The funny thing about working in the tourism industry is that we seldom take the time to truly discover the town we live in, unless you happen to hold a media relations position, or deal with tour operators and prospective travel agents to whom you’d give a thorough city tour.
Familiarization trips, it seems, are always “somewhere else”, it’s part of the appeal of working in this industry, after all. Born and raised in Montreal, I had been to Quebec City a few times during my youth, and had always enjoyed my time in this quaint city.
I moved here in 2008 in the midst of the 400th anniversary celebrations to pursue a new career challenge, and discovered that the city and its people had changed quite a bit since the gloom of the 90s, specially if you were a hockey fan – after all, the Nordiques, epic and arch-rival team to Montreal Canadiens, were moved to Denver in 1995, and went on to win the Stanley Cup the following year!
While Quebec City is a great place to visit during summer time, I find it holds a great many surprises when leaves have fallen and it’s covered under a thick blanket of snow. Here are some of my favorites places and attractions during winter time:
1. Quebec Winter Carnival
Québec Winter Carnival is said to be the biggest in the world, a true winter classic! Every year, there are new features or attractions added to the three-weekends long program, but you can always count on one thing: Bonhomme!
The snowman and mascot for the event is ubiquitous: you may spot him during the ski-joring competition, dog-sleigh race or singing and dancing on stage or aboard a carriage during one of the street parades. While the Carnival is great fun for families, both locals and tourists can take advantage of a full-on program including ice & snow sculptures competition, snow tubing, food tasting, extreme activities and much, much more. Check out their web site for details: http://www.carnaval.qc.ca/en
2. Montmorency Falls Park
About 10-15 mins drive from Old Québec is the beautiful Montmorency Falls Park, where one can find panoramic views of the St-Lawrence river, either from the top or bottom of the impressive 83-meters-high (272 feet) Montmorency Falls, located across the pristine Orleans island. There is a cable car that connects top to bottom and, in winter time, the place becomes a haven for novice and avid ice-climbers alike. The Manoir (at the top) is a great place to have lunch, and Sunday brunch here is a must!
3. Ice Hotel
Since its opening in 2011, Quebec City’s Ice Hotel has welcomed over half million people from around the world. Every year, this impressive structure gets built from scratch during the month of December, opens up for three months, then melts away during spring time. But not before hosting numerous weddings in its ice chapel, various parties in its ice bar and accommodating guests in its rooms, beautifully decorated by very talented snow sculptors.
UPDATE: The Ice Hotel is now located at Village Vacances Valcartier.
As a father with three young boys, a personal favorite is the Aquarium du Québec, where we go often with our annual pass, and every chance we get when friends & family are in town.
Sure, the Aquarium itself is great venue, with the possibility to see polar bears, sea walrus, seals and Artic fox living outdoors, on top of the many varieties of fish from around the world showcased in the main building. But in winter time, the place brightens up with 400,000 lights during evening time, making for a lovely scenery, just under the Quebec bridge and by the St-Lawrence river. Check their web site for detailed daily rates & schedule.
Another great benefit of living in Quebec City is that within a one-hour driving range, the place is a phenomenal playground. Here are my personal favorites:
5. Village Vacances Valcartier
Famous during summer time when the heat is on, with its water slides, pools and nearby camping ground, Village Vacances Valcartier becomes a must-experience winter destination in winter. A 20 minutes drive away from Quebec, you will find over 35 snow slides, skating paths and a variety of activities for all ages, making it a great family destination. Thrill-seekers will find what they need, though! For an original twist to your experience, try combining a visit with fondue dinner. Yummy!
6. Le Massif de Charlevoix
Less than one-hour away from downtown Quebec you will find the steepest terrain, and biggest vertical drop east of the Canadian Rockies, at Le Massif. This mountain is part of the evolving Le Massif de Charlevoix project, which includes a 150-room hotel set to open this spring in Baie-Saint-Paul, and the new touring Train linking Quebec City with La Malbaie, where one can stay at Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu or play at Casino de Charlevoix.
While the mountain is known for its powder stashes and off-piste terrain, this winter it innovates with an awesome experience: rodeling, or Austrian-style luge (see video below). And if you have a bit more budget, you can combine a ski experience at Le Massif with the new rail cruise experience.
7. Siberia Station Spa
It’s nice to do all these outdoor activities, but what if you just want to relax and take it easy? The perfect spot is Siberia Station Spa, in Stoneham, about 20 mins drive away from the city. This Scandinavian spa is nicely located near a river stream, in between pine trees and quiet wilderness, treating yourself to hot & cold environments, switching from the steam bath to cold water falls, from the dry spa to the river stream.
In between, plenty of options to relax: Mongolian-style yurt, log cabin, or even staying outside by the fireplace. Of course, coming here without having one of the massage treatments would be somewhat incomplete… 😉
If you have ever been to Quebec City, what was your favorite thing to do or place to see? If you’ve never been… what are you waiting for?
Additional resources: Quebec City and area tourism site