Ontarians tolerate winter. We snicker when our southern neighbours fall into paroxysms of terror at the forecast of a few snowflakes. We brave the drive downtown after snowstorms. But, though we brag about our icy credentials, what we really want in January is to jaunt off to Boca or Fiji.
Quebecers, on the other hand, revel in winter. Especially at Carnaval, where I vacationed with my wife and two daughters last year. On one evening, we burst into an upscale restaurant in a flurry of snow flakes only to have the nonplussed maître d’ offer to check our snowpants before seating us for a duo of salmon and tuna tartar.
It seemed that every restaurant, inn or tourist attraction worth its salt had commissioned some form of dazzling snow and ice display to grace its entranceway. Along the Plains of Abraham, an winding ice slide deposited giggling kids to the steps of a sugar shack that dispensed bec sucré — ribbons of piping hot maple taffy poured across a blanket of fresh snow and rolled onto a gooey stick. And just a short drive from downtown, Village Vacances Valcartier built an enormous snow tubing park. It didn’t take much skill to navigate the steep drops and stomach-churning twists of the more intense runs, but queasier visitors opted for the go-karts with studded tires along the frozen track at the mountain’s base.
High on our sugar rush, we trudged through knee-deep snow back in Old Quebec, and boarded the ferry for the short jump to Lévis. Crossing the ice-choked St. Lawrence in the dead of winter afforded magical views of Old Quebec: stone buildings with sloped roofs draped in a cloak of snow and ice. We felt as if we were on an arctic cruise as the steel hull plodded through ice flows with audible creaks and groans.
Looking for a change of pace we spent the end of our visit just 40 minutes outside of the city at the cozy cottages of Station Touristique Dechesnay. The resort hugs the edge of a frozen lake with grounds that sprawl across acres of wooded trails. Pond hockey, snow-shoeing, cross country skiing, dog sledding and snowmobiling fill out the days while hearty meals in front of the fire and a soak in the outdoor hot tub cap off the nights.
Trade your bikini for a toque this winter and get in touch with your inner Canadian. Carnaval de Quebec 2015 runs January 30-February 15.
Where to stay: Our home base for the five-day stay was the Hilton Quebec City. It’s an easy walk from all that Carnaval has to offer (and directly on the parade route). With its heated outdoor pool you can glimpse the twinkling lights of the ice sculptures between the tendrils of hot steam rising from the waters.
If your taste in accommodations runs a little more unconventional be sure to book well in advance to secure an evening at the Hotel de Glace. Every room is constructed entirely from ice, with intricate patterns carved into the walls. (The fantasy suites even boast fireplaces.)
Where to eat: Plan your ferry ride across the St. Lawrence to coincide with a meal and make a stop in lower Old Quebec at the Cotes a Cotes Grill. For upscale dining, head to the oldest house in town at Aux Anciens Canadiens. And outside of the historic old city but still within a snowball’s toss of the stone gates, Le Hobbit serves well-priced traditional Quebecois cuisine in a cozy setting.
How to dress: It’s impossible to over-dress for a Quebec City winter. Snow, slush, biting winds and frigid temperatures are the name of the game. So skip the stylish Guccis and don the best pair of water-proof winter boots you can get your mittened paws on. Top that off with snowpants, a winter coat the mandatory hat-glove combo. Think ski-bum casual, not city chique. Anything less and you’ll be miserable within the hour.
Edward Prutschi is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer. Follow Ed’s criminal law commentary (@prutschi) and The Crime Traveller’s adventures (@crimetraveller) on Twitter, read his Crime Traveller blog, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Jamie McCaffrey