After staying at the Auberge Saint-Antoine for the first night of our quick trip to Quebec City, there was only one place to stay for the second night: the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac.
This iconic property is one of Canada’s most famous luxury hotels and perhaps the single most illustrious member among the grand railway hotels that we’re known for. Internationally, it’s considered the world’s most-photographed hotel, its pitched roofs and piercing towers rising sharply from Quebec City’s promontory and giving this otherwise humble provincial capital its renowned skyline.
I wouldn’t consider my first visit to Quebec City complete without staying at the Château Frontenac; moreover, despite having visited several Fairmonts during the daytime over the years, I had yet to actually stay overnight in one, and I was more than happy for the Château Frontenac to be my maiden Fairmont experience.
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Fairmont Le Château Frontenac – Booking
Staying at this historic hotel wouldn’t be cheap, and the standard rates can be pretty taxing on the wallet, starting at around $400 in the summer and fall, or around $200 in the cheaper winter season.
For this stay in late September, I enlisted the help of a Fairmont-employed friend of mine to secure a Family & Friends rate at the base-level room for around $220 after taxes.
Alternatively, I could’ve also booked through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts for some additional benefits such as free breakfast, but the rate would’ve been $400+ after taxes; in this case, I decided I didn’t need the extra FHR perks and would be content with letting my Accor Gold status do its work.
On top of the room rate, the Château Frontenac charges an “urban experience fee” (i.e., a shameless money-grab) of $20, which I was able to get waived because many of the hotels’ facilities, such as the swimming pool, were closed during our stay.
(From now through mid-November, Fairmont’s “Stay Close” promotion gives you the second night free at several Fairmont hotels including this one, so that’s probably the most affordable way to book. The Château Frontenac itself often puts on deals and promotions as well, which can provide significant savings on longer stays of at least three nights.)
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac – Location & Arrival
There’s no way to get lost when you’re making your way to the Château Frontenac: the castle is perched at the very top of the city, so as long as you keep heading up the steep winding streets of Old Quebec, you’ll eventually find yourself on the Château Frontenac’s doorstep.
The hotel building is huge, and it can be difficult to find the main entrance when you first arrive.
There’s a Starbucks at the northern tip of the building which can be used as a side entrance, but if you’d like to make a grand arrival onto this historic property, you’ll want to enter via the arched driveway on Rue St-Louis.
You’ll find yourself in the castle’s courtyard, surrounded by the historic building on all four sides, with the entrance marked by a collection of flags on prominent display.
Stepping inside, we were instructed by the lobby staff to sanitize our hands before proceeding to the check-in desks to our right. The lobby, decorated in darker colours, brought about an opulent and stately atmosphere that reflected the 127-year history in which the Château Frontenac is steeped.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac – Check-in
The check-in associate welcomed me as an Accor Gold member – which is the hotel status that I care about the least, and one that I’ve never benefited from until now.
(I had received Accor Platinum status a few years back as a complimentary perk of the American Express Platinum Card, which I suppose now slipped its way into Accor Gold after a couple of years’ time).
Prior to my arrival, I had attempted to contact the hotel and ask for a generous upgrade to one of their suites on account of my Gold status; however, in the end, the Deluxe River View Room was all they could offer.
Even at the front desk, when I brought up the topic of a potential suite upgrade, I was informed that our room had already been upgraded by five categories from the base-level Fairmont King Room, and so any suite upgrade could only be given with an additional charge.
(It probably doesn’t help that the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac has about a dozen different categories for its guest rooms, but then again, when your 611 rooms and suites are divided across six floors of a literal castle, it’s reasonable that there’d be plenty of variation between each room type.)
As an Accor Gold member, I was not entitled to complimentary breakfast, but I did receive a couple of drink vouchers to be redeemed at the hotel’s bar.
If you’d like to supplement your Fairmont stay with Accor Gold status as well, note that you can instantly earn one year of Accor Gold by signing up for an Ibis Business Card for €90 ($130).
With that, our very friendly check-in associate directed us to the elevators on the right-hand side of the lobby to make our way upstairs.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac – Deluxe River View Room
We had been assigned Room 3217, which was accessed by taking the elevator to the third floor and then following a staircase one half-level down.
Even though my attempts at a suite upgrade were unsuccessful, I was pleased to see that we had at least been assigned a somewhat unique room: a circular Deluxe River View Room situated in one of the castle’s cylindrical towers.
The room’s layout was pretty straightforward: a very comfortable king bed acted as the centrepiece (although not quite as comfortable as the Auberge Saint-Antoine the previous night). I quite liked the room’s central chandelier, adorned with a canopy of interlocking golden rings.
Then, dotted around the circular walls of the room were a chaise longue, a cabinet topped by a television, and a spacious desk with a couple of chairs.
The cabinet contained the pantry and minibar, including a Keurig coffee machine.
A few welcome amenities had been left for us: a complimentary bag of popcorn, as well as a hotel-branded cleanliness kit including a couple of masks and sanitizing wipes.
However, the popcorn tasted extremely stale and was virtually inedible – sorry, Château Frontenac, you’ll have to do better than this!
The bathroom is accessed directly ahead from the foyer as you enter the room. It was a small but visually pleasing space thanks to its beautiful white marble finishes, and I was also very happy with the water pressure on the shower, which was quite a powerful blast.
I also really appreciated the bespoke Le Labo toiletries that came with my name printed on them. What a lovely touch! I certainly had no hesitation about bringing every little bottle back home with me. 😉
(I do wonder, though – how close to a guest’s arrival do these labels get printed? What happens if the guest cancels last-minute? I haven’t seen bespoke toiletries at any other hotel before this, although I’ll find out soon enough if it’s something that all Fairmonts do.)
Finally, a set of double doors in the foyer leads to the closet, which was large enough to place our carry-on suitcase and essentially “put our stuff away” for our one-night stay.
The third-floor Deluxe River View Room gave us a nice view of the St. Lawrence River far below, although our immediate field of vision was dominated by tourists taking photos of the Château Frontenac from the Terrasse Dufferin promenade. This is the world’s most-photographed hotel, after all, so staying in one of the rooms on its prettier side naturally leaves you feeling like you’re being hounded by paparazzi.
I was pretty satisfied with the Deluxe River View Room overall. My understanding is that it’s among the Château Frontenac’s many rooms to have been renovated in 2014, but I still wouldn’t really describe it as “modern”, as the bones of the room are still over a century old after all.
But then again, staying at the Château Frontenac is about experiencing the history of the place more than anything else, and I was happy I got to do that in one of the hotel’s nicer rooms.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac – Dining & Bar
While breakfast was not included, and so we opted to head out into Quebec City to find something to eat instead, the highlight of our stay was our dinner at Champlain, the Château Frontenac’s signature restaurant.
The Champlain restaurant is an absolutely beautiful space, and I was drawn to virtually all of its interior elements as we were directed to our table. From the wine racks with rolling ladders, to the upper and lower levels between the dining areas at the front and back of the restaurant, to the decorative sculpture suspended from the ceiling reflecting the flow of the St. Lawrence River, I thought that the restaurant was one of the most visually impressive dining venues I’ve been to recently.
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But what’s the restaurant’s best-kept secret?
A standalone dining room that previously served as a library, with several ornamental bookshelves still on display!
We were lucky enough to be assigned a table in the library, looking directly at the Samuel de Champlain monument, honouring the fonder of Quebec, out in the middle of Terrasse Dufferin. Best of all, no other guests showed up for about an hour and a half, meaning that Jessy and I got the entire private dining room to ourselves during this time!
Champlain is currently catered by Chef Stéphane Modat, who is renowned within Quebec for his passion for sourcing local ingredients from both land and water, both of which the province offers in abundance.
True to his style, Chef Modat was offering two different tasting menus known as “The Hunting Legend” and “The Fishing Legend”, which were both priced pretty reasonably at $109 per person.
Compared to ordering à la carte items individually, the tasting menus definitely seemed like a better deal, so Jessy and I naturally ordered both of the tasting menus to share.
(By this point, the trip had already been a bit of a splurge compared to my expectations, so we decided to skip the wine pairing and enjoy a few pints of local beer instead.)
Pro tip: sign up for the “Les Amis du Château Frontenac” loyalty program, which is operated independently by the hotel separate from the Fairmont/Accor program. Registration is free, and you’ll get 20% off meals, drinks, and in-room service at the hotel!
As you can imagine, dinner was outstanding in every way. Jessy and I spent about three hours working our way through the meal, trading plates throughout so that we could both sample a bit of the meat- and seafood-themed tasting menus.
Some of the highlights from the “Hunting Legend” included the foie gras and venison…
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…although both Jessy and I definitely preferred the “Fishing Legend”, whose sturgeon, arctic char, and halibut dishes were all mouthwatering.
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There was even a little surprise for guests who ordered the tasting menu: at one point, in the middle of the meal, we were invited to make our way to Champlain’s temperature-controlled caviar room and enjoy a sampler of one of Chef Modat’s favourite caviars.
Between getting the best table in the house, the fantastic tasting menus, and the 20% discount we got on an already reasonably-priced fine dining experience, I thought that dinner at Champlain was an excellent choice and made for great value as well. Even if you aren’t staying at the Fairmont, I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking to splurge a bit on a memorable meal when you’re in Quebec City.
In addition to Champlain, we also stopped by Le SAM Bar on the second day, shortly after I checked out, to use up our drink vouchers.
The vouchers were good for any drink off the menu, so I naturally opted for one of the most expensive glasses of wine, and Jessy for the most expensive cocktail.
Sipping our complimentary drinks overlooking Terrasse Dufferin was a great way to bring this spontaneous weekend getaway to a close prior to our evening train back to Montreal.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac – Other Facilities
Housed within the hotel’s sprawling public areas are a variety of amenities for guests. Let’s begin from the lobby lounge, which consists of a couple of boutique stores, as well as a dedicated Château Frontenac gift shop.
Heading downstairs to the lower level, we arrive at the hotel gym. I didn’t have time to go for a workout during our stay, but instead simply stopped by to take a look.
The fitness facilities are pretty basic, and the carpeting almost made the space look a little makeshift – not that the Château Frontenac was a hotel where you’d expect to find a state-of-the-art gym, to be fair.
During regular times, the hotel also offers a swimming pool, although that was closed due to the current situation.
Further down the hallway on the lower level is the onsite Starbucks, which leads directly out into Terrasse Dufferin.
Now, prior to my stay, I had heard that the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac would offer daily guided tours of the hotel, which sounded very interesting to me. However, I was disappointed that these guided tours weren’t included in the room rate, nor were they included in the $20 “urban experience fee” (which, oddly enough, did come with a complimentary daily city tour of Quebec City instead).
We ended up paying $16 per person for the guided tour of the Fairmont. I was really hoping that the tour would bring us through the hotel’s guest room hallways, but instead it was limited to the public areas, as our guide walked us through the many beautiful ballrooms, function rooms, grand staircases, and elevator banks that were dotted around the hotel.
Back in 1893, the Château Frontenac actually began as a much smaller property, and multiple additions were made to the building over the years, which is why different parts of the hotels reflect different architectural and decorative styles.
It was interesting to learn about some of the prominent people who’ve patronized the Château Frontenac throughout its history, and in particular the story of the First Quebec Conference, which took place in the Château Frontenac’s Salon Rose (“pink room”), where Churchill, Roosevelt, and Mackenzie King drafted up plans D-Day.
Outside of the tour, I also had some time to walk through the Château Frontenac’s guest room hallways on my own, which are quite enchanting in and of themselves.
As with any castle, there’s all sorts of oddly shaped nooks, staircases, and split-level situations going on, and I very much enjoyed wandering through the floors and imagining the stories these walls could tell.
My one-night stay at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac left me with somewhat mixed feelings, although ultimately I’m very glad I made the decision to book.
While I was thrilled to check this historic property off my bucket list while staying with Fairmont for the first time, I also couldn’t help but feel that the hotel’s reputation precedes itself in certain ways, and some parts of the experience didn’t quite live up to the hype.
Dinner at Champlain was easily the standout moment, and it was also a real pleasure to explore the inside of this beautiful and storied building as a hotel guest. On the other hand, despite a recent round of renovations in 2014, the hotel’s guest rooms naturally still carry traces of the castle’s 127 years, so the in-room experience paled in comparison to, say, the cozy yet luxurious Auberge Saint-Antoine where we stayed the previous night.
Moreover, because of the hotel’s sheer size at 611 rooms, as well as the fact that it’s so busy with tourists constantly milling about both inside and outside, the Château Frontenac experience can feel impersonal at times, and the service standards over the course of our stay didn’t always live up to the high bar set by the hotel’s glowing reputation.
To sum it up, I would say that the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac feels like a luxury hotel stay and a visit to a famous tourist attraction rolled into one. I imagine it’s on the bucket list of many Canadian travellers, so I’d definitely encourage you to try it once if you’re interested – but now that I’ve done it once, I probably don’t need to stay here again.
Next time, I’ll be looking to either return to the Auberge Saint-Antoine, or pay a visit to some of the more familiar Marriott properties in town, although I’ll always have fond memories whenever I look up and see the Château Frontenac towering in the Quebec City skyline.