Last Updated on January 16, 2021 by Pamela
A stunning chateau-style hotel reminiscent of the 14th and 15th-century French Renaissance architecture of the Loire Valley, Fairmont Chateau Frontenac in Québec City stands majestically atop Cap Diamant, keeping a watchful eye on the Saint-Lawrence River and the neighbourhoods below. One of the most iconic hotels in Canada, Château Frontenac has become the heart and soul of Old Québec, and one of the most photographed hotels in the world.
The hotel’s castle-like façade and lush interiors are architecture and design porn, utterly mesmerizing and irresistible; demanding everyone’s attention and admiration.
A Brief History
In 1620, that the first fort was built where Chateau Frontenac now stands; housing Samuel de Champlain, the founder of New France (now Québec City) and his sentries. It was, by no means, grand. Its location, at the top of Cap Diament, was purely strategic, a place where one can see miles down the Saint-Lawrence River; perfect for spotting enemy ships and giving the settlers time to prepare for battle.
The name, Fort Saint-Louis, was first noted on a 1635 map by Jean Bourdon along with two additional wings. A year later, Charles Huault de Montmagny, the first French Governor of New France, began construction of Château Saint-Louis, which would become the official governor’s residence in New France.
In 1690, the fort (not the chateau) was destroyed by Sir William Phipps. Over the next 144 years, the fort would be damaged during various battles and repaired until January 25, 1834, when it was raised by a fire. Instead of building a new fort, Lord Durham had the ruins torn down and placed a public platform (which would one day become Dufferin Terrace) over the foundations.
A little over fifty years later, a decision was made by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company to build a luxury hotel on the site where the Saint-Louis Fort and Châteaux once stood. Several plans and proposals were submitted, and the Château Frontenac Company was formed to finance the construction of the hotel. The task of designing Chateau Frontenac was awarded to American architect, Bruce Price.
Travelling to Comte de Frontenac, Louis de Buade’s home town in France, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Price was inspired by the French Renaissance architecture, especially that of the château in the Loire Valley, France.
A Grand Hotel Built for Luxurious Railways Passengers
One of the several chateau-style hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR) in the late 19th century and early 20th century, Chateau Frontenac was the third luxury hotel built by the railway company (Banff Spring Hotel was built in 1888, followed by Chateau Lake Louise in 1890).
With its steep copper roofs, dormer windows, walls made with Scottish bricks, turrets and spires, and views of the Saint-Lawrence River; Chateau Frontenac’s castle-like façade stole the hearts of all those who gazed upon it. Its interior was lush, a colour palette of royal blue and gold, dark woods and intricately carved metal details greeted guests travelling through Canada by train.
In 1899, Price was asked to make additions to the now popular hotel and the Citadel Wing and Citadel Pavillion were added, blending in with the original structure. In 1908, the Mont Carmel Wing was added (it cost 1.5 million dollars) and Chateau Frontenac became the biggest hotel in Canada. Over the next twenty years, the number of rooms went from 170 to 658, and the 17th-storey central tower was added.
Famous Guests and Historic Conferences
Celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2018, Chateau Frontenac has welcomed countless celebrities, foreign dignitaries, and royalty from around the world. It was here that American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, met in 1943 and 1944 to discuss strategies for World War II. [this book lays out their friendship quite well]
The hotel was featured in the final scene of Alfred Hitcock’s film, I Confess, and has been the backdrop in many novels.
Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, Today
Taking on the name, Fairmont Chateau Frontenac, in November 2001, the hotel had already gone through two major
Its most recent renovation took place in 2014 and cost $75 million dollars; updating everything from the rooms to the restaurants, bars, and public spaces.
The interior of Fairmont Chateau Frontenac has retained its historic architectural details: dark hand-carved wood accents; gold, brass and royal blue colour palette, marble staircases and beautiful stained glass windows.
Restaurants & Bars
The cozy elegance of its main restaurant, Champlain, remains with its hand-carved wooden motifs and old world charm. A cheese cave, brass Art Deco chairs with pink velvet-like seats, crisp white linens and soft lighting adds a sophisticated ambiance. Weekend brunch is by reservation and highly recommended.
Le Sam, has been transformed into Great Gatsby-esque bistro and cocktail lounge. Plush royal blue banquets with small black tables and tan leather bucket chairs line the walls. The bar, a mixture of brass and gold, is the ultimate bling, a place to drink old-fashioned cocktails with a modern twist. Indulging in Afternoon Tea while overlooking Dufferin Terrace and the Saint-Lawrence River to utterly relaxing.
Snuggled between Champlain and Le Sam, 1608 Wine and Cheese Bar features a semi-circle marble bar, small tables with faux-fur chairs, a fireplace and views of Dufferin Terrace and the Saint-Lawrence River. A place to warm up and relax while you wait for your table, or simply to enjoy some wine, cocktails, a cheese plate, or all of the above.
The original hotel (1893) featured 170 rooms, all of which had fireplaces. That being said, only 93 rooms had a private bathroom with marble fixtures; rates in 1912 started at $4 per person per night for a room without a bathroom, and $5.50 per person per night for a room with a bathroom.
The rooms at Fairmont Chateau Frontenac have been updated a couple times over the years (1973, 1993, and 2014). Currently, the rooms are modern contemporary in design with a colour palette of grey, white, soft blues and yellows. Linens are crisp and beds are incredibly cozy. Views, of course, vary, from that of Dufferin Terrace and the Saint-Lawrence River to streets views facing rues Mont Carmel or Saint-Louis. Bathrooms can be small.
Similar to the other railway hotels in Canada, Fairmont Chateau Frontenac has a shopping concourse on the main level. Located in the hall leading to Champlain, 1608 Wine and Cheese Bar and Le Sam, the shopping concourse features an art gallery, as well as Lambert & Co boutique (which sells high-quality woolen goods which are made locally) and a boutique selling clothing and hotel merchandise.
Explore Fairmont Chateau Frontenac
Wander the hallways, look up and down to spot the unique details in the lobby. Go downstairs and admire the artifacts found during a large archaeological dig that took place during Québec City’s 400th anniversary.
Take a walking tour of the hotel with Cicerone Walking Tours and learn more about the hotel’s history – easily one of the best tours in Old Québec.