Sauntering through the cobblestone lanes of old Quebec City, you can almost kid yourself you're in Paris. One minute, you're inhaling the aroma of freshly-made croissants and baguettes; the next, a gust of whiffy brie rushes up your nose from the gaping doorway of a fromagerie. Then there's the French chatter you invariably eavesdrop on; the gossip between neighbouring shopkeepers, the one-way conversations by pedestrians yelling into their mobile phones, and the wine-fuelled talk of diners seated at the checked tablecloths of alfresco bistros, lunching on the likes of foie gras, duck confit and croque monsieur.
Having dreamily transported myself to the quaint back alleys of the City of Light, I'm quickly returned to North America by Tony Gagnon, a local guide, who tells me, tongue firmly in cheek, that a Parisian might struggle to make themselves understood here.
"The language is the same, but the difference between our French and their French is that they have an accent," says Tony, grinning and speaking an English that melds east coast-American with a touch of Gallic (like almost half the residents of Quebec, of which Quebec City is its provincial capital and spiritual heartbeat, he's bilingual).
In truth, the more you explore this deliciously photogenic city – founded by French explorer Samuel de Champlain in AD1608 – the more the unique Quebecois flavours shine through. It's not just the frequent sight of the Fleurdelise (the blue and white flag of Quebec) fluttering in the breeze, nor the passing cars and scooters whose licence plates carry the phrase "Je Me Souviens'' – the motto of Quebec, a francophone oasis in a mostly Anglo-dominated Canada.
Fossick the stalls of Marche du Vieux-Port, the daily farmers' market beside the St Lawrence River, east of the fortified old town, and you'll get an invigorating taste of Quebecois life. Beyond the fish, fruit and veg, there's regionally produced cheese and charcuterie, mustards and preserves, and artisanal fare you're unlikely to find in your typical Parisian epicerie: stuff, for example, like maple cider, maple liqueur, maple jelly, maple butter, maple tea and dozens of other goodies infused with the sweet stuff (Quebec's sugar bushes yield more than 70 per cent of the world's annual global maple supply).
The market's hand-crafted soaps, trinkets and ceramics may also catch your gift-seeking eye, as might the calendars and paintings depicting Quebec in all weather, from the long icy months of winter (when temperatures often plummet to minus 20 degrees and motorists must, by law, drive with snow tyres) to those beautiful balmy summer days (I visit in August, when it's an ambler-friendly 25 degrees). Quebec's climate means that, unlike its motherland, it's not a prolific wine producer (though, at the market, you'll probably spot bottles of blackcurrant wine, reared on Ile d'Orleans, a rustic, vineyard-laced island in the river, just outside Quebec City). Quebecoises are more into their beer. They have been since Jean Talon, a 17th century compatriot of Samuel de Champlain, established the city's first brewery (a boon for thirsty residents who couldn't afford the expensive imported claret from Bordeaux). The hoppy culture of "New France", as Quebec was known, was enhanced by the ale-loving English, who captured Quebec City in 1759 (they're responsible for most of the fortifications that envelop the hilly, higgledy piggledy historic quarter, a UNESCO World Heritage site).
I imbibe the local liquid refreshment at L'Oncle Antoine, an intimate cellar tavern in one of the city's oldest stone houses, just off pretty, plant-potted Place-Royale. They serve bottled and on-tap Quebec beers here, with choices changing through the seasons (one recent option was award-winning bacon and maple lager by Le Corsaire, a star of Quebec's thriving microbrewery scene). The trendy St-Roch neighbourhood, west of the old town, teems with craft beer purveyors, while another fine quaffing venue is L'Inox, a brewpub and brasserie with a people-watching terrace by the Grande Allee, a bar-and-restaurant-lined boulevard that stretches from Porte St-Louis (one of the four surviving city gates), past the towering Quebec parliament building and the vast, grassy Plains of Abraham (where the English and French did battle in 1759). After sampling L'Inox's tipples – try the citrussy wheat ale, blonde lager or fruity summer beer (in spring, they do maple syrup cream ale) – pop over the road to Chez Ashton. Founded in 1969, this popular fast-food chain specialises in that classic Quebecois staple: poutine. Gourmets may turn their noses up at the prospect of eating fries slathered in cheese curd and gravy (they'll definitely prefer dining in the city's copious chic eateries), but I must say, flavoured with chunks of spicy sausage, it's actually pretty tasty. Especially after a few beers.
You'll spend two nights in Quebec City, staying at the iconic clifftop Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac hotel, on Collette's eight-day Charming French Canada tour. Running June-September, it costs from $3609. Collette also visits Quebec City for two nights on its nine-day Best of Eastern Canada tour (May-November, from $2499); gocollette.com
Both tours begin in Montreal, to which Air Canada flies from Sydney via Vancouver. Flying from Melbourne requires a change in Sydney or Brisbane.
Steve McKenna was a guest of Collette.