Quebec is a destination known for being a romantic get-away, but the entire family will find fun, frolics and festivities at one of the World’s largest winter Carnivals….
After 62 years, Quebecers are no strangers to embracing the snow. In fact, their famous mascot, Bonhomme, is a 7-foot, 400-pound, walking, talking snowman! Across from Quebec’s iconic Parliament building, the stage is set as Bonhomme’s Ice Palace. It’s called Place de l’Assemblee-Nationale and it’s just one of the locations for outdoor concerts and activities. The palace looks brilliant at night time. From January 29th – February 14th, Quebec City is like a massive snow-globe that can be shaken or stirred over three weekends!
As you journey through the cobblestone streets like Place de Royale or Quartier Petit Champlain, you’ll be surrounded by Quebec City’s historic landscape that sits on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The foundation of ‘‘Old Quebec’’ is prevalent with its Unesco World heritage site – a centuries-old fortified wall that leads you right to the Plains of Abraham – the central playground for the Carnival, which turns into a massive open snow fortress of activity.
If you’re into speed, go for the 120 meter-long ice slide (worth a screaming ‘‘selfie’’ video all the way down!). Then grab a snow tube and spin your way to the bottom of a hill before you work your way to the Sugar Shack for traditional beaver tails. Or you might want to warm your insides with the Carnival’s signature Caribou Rum – the perfect elixir for an adventurous ride with a dog-sled team, or zip-lining across the winter fairground! The Plains have mapped out a special kiddies playground where they too can happily wear themselves out.
If you’re into watching competitions, I have witnessed one of the most extreme sports at the Quebec Winter Carnival – Ice Canoe races across the St. Lawrence River! The event has been going on since 1955 and originated from when they used to transport people and goods from Quebec City and Levis. Each year, over 50 teams of men and women from three countries demonstrate tremendous courage and athleticism as they dig and paddle through the broken icebergs that surface the river. It’s a sight to see. Another competition to watch is the one and two-man sleigh races on The Plains. Want to participate? Enter the snow racer grand prix, a giant snow-bowling competition, a snowshoe challenge, or Yukigassen (a snow-ball fight!)
One of my favorite spectacles was watching the International Snow Sculptures Competition take shape throughout the days of the carnival. As teams from around the world are provided with a box of tools, competitors start chiselling ginormous blocks of snow into monumental art pieces. When you see the sculptures, it’s quite amazing to learn some have never made a snow sculpture before.
As night approaches, the ice and snow art come alive all over the city and performers hit the concert stages. This year, there will be a symphonic tribute to the music of the Beatles, by Beatles, Abby Road & Co. You might also plan your trip around the Carnival Night Parade. In Quebec, they take the planning of costume and character creations seriously, so it’s a spectacle of colorful Cirque de Soleil-like characters and masqueraders on stilts, music and high fire acts through the streets.
If diving into the snow in your swimsuit is on your bucket list, sign up for the traditional Snow Bath with Bonhomme, on the Plains of Abraham. It’s been going on since 1987 and a sight that will have you howling.
While you’re in Quebec, take a ride ten minutes from the city center and visit the amazing Ice Hotel; an ice and snow structure of themed hotel rooms, a bar and ice slide, and its own chapel. If you’re the extreme adventurous type, you might want to check in for the night.
What To Eat
Quebec has been applauded for some of the best French cuisine this side of Europe. Open your palate to wild game in a ground beef pie, or seafood from the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, and Quebec’s amazing local cheeses melted into a fondue. As you make your way along the intertwined carnivalesque streets, the familiar sight of maple toffee in the snow and carts of poutine are simply irresistible. Add the Hotel Frontenac’s fromagerie tasting room to your list. I was in awe sitting at their 1608 wine and cheese bar while overlooking one of the best views of the St. Lawrence River.
What To Wear
Red and white are the signature colors. Along with your signature Effigy (see the picture below), you may want to sport a red or white arrow sash, to be shown off around your waist. Add a pair of carnival winter gloves and a trendy toque and you’ve got the perfect Quebec Carnival fashion statement. Dress warm so you have nothing else to think about but pure winter fun (although hand warmers are sold all over).
The Carnival Effigy is your passport to all 17 days of festivities at the main festival sites. The Effigy is a small pendant you wear throughout the carnival and costs $15 Canadian. It has become a collector’s item, with many having collected all 62 Effigies. A full carnival pass can be purchased for $35-Canadian.
In its 62nd year celebrating a magical winter fest, Quebec City shares its joie de vivre with the world. When your day winds down, take a horse-drawn carriage back to your hotel and nestle in by the fireplace at an old Victorian-style hotel or stay at the Hilton where room views overlook the St. Lawrence River, the Ice Palace, Parliament and the Plains of Abraham. The world’s snow capital gives celebrating Mardi Gras a new meaning at the Quebec Winter Carnival!
For more information, go to https://carnaval.qc.ca. Images above courtesy of Quebec City Tourism & Quebec Winter Carnival, and Restaurant L’Echaude.
Michael-Ann Rowe is an Emmy Award Winning food and travel journalist. See more of her work at www.michaelannrowe.com.