By Pamela MacNaughtan / Savoir Faire Abroad
Québec City is beautiful any time of year, but winter is when it truly shines. After a snowfall the city turns into a fairy-tale winter wonderland, and the locals are just as mesmerized as the tourists. Once the snow arrives, and stays, everyone is like a kid at Christmastime, sparkly-eyed at the sight of white stuff, tugging on snow pants, and strapping on ice cleats for a walk through the Old City. Winter and Québec go hand-in-hand, and here are eight reasons why it’s the ultimate winter getaway destination. After visiting this glorious city during the chilly months, you might never want winter to end.
1. The Snow Gets Its Own Festival
Bonhomme waves from Dufferin Terrace in Vieux Québec. (Photo: Québec Region)
One of the largest winter festivals in the world, Carnaval de Québec attracts more than a million visitors each year. The first Carnaval de Québec took place in 1894 as a way to celebrate winter, and was held sporadically (it skipped some years during the World Wars and the economic crisis of 1929) until 1954, At that point, the city made the decision to revitalize the historic neighborhood of Old Québec (Vieux Québec), and in January/February 1955 the ‘new’ Carnaval de Québec was unveiled. With it came Bonhomme as the festival mascot, as well as activities like ice canoeing, ice sculpting, dogsled races, and a masquerade ball. This year’s Carnaval runs from January 28 to February 14.
2. It’s Europe — in Canada
Québec City’s Petit-Champlain neighborhood looks like a fairytale winter wonderland. (Photo: iStock)
Québec City is over 400 years old, making it older than the country of Canada. Established in 1608 by the French, Québec City was later ruled by the British, creating a mixture of French and British architecture in Old Québec — but that is not where the European similarities end. Québec is the only place in Canada that runs on a 24-hour clock, and uses coma instead of coma when displaying prices (e.g., $12,99 instead of $12.99). Add French-speaking people and French signs, and it is easy to understand why most visitors forget they are in Canada — and keep thinking they need to buy euros.
3. The Chocolat Chaud
Warm up with a cup of chocolat chaud from La Maison Smith in Place Royale. (Photo: Pamela MacNaughtan)
Winter in Québec City means it’s time to drink as many steaming cups of chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) as your stomach will allow. The best mugs can be found at La Maison Smith (in either Place Royale or Vieux Québec), Café-Bar Artefact at Auberge Saint-Antoine (a luxury hotel in Vieux Port), or Érico on rue Saint-Jean in Saint-Jean-Baptiste.
What makes a good chocolat chaud? The use of real chocolate and cream instead of heated chocolate milk, or something brewed from a spoonful of powder!
4. Les Cabanes à Sucre
Roll maple taffy at a sugar shack just outside Québec City. (Photo: MartialArtsNomad.com/Flickr)
Visiting sugar shacks is the quintessential winter experience in Québec — you’ll get a taste of Québécoise cuisine, culture, and tradition. Sip hot pea soup, with a touch of maple syrup, from a porcelain white bowl. Roll maple taffy. Drink locally made ciders and wines. While some cabanes à sucre keep things classic, others go gourmet and add things like foie gras to the menu. Of course visiting a cabane à sucre is not just about the food and hand-rolled maple taffy, there are also sleigh rides, and snowshoeing to be enjoyed as well.
6. You Can Stay in an Ice Hotel
Embrace the cold! Sleep in a frozen bed at Quebec City’s Hôtel de Glace. (Photo: iStock/Onfokus)
A 44-room hotel made of ice, Hôtel de Glace is built every January and remains open for as long as the cold holds out! As the entire property is carved from ice, the beds can be a tad chilly; therefore nordic sleeping bags are provided for all guests — sleeping packages also include a hotel room at a nearby Four Points Sheraton in case sleeping a full night here is too much and you’re desperate for a warm room and a piping hot shower. Of course, you don’t have to stay at the hotel to see it; many visitors explore the property during the daylight hours (it’s only ten minutes from downtown Québec City) and spend the night in a standard hotel room.
7. All the Winter Sports Will Give You an Adrenaline Rush
There’s no better family bonding activity than screaming down a mountain in a giant snow tube. (Photo: Quebec City Tourism/Village Vacances Valcartier)
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing around the Plains of Abraham are not the only winter sports in Québec City, there are also tubing hills just outside the city at Villages Vacances Valcartier, and skiing, dogsledding and snowboarding options on Mount Sainte-Anne. Snowmobiling is also quite popular, as well as rappelling down the frozen cascades close to Mount-Sainte-Anne. If you’re looking for something a little tamer, there is an ice-skating rink in Place d’Youville, just outside the old city walls. And if you prefer to watch, Québec City is also know for its annual Red Bull Crashed Ice event, when streets of the old city are converted into a massive run for one of the best extreme skating competitions in the world.
8. And the Nordic Spas Will Help You Unwind
Nighttime spa time can be magical on a cold clear night. (Photo: Spa Stoneham)
After a day of exploring the city on foot, or perhaps after a day of winter sports, visiting a spa will give you a chance to unwind and relax. The area’s five nordic spas — which move you through a circuit of alternating hot and cold experiences — are open day or night. While spending the day can be quite enjoyable, indulging on a clear night can be magical — especially when the starts are out and sparkling!