains herb gardens and beehives on a protected roof garden. No need to wonder at Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac if your honey or herbs are organic and fresh. So yes, I found fresh herbs in many of the dishes we ate, and the honey – delicious!
There’s something magical about the most photographed hotel in the world, the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, in a city, Old Quebec, full of joie de vivre and considered to be one of the most romantic in the world. The majestic hotel and its charming location … an irresistible recipe for a fabulous getaway.
BEFORE YOU GO … I recommend checking in with the very helpful staff at Quebec Tourism, and talking with the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac concierge to order tickets for any concerts you might want to attend and to make reservations in advance for restaurants you want to try both in the Chateau Frontenac and outside in Old Quebec.
Stay tuned to BonVoyageurs.com for our writings about other Countries of the World as we share our joie de vivre from around the world. Luxury escapes, cruises and city breaks to Québec City, New York, Washington, Buenos Aires. In Europe and the Mediterranean, places like Paris and Nice in France, Florence, Rome, Napoli and the Amalfi Coast in Italy, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in Israel. In Asia, countries like China, India, Nepal and so much more