Every year around the second week of February - when the weather gets cold, the snow stays around a little longer than normal - with clear blue skies, crisp stars and when thoughts of "where can we go to get warm" creep into my mind - I think of Quebec. Specifically - Carnaval de Quebec. It is a reminder to celebrate the season and what it brings so instead of fighting or complaining about this time of year just jump in.....and that is how the Quebecians "celebrate" winter.....Carnaval de Quebec....so a couple of years ago we decided to give it a try. It is a time I will never forget and I want to share some of that with you.
Carnaval de Quebec is the biggest winter Carnaval in the world. We flew from Denver through Toronto to Quebec City. It was an easy trip - even when you would look out at the frozen tarmacs and snow covered planes as we entered and departed both Canadian cities. It looked cold.
When we arrived we grabbed a taxi and headed straight to the hotel. It looked cold.
We stayed directly across from the Frontgate of the Old City - the location was perfect giving us access to virtually all the activities of the Carnaval - which were in walking distance on the "Plains of Abraham" as well as very close access to the main streets of the Old City.
Well - it didn't just look cold.....it was cold! Many people who have been to Quebec would probably be familiar with the Fairmont de Chateau Frontenac and the promenade or boardwalk that fronts the St. Lawrence.....well here is what it looks like in winter. Crowded and beautiful in summer....almost deserted, cold with a different beauty in February.
The Carnaval lasts for about 10 days. Every day has something new to offer from Fireworks to Ice Sculpting to Night Parades - Ice Canoe Races across the St. Lawrence (those people are crazy) to enjoying music - the building of the Ice Palace, the sledding hill and so much more - including.....snow shoe races ....which were extraordinary........did I mention it was cold.
The evening we decided to see the ice sculptures and palace was very cold .....it had been a bit windy earlier in the day....they said with windchill it was close to -28......yes that is below zero....but it was still incredibly beautiful. But it was so cold that day - ice formed on the INSIDE of our hotel room's window due to the condensation from the shower. INSIDE the room......now that is cold!
One local merchant had told us that sometimes during the winter it gets cold and windy for so long that shops just close.....she mentioned that a couple of years ago she closed for almost 10 straight days horrible weather that year...but it was unique. Quebec is such a world class city with kind and wonderful people. Hearty souls no doubt to deal with the adversity of very tough winters and still a joyful place to visit.
One of the interesting things about Old City - Fortress is that is sits high above the river. The Old City has the commanding view and position but the lower part of Old Town...closer to the water is amazingly attractive and fun too.
Shops along the streets - especially at the bottom of the funicular located by the Frontenac Hotel (which runs in the winter as well as the summer) will take you down and up so you don't have to walk. I honestly don't even know if there is a trail in winter that you can traverse....summer yes....winter - not so sure.
Ice sculptures, beautiful shops with warm and inviting window displays, food, drinks, games - fun - around the corners - museums and crafts. The entire time we were there for Carnaval - I don't think there was a moment that we didn't enjoy any place we visited.
There is a saying in cold "Scandinavian" type countries......"no bad weather-just bad clothing" and since we had come prepared nothing stopped us.....EXCEPT.......maple syrup poured onto snow blocks which freeze as you slowly roll them with popsicle sticks !!!!!! That stopped us......to enjoy......
Finally - of all the activities and food and wine.....and the best French Onion Soup - ever....we made our way to "Hotel de' Glace"...the Ice Hotel.
Starting in November - this hotel is built with blocks of ice. It takes months to completely finish. As each month gets colder new sections are added on. The size is somewhat dependent on the weather.
Their are normally 42 rooms and themed suites. Each has a different theme and/or colors and snow sculptures in the walls. The entire experience is made to make you feel like you are in an igloo. I felt like we were in an ice sculpture museum. Very quiet, very different rooms - different lighting - different shapes - very cozy - very intimate. Fur blankets abound.
There are hot tubs and saunas and an eating area that is not in the hotel of ice itself....but close by. But the draw is the hotel and the ice bar. It is something to behold and enjoy.
We didn't stay here overnight we just hung out and slid down the ice slide - had a drink at the bar - sat by the fireplace and inhaled the colors - and the smiles of the people who visited with us. Pure Vida !!!!
If you decide to spend the night - they will send you a "Preparation Guide" to get you ready for your stay..........how cool is that. (Wish I had an emoji for that last one).
We have been to Quebec a number of times. We love Quebec but had no idea what to expect at Carnaval.
One of the pure pleasures of travel is discovering that people in places around the world find ways to find joy and to celebrate their lives and where they live no matter where that might be. It is cold in Quebec in February....but as they might say...."habillez-vous pour rester au chaud.....et profitez des bons moments ave de bons amis".........loosely translated: "dress to stay warm...and enjoy the good times with great friends".
Travel Safe Travel Well "Vivre galamment"
BK Travel Tips
To enjoy travel and see the world and often yourself as if for the first time and with with the eyes of a young child.