Canadians may express how the winter is tough, especially the one this year which has been colder than ever, and others may say they are over it after a few months of dealing with the crisp chilly winds, the icy roads and heavy snowfall. Yet on the whole, Canadians embrace the Winter, making the most of a situation they cannot change, while having fun doing so.
For a British person used to a nationwide moan following the prediction and appearance of rainfall and a country shut down from the appearance of an inch or two of snow, this concept of loving Winter was intriguing and I was determined to see how Canadians ride through the winter months without too many glitches. I did so by experiencing winter in Québec via a whole host of celebrations and activities in three of its charming hotspots – Montreal, Québec City and Mont Tremblant – where the season not only brings a considerable amount of snow but an abundance of good times.
While I can’t wait to see this quaint architectural city in the summer, Montreal’s classic beauty still seeped through the misty air of the snow blizzards during random wanders through its easy to navigate grid streets. However, winter brings some very specific offerings to this great city.
Mont Royal Winter Sports Park
Mont-Royal Olympic Park is a treat for those looking for some arctic style adventure. It’s here you can ice-skate on the huge frozen lake (my first time!), as well as go snowshoeing in the woodland and pathways that make up this picturesque plain. My favourite winter activity here was tubing, where you sit in an inflatable ring as you spin and whirl down a snow slide, racing your friends to the bottom. Generally, it’s a stunning spot for a stroll that also marks a spectacular viewpoint out across the city, which in winter is like looking at a cityscape dusted with icing sugar.
A festival with a difference, Igloofest brings Montreal’s finest kids of cool to come and display their retro and fancy dress outfits while dancing to electronic music within the various stages of its Igloo Village. It’s like Glastonbury, but without the mud and where willies are swapped for branded bobble hats knitted in neon colours. You can’t miss the bright lights of the set up on the Old Port when the sun goes down and where the party continues until the midnight hour.
I’m in no way interested in fishing, but if you have any ounce of interest you will find this a very unique experience. Pêche Vieux-Montréal is Montréal’s first urban Ice Fishing Village located on the Quays of the Old Port. Expert fisherman are on hand to show you how they drill holes into the ice, how to set up the rods and the best practice for catching something. These guys brave the cold, but visitors can ice fish within the comfort of a wooden hut with electric heaters. It’s fair to say I didn’t last long.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Quebec City is just as beautiful as its sister city of Montreal, where stunning buildings line the decadent streets. During January and February, Quebec City is home to two winter wonders, most notably the annual festival, where decorations and celebrations fill the pretty cobbled streets, and where the Ice Hotel opens its doors for those looking for alternative accommodation.
The Carnival de Quebec
The largest winter festival in the world and third on the list of Top Carnivals after the famous Rio and New Orleans, the Carnival de Quebec is an absolute must see that continues a centuries old tradition and I was lucky to be a part of this year’s 60th year of celebrations!
On Quebec City’s Plains of Abraham sits a fun ‘Snow Village’ filled with tubing slides, ice slides, snow sculptures and dog sledding, and nearby sits the Ice Palace of the carnival’s much-loved ambassador, Bonhomme (meaning ‘good man’), 40 feet tall and made from over 300 tons of ice.
Not only did my friends and I met the ‘man’ himself but one of my friends got to participate in the annual ‘Snow Bath’, which he has been attempting to get into for the past seven years. This was possibly the most memorable and enjoyable part of the festival, where groups of people play in the snow wearing nothing more than their swimsuits and snow boots. The magical night street parade and outdoor party, on the site of Bonhomme’s Palace, completes the series of events that make up this incredible celebration of winter.
The Ice Hotel
Now in it’s 14th year, Quebec City’s infamous Ice hotel returns annually boasting a new design and themed interior. It might cost $250+ to stay here, but visitors can sample its icy delights on a day visit, where you can wander around the 44 bedrooms, visit the wedding chapel as well as dance and drink in the bar.
Mont Tremblant’s offering speaks for itself in being a ski resort – the most obvious, yet favourite, pastime of winter enthusiasts – and you can read more about my time there learning how to snowboard here. With 95 tree-lined slopes and an 18-acre park, it’s sure to capture the attention of many avid snow adventurers who can also enjoy après ski in the European style pedestrian village.
At the foot of the highest peak in the Laurentian mountains, Mont Tremblant is an ideal base for winter activities including tubing, ice-skating, and dog sledding. My favourite activity outside of the slopes was snowshoeing – an opportunity to experience trekking in a different climate.
Other ski-resorts in the province include Stoneham (a haven for snowboarders and home to the largest night skiing network in Canada), Mont-Sainte-Anne and Le Massif de Charlevoix (the highest peak in Eastern North America).
Winter in Quebec is a gateway to celebration and making the most of the great outdoors despite the chilly climate. It’s a place where winter isn’t just known as a season, but a playground of fun, adventure and sporting activity set within beautiful historical cities and picturesque landscapes. Even if you are not crazy about the winter, you’ll soon feel the Québécoise charm pulling you in and you’ll find yourself celebrating it instinctively.
My visit to Mont Tremblant and Montreal was a part of the #LoveWinter blog trip created and managed by iambassador in partnership with the Canadian Tourism Commission, Tourism Montreal and Tourism Quebec. I maintain all editorial control over the content produced as a result of this trip and all opinions remain my own.