I didn’t think I was capable of enjoying winter until I visited the Quebec City Winter Carnaval and envied the relaxed attitude of the Quebecois to bitter cold and gray days. Adopting their attitude immediately insured I enjoyed snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and walking around the city even though it was the coldest days they had all Winter. What saved my skin more than once was tucking hand warmers in each glove, each boot, and duct taping one to the outside of my camera battery. Even the concierge at the hotel thought the battery trick was clever and was passing it along to all of the other journalists at the hotel!
Canadian and US Teams worked through the night to chisel enormous blocks of snow into intricately carved snow sculptures . The entire city gets into the festive mood, with throngs of people celebrating on the streets. Wherever you look there are wintry postcard views. Crowds lined Rue Saint-Louis for the dog sled races. Ice sculptures decorate the entrance ways of many restaurants , cafés and hotels, inviting you to enjoy the open fires on their outdoor terraces. Christmas decorations still abound, and fur hats, fur coats, and fashionable but warm boots are de rigeur for the locals.
The Carnaval site encourages you to exercise your way out of the winter blahs. Snowshoeing, ice and snow slides, sleigh rides, a giant table soccer game, snow rafting, zip lining, and skating are all on offer.
Many revelers carry large red plastic canes filled with 24 oz of “Caribou” – a combination of coarse red wine, brandy, and spices – available at a bar made of ice, what else. Kevin Quinn, owner of La Nouvelle France Resto Bar quipped that “everyone in Québec has a horror story about Caribou.”
Carnaval takes in $31 million with 750,000 visitors expected. A team of 1500 volunteers insure the festival is set up and run efficiently, and standing at the helm is General manager , Jean Pellepier who was a volunteer for 10 years .
It ‘s no surprise that the Québec City Region was recently named the best cultural and exploration destination by travelers who consulted the TripAdvisor website . I did learn on this trip that as long as you are dressed for the cold, with the Quebecois attitude towards winter, you can have a lot of fun outdoors .
Other sights to take in while you are in Quebec City:
Montmorency Falls: 30 metres higher than Niagara Falls, but not as wide, is a beautiful site. A cable car takes you to the top, where you can walk to the other side across an enormous suspension bridge (no thankyou), tobaggan down the hill or climb the steeper ones with crampons as the climbers were doing the day I visited.
Wendake Reserve: located 20 minutes outside of Quebec City, the reserve is definitely worth a visit to have a peek at the history of the Aboriginal Wendat people and their historical village. With a population of 3000, take a wander around to see quite a selection of stores, a school, a church . If you are looking for traditional handmade moccasins to wear snowshoeing, this is the place to go. Built in time for the 400th anniversary of Quebec, the Hotel –Musée Premiéres Nations was built to resemble a Long House. Encompassing a museum, a restaurant and a hotel,it’s a beautiful blend of locally made native furniture, native art, fur skins, and rustic modern touches. The restaurant has a country elegant atmosphere mixed with modern native traditions attracting people from Quebec City for their award winning food which is 95% local. Within the hotel, check out is Le Musée Huron-Wendat, which offers look at authentic Wendat people with displays artifacts, artwork, and traditional costumes.
Le Manoir du Lac Delage: near the town of Lac Delage, a mere 20 minutes away from Quebec City, the location on a lake is idyllic for snowshoeing and taking part in their orienteering activity. After our guide gave us an overview of compass reading, outfitted us with snowshoes, we hit the trail to meet the challenge of the “Rand Orientation”.
Nordic Spa: A wonderfully relaxing antidote after getting your fill of Carnaval activities, this traditional Nordic spa located on the banks of the Jacques Cartier River with mountain views in a picturesque country setting. The outdoor circuit includes a humid Turkish spa, a dry Finnish sauna, cool off in a frigid small pool, a long stay in the 100 degree hot tub, followed by a roll in a snow bank or a dip in the nearby Jacques Cartier River.
It would be easy to wander up and down the streets and not go too far wrong choosing a place to eat, as delicious food is on every corner, but here are a few suggestions:
Le Feu Sacre: delightful ambience, and incredibly yummy fare, including local game, 68 ½ Rue Saint-Louis, Vieux-Quebec, 418-694-9022 http://www.feusacre.com
Anciens Canadiens Restaurant: This cozy low ceiling restaurant with lace trimmed windows, gingham table cloths has an extensive menu heavy on a game theme including Bison, pheasant, a three tenderloin dish includes stag, bison and wapiti (elk). The trappers treat is a Lac St. Jean meat pie with wild meats served with pheasant and bison casserole. The “La Formule” is a deal at $49.00 which includes appetizer, soup, main course and dessert. Traditional desserts are Maple Syrup pie with whipped cream, Maple sugar on bread with cream, Apple cheese cake with creamy caramel sauce. Be sure to make reservations! 34 rue Saint-Louis , Quebec 418-692-5419 http://www.auxancienscanadiens.qc.ca
La Nouvelle France Resto Bar: An ice bar with boisterous bartender, Maxim welcomes you to this delightful restaurant. The outdoor terrace is open 120 days a year as the floor is heated and has a seating area around an outdoor fireplace. The building was commissioned by Samuel de Champlain for the first local midwife, Mme Despres in the 1640’s. Kevin Quinn, owner for 26 years features comfort food such as chicken pot pie, farmed Caribou, and game dishes that will keep you warm if the Caribou drinks and hot chocolate served at the ice bar won’t do the trick. 8 Rue du Tresor, Quebec, 418-692-3125
Le Veau d’Or:, 801 Rue St-Jean, Quebec 418-525-7371, this charming Italian restaurant has a cozy, old world bistro feel. The menu is straightforward Italian with many pasta dishes, steaks, fish, and the prices are hard to beat. Our waitress was quite intimidating, and I hesitated to ask questions about menu items I didn’t understand thinking I might be slapped on the back of the head, but fears aside, I would go back for the food and the atmosphere. Perfectly grilled tuna accompanied with rice, vegetables, salad, and soup for 14.50.
La Fudgerie Boutique: 16 rue du Cul-de-Sac, Quartier du Petit Champlain, Quebec: The best hot chocolate in the city was kicked up a notch with red chili peppers. The owner travelled to Europe to find out how to make their renowned fudge and nougat. The front window appears to have sausages hanging in the window, but they are filled with fudge.
Melody’s trip was sponsored by the Quebec Board of Tourism and Carnaval de Québec