It was a blizzard in Quebec; the forecast called for ten inches of snow and a high temperature of 8°F. You would have thought it would have been a day to stay at home, but no, that’s not how Quebecers roll. They bundle up the kids, put grandma on a wheelchair ski (no kidding!) and wrap up their Caribou mulled wine because it’s time to carnival!! The Quebec Carnival tradition started in 1894 with guys just looking to have fun in the snow, and then in 1954 it was an annual tradition across the city. Today it is the largest winter carnival in the world, taking place over 10-17 days with over 200 activities and 500,000 revelers. We heard about it while researching the best winter festivals for the “Snow & Ice” chapter of Ultimate trips for two, and put it on our calendar for the following year. In January 2018, the time had come to fly to the UNESCO World Heritage City with our best long johns to enjoy winter like only Quebecers can.
Fly to Quebec
We checked in the Hilton Quebec, the official Carnival hotel, and were greeted by Richard the concierge… a man in his sixties, adorned with almost as many commemorative Carnival pins. ” Welcome to Quebec. You are going to love this festival,” he said with an endearing French-Canadian accent. “From your room you can see the Bonhomme Ice Palace, the Nordic Village, the old city walls and the St. Lawrence River where the Ice Canoe Race takes place.” The wall-to-wall windows looked like a 3D map to chart our four days of fun.
Before being swept away in the whirlwind of festivities, we got our bearings with a tour of the old town and a crash course in its more than 400 years of history. French explorers saw this place, where the river narrows between steep cliffs, as the perfect place to found a colony. Working with the ominous terrain, they built walls around what is now the only walled city north of Mexico. We entered the ramparts and really felt like we were in France, with all the charm of narrow cobbled streets, 18th century houses, stately churches and trendy cafes, but with even friendlier and more friendly people. more English-speaking. The city had fully embraced winter, with miles of groomed cross-country ski trails in central park and a dozen ice rinks set up around the city. Of course it was cold, but people were happy and that alone makes you feel warmer.
Bonhomme’s Ice Palace
Let’s now move on to the heart of the Carnival: Bonhomme’s Palace. Giant snowman wearing a belt and doing dance moves with leg kicks, Bonhomme is the king of winter and carnival. Quebecers associate him with Father Christmas, but better because he only travels in their province and stays there for more than one night. We entered his palace of 1,800 blocks of ice and each hallway was an interactive spectacle of lights, music and games. His backyard was the ultimate playground with human foosball, log racing, floor hockey, First Nations crafts and activities for all ages.
The Great Alley
The festivities continued on the Grand Allée, a main thoroughfare filled with ice slides, fire pits, musicians, curling rinks and an international ice sculpture competition. We were here in bright sunshine and then again in a blizzard; the same volume of people were smiling ear to ear.
A theme that ran through the Carnival was Quebec heritage – from First Nations, French settlers, lumberjacks, fur traders to hockey players. Along with impressive multimedia screens and a mechanical moose, Camp à Jos has gone old school with ax throwing, wood chopping and taffy made with nothing more than maple syrup and snow.
From the pioneering activities of the Camp à Jos to the Nordik Village, the Carnival is also a fun winter survival course. At the Port of Quebec, Canadian and Californian children had the chance to stroll in igloos and try their hand at ice fishing. Have a bite to eat and the Marché du Vieux-Port will cook it for you with hash browns. (Or if you’re like Anne, you freak out when you grab one and try to put it back as fast as you can).
Eat well, stay warm
They say eating a hearty meal is key to staying warm. (You don’t need to twist our arm.) We took the opportunity to try the poutine at The Chic Shackfondue Blenderand a five-course tasting menu at Legend Restaurant. All were delicious but Legend was easily one of the best vegetarian dining experiences we have ever had. Let’s start with our martini…it arrived in a cloche filled with maple smoke. Sipping gin with hints of pine and smoky maple in the air, we were transported to a campfire in the forest. We tasted tofu as creamy as pastry cream and eggplant caviar that could have been Beluga. Every item on the seasonal menu was inspired by their Quebec roots (if it’s not local, they don’t serve it) and offered sustainable cuisine at its finest.
The ice canoe race
Remember how we said, we featured the Quebec Winter Carnival in Ultimate trips for two? The Ice Canoe Race was perhaps the event that won us over. We timed our trip to ensure we could catch this one-day bargain, where 60 teams storm the semi-frozen St. Lawrence River. Equipped with dry suits, carbon fiber crew boats and crampons, they race along the ice until they reach “open water”. It was a battle of icebergs, strong currents, blizzard conditions and borderline madness. Crazy or not, these guys deserved a cheering section so we joined thousands of fans for this unique show in Canada.
Quebec Carnival Night Parade
As Saturday night fell, the parade went off. Six hundred artists, 18 floats, 7 dance companies and 11 animators brought winter scenes to life. To stay warm during the festivities, we took the local advice…drink Caribou. Everyone has their own twist on this mulled wine recipe; we went with a blend of cinnamon, maple syrup, orange zest and cabernet sauvignon. With fire in our bellies and music in the air, we danced alongside duchesses, lumberjacks, icebergs and more whimsical characters until Bonhomme gave us a goodnight kiss.
Watch this Carnival Instagram Stories video compilation in action.
The Detox Monastery
After four days of partying, it was time to detox at the The Augustinian Monastery…Canada’s oldest monastery and hospital transformed into a wellness hotel. We entered a modern glass building, only to find it encompassed a 17th century stone facade. Our floor has been refurbished with contemporary suites, but if you want a taste of monastic life, you can stay in the original dormitories, with centuries-old antiques. We woke up early to do yoga and a healthy breakfast, eaten in silence. To maintain their tradition of healing and service, Le Monastère is a non-profit organization that benefits caregivers, social workers and families with sick loved ones.
The Ice Hotel of North America
With body and mind rejuvenated, we were ready to embark on our final adventure: a night in a world-famous ice hotel. Made of 70 million pounds of snow and ice, Ice Hotel stay between 23-27°F at all times to keep walls, furniture, and artwork from melting. We were a little nervous when we geared up for survival in a sub-freezing suite, but felt better when we heard the routine involved an exclusive cocktail hour at the ice bar and reveling in the hot tub. When we crossed the arcades of the Hôtel de Glace, we were 100% on board. The walls were carved with whimsical scenes of circus animals, acrobats and jugglers. An ice slide had the kids squealing with delight, and a cocktail bar serving cheeky drinks like “Ski-Doo Accident” and “Sex on the Ice” kept the adults laughing all the same. It’s too dazzling to fully describe, you just have to watch our video tour to capture a fraction of its magic.
Gotta love while most northerners are counting down the days until the spring thaw, Quebec is finding more and more reasons to fall in love with the cold.
Upcoming dates for the Quebec Winter Carnival: Mark your calendars from February 2, 2024 to Sunday, February 11, 2024 find more information about the winter carnival here.
THE Quebec Tourism Office invited HoneyTrek to be their guest; however, all opinions are our own.