Towering above the historic streets of Old Quebec and the St. Lawrence River, the sprawling Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is the crown jewel of Quebec City. The legendary castle hotel is known for its magnificent Châteauesque architecture that includes dreamy turrets, numerous pinnacles and dramatic copper roofs. Its magnitude and fairy-tale-like aesthetics undoubtedly contribute to its status as the most photographed hotel in the world.
It’s also one of Canada’s most storied hotels — and has been since it opened its doors in 1893. It's one of several grand railway hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPRC). It was at the Château Frontenac where both the first and second Quebec Conferences were held during World War II, where Grace Kelly and Queen Elizabeth II stayed while they were visiting, and where Celine Dion was discovered performing on the ballroom stage in front of record label execs. (Oh, if these walls could talk.)
The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac: The vibe
Aside from its colourful past, there’s something that feels distinctly special about the Château Frontenac from the moment you enter the bustling lobby. Perhaps it’s the old-world European charm and hospitality found here that’s missing from many modern Canadian hotels (impeccably polished staff wear traditional uniforms). It could be the interior’s design elements, like the hand-carved wood detailing, gold accents, grand chandeliers, ceiling paintings and marble staircases. Or maybe it’s simply the sheer scope of everything that’s found within the hotel’s brass revolving doors that invites a perpetual sense of discovery — from historic event spaces, to a pristine full-service spa (where massages can be held outdoors on a terrace) and character-rich dining spots.
Another major draw of the stunning hotel is its prime location. Just outside its gates, you’ll find all of Old Town’s live performers, charming cafés, memorable restaurants, colourful art galleries and historic landmarks. Standing tall at the top of Cap Diamant, the Château Frontenac makes it easy to find your way back to its inviting beds after dinner or cocktails.
The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac: An Evening of Darkness
The Fairmont brand has recently introduced the Beyond Limits program, a collection of exciting, first-of-their-kind experiences exclusively available at the Fairmont’s most iconic properties. Each immersive Beyond Limits experience leads guests on a journey of constant discovery in a luxurious and multi-sensory environment that defies convention.
At the Château Frontenac, the current immersive experience, Evening of Darkness is a gastronomic black-tie affair that unfolds over five acts, nine exquisite courses and multiple spaces within the hotel, with both visual and culinary surprises. There are a few consistent elements: magical entertainment, the finest champagne pairings (think: Dom Perignon and Moët & Chandon), innovative high-quality cuisine and all-black everything.
It’s slightly creepy, a little uncomfortable, and completely stimulating — all in the best way. Every aspect of the event, from the décor, cutlery, florals and attire, to the meticulously crafted menu by chef Gabriel Molleur-Langevin has been designed to celebrate the colour black in all its forms and stimulate guests’ senses, while creating unforgettable memories.
The springtime arrival of Molleur-Langevin as head chef at the hotel's Champlain Restaurant gave the city something to talk about. The young Quebec City native comes with a history of experience in esteemed restaurants in Sweden (Fäviken), Denmark (Noma) and France (Régis and Jacques Marcon). Full of discovery and unexpected experiences, his menu creatively showcases dishes that emphasize the depth of black ingredients from black trumpet mushrooms, charcoal and balsamic to squid ink, caviar and morels.
A burnt scallop encased in a black beer cracker with a squid ink tuile served inside of a “book” in the library; smoking burnt beets with burnt hay oil and drizzled in smoked beet juice; and beef filet with burnt onion powder, black garlic sauce, cipollini onions, black trumpet mushrooms and truffles were just a few standout dishes. The "darkness" theme is reflected in everything, right down to black bread with brown butter and activated charcoal.
The whole tantalizing culinary journey is accompanied by entertainment from the talented Cirque Éloize, whose performers dramatically emerge from the shadows to mesmerize guests with their impressive skills. I'm blown away by captivating dance performances, juggling like I’ve never seen before and a hula-hooper spinning so many silver hoops around her waist that she looks like a human Slinky.
With his dramatic voice, intense stares and engaging (although a little eerie) persona, the event’s host puts on quite the show. He ensures that the evening runs smoothly, but also pulls guests aside for one-on-one experiences that leave them with a takeaway message to ponder as the evening wraps up with flowing champagne and a flowing chocolate fountain.
If you can’t make it out to Quebec’s historic city before Evening of Darkness goes dark for good (the last experience is on September 14), we can expect more Beyond Limits experiences from the iconic hotel, making it more of a draw than it already is — especially for those special occasions, like a birthday or anniversary (or any day, really).
The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac: The Menu
Outside of its Beyond Limits experiences, the Château Frontenac is home to four culinary spots that range from the elevated but casual(ish) Le Sam Bistro to the sophisticated 19th century charm (mixed with present-day design) of fine dining spot Champlain Restaurant. Fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs grown on the rooftop make their way into the hotel’s dishes, as does honey from four rooftop beehives. Sustainability is front and centre at the hotel, and it's Canada’s first historic hotel to achieve carbon neutrality.
The award-winning Champlain Restaurant invites guests to go all out and indulge, with one of three set menus (a five-course, eight-course or vegetarian eight-course) featuring dishes like foie gras, miso-glazed scallop and smoked butternut pasta. Champlain Restaurant’s famed cheese cave is a long-time talking point, and wine enthusiasts will feel right at home with the spot’s extensive wine list, curated by the hotel’s esteemed beverage director, sommelier Zsombor Mezey.
At Sam Bistro, quick crowd-pleasers include bubbling, super cheesy French onion soup; comforting poutine with chunky cheese curds and pulled beef cheek; and spot-hitting cod fish and chips. The menu also features a selection of meat and seafood entrées, as well as vegetarian options. The inviting gold and brass bar makes for a perfect spot to sip classic cocktails post dinner — and if there was ever a hotel that called for a classic cocktail, it’s this one.
Another spot to enjoy a classic cocktail or quality glass of wine and an assortment of impossible-to-resist local cheese is the 1608 Bar, tucked between Champlain Restaurant and Le Sam Bistro. Before the cocktail sipping and exploring, the hotel’s Place Dufferin, on the Dufferin Terrace, fuels guests for the day with either a hearty buffet breakfast or à la carte traditional breakfast items.
Perhaps one of the hotel’s best-kept secrets is the breezy outdoor terrace Eléa, on the sixth floor, adjacent to the spa and indoor pool. Fun fact: Its name is a tribute to all of the inspiring women in history with the first name Eléanor. Perfect for a post swim or spa meal, the terrace restaurant features tacos, salads, raw bar offerings, charcuterie and small bites.
The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac: Fairmont Gold
The 610-suite property’s special occasion vibe begs for a splurge on all of the upgrades (you’re on vacation, after all). The upgraded Fairmont Gold suites are luxurious and spacious with large living areas. Some feature circular offices in turrets that offer inspiring views of the river and city below, which makes having to clock for in a few hours of work on vacation actually enjoyable (gasp).
Fairmont Gold guests enjoy a private reception and concierge, complimentary breakfast and priority reservations for dining. Best of all, they have access to the 14th floor Fairmont Gold Lounge, which is jam-packed with food and drinks all day long, and accompanied by soothing views overlooking the famed St. Lawrence River. Guests are welcome to pour themselves a caesar, beer or glass of wine from an honour bar.
Evening of Darkness, $650 per person
Rooms from $250 a night
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, 1 Rue des Carrières, Québec, QC; fairmont.com