Québec City, QC I

If the old area of Québec City looks good during the day, it looks even better at night. Narrow houses line curving streets and the bulky walls of the old fortress encircle buildings that appear to be genuinely sturdy. It seems authentically European. Throngs of young, fashionably dressed pedestrians cover sidewalks and cobblestone streets. Restaurants are packed, their patrons sitting outside enjoying the mild evening air. Laughter and exclamations in French echo off stone edifices. A disco ball the size of a SmartCar glitters in front of a bar. Locals say that Québec City is regarded as the small, stodgy cousin of Montréal. It feels like neither of these things, though the downtown is suspiciously idyllic. It's too clean, too vibrant. The people look frighteningly healthy and, while the level of drunkenness competes with the best American cities, the atmospheric belligerence-pressure is fairly low. Half a million residents in the city and no gun murders last year. There must be something wrong.

"Everyone who lives in town walks around... they're all thin," Marc-Antoine says as he pats his stomach and laughs. "You can tell I'm from the country, can't you?" A posse of toned blonde women walk by in heels and he sighs: "Beautiful, right? We have to stay healthy or we get out of breath following them up the hills." In this era of quantification, it is surprising that no phony social scientist has tried to empirically discover the most beautiful urban populace in the world—but, if such an absurd undertaking were to be pursued, Québec City would probably win. Marc-Antoine grins: "you hear the story about why the women are so beautiful here? The king was sending girls... ah, what's the word? Orphans? The king was sending orphan girls over to Québec and the first place the ships would dock was Québec City, so all the men would pick the most beautiful girls as wives. Trois-Rivieres was next and," he laughs, "Montréal was last."