French Canadians embrace winter in Québec with such youthful abandon that it’s easy to get swept up in their enthusiasm. Whether you’re eating molten maple taffy straight off a blanket of fresh snow or sledding down a mountain at breakneck speed, wintertime in Québec is sure to make you feel like a kid again.
Plus Fort Que Le Frette—Stronger Than the Cold
In February, I bundled up and braved sub-zero temperatures to attend the annual winter Carnaval in Old Québec. And, so did everyone else in Québec City. This 10-day celebration of winter was bustling with French-speaking, toque-wearing families delighting in ice and snow sculptures, a rainbow-illuminated ice palace, ice and snow slides, and all manner of winter play. Music blared, kids danced, and everyone was cheerfully on the lookout for Bonhomme, the official snowman ambassador of the festivities. Add to that mix an alcoholic punch called Caribou and a nighttime parade with circus acts. It was the most fun I’ve ever had being cold.
A Taste of Europe in Old Québec
Old Québec is a quaint World Heritage City with stone ramparts, cobblestones, and European architecture. With a dusting of snow on the rooftops, the citadel looks like a fairytale village at Christmastime. But this is Canada and the winter chill is significant. You will want to pack every warm accessory you own. Once you’ve layered up in snow pants and boots, the walkable city center has so much to offer that you’ll be glad you made the effort. After a day of window-shopping and Carnaval-hopping, reward yourself with an exquisite meal at Le Continental, where you can enjoy traditional French recipes with flambé meals prepared tableside.
The most spectacular place to stay in Québec City is the iconic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, which sits atop the escarpment of Cap Diamant within walking distance of both the Upper and Lower City. This impressive castle has welcomed royalty, global leaders, and countless celebrities in its 125-year history and is said to be the most photographed hotel in the world. Each of the unique rooms and suites has been recently renovated. The beds are cozy, the brunch is incredible, and the early morning views of the St. Lawrence River are unmatched.
A Hotel Made Entirely of Ice and Snow
For a little less comfort—but a lot more street cred—venture out of the city and spend a chilly night in the spectacular Hôtel de Glace. This stunning ice hotel is crafted each winter anew and every room is a work of art that lasts only 80 days. Sculptors from around the world create these original themed interiors where even the furniture is made from blocks of ice. Guests can book a -8-degree Celsius room which comes with the loan of a subzero sleeping bag and a backup hotel room indoors. Or, you can purchase a ticket to simply tour the hotel. Either way, be sure to stop by the Ice Bar for a drink in an ice glass before you go, and don’t miss the 35 snow slides behind the hotel. Adults will love tubing down the steep hills just as much as kids.
Charme Moi, Charlevoix
For more winter fun, follow the St. Lawrence River north to the charming region of Charlevoix. Here, you can catch a ride in a snowcat to the top of a mountain at Le Massif, then fly down 4.7 miles of groomed trails on a wooden Alpine sled. These sleds go up to 27 mph, but you control the speed with your feet. You can also try this experience at night with only a headlamp to guide your way!
Charlevoix provides a breathtaking winter landscape for any snow sport you can imagine, and there are very few people there to get in your way. Try dog sledding along snowy forest trails, ice skating at the historic Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, and fat biking or cross-country skiing through Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Rivière-Malbaie National Park.
When you’ve thoroughly worn out your inner child, indulge in a relaxing Nordic thermal experience at the Hôtel & Spa Le Germain Charlevoix and sample all the local bread, cheese, wine, and cider. Eating and drinking all the treats is okay—it’s your Snow Day in Québec!
Cover photo courtesy Heidi Gollub
Heidi Gollub enjoys working remotely and already misses the days when her kids could take virtual schooling on the road. An Austin local, she is always on the lookout for easy family getaways that require little-to-no prep work.