It was completely silent and pitch black. The air was crisp, and I was warm. Sleeping in a hotel made of 500 tons of ice and 30,000 tons of snow turned out to be a lot more comfortable than you might think.
Simply put: Québec City does winter best. Fittingly known as the snow capital of the world, and deserving of its reputation.
It is dense with history and culture, evident in the stunning architecture that permeates throughout the city and the huge variety of historical sites, art galleries and museums you can choose to visit.
The other thing Québec does exceptionally well is food. On my first day I was lucky enough to have breakfast at La Bûche, a restaurant which offers a traditional Québécoise cuisine.
Inside there is a lively, festive atmosphere with music playing and a combined décor of both a typical French restaurant and a Canadian hunting lodge.
Orange juice and sparkling wine, delicious scrambled eggs with spring onions and classic French crêpes with a generous helping of Canadian maple syrup – what better way to spend a morning in a winter wonderland?
Additionally, La Bûche is situated in the heart of Old Québec, which is a historic neighbourhood and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The preservation of buildings date back to the 17th century and horse-drawn carriages are a regular site which add to the city’s uniquely old world charm. It is such a spectacular place to be that it makes the cold air feel pleasant, like it’s all just part of the winter experience. And really, it is.
One thing that will stand out – particularly to Aussies – is just how much the people of Québec embrace the colder climes.
This is most obvious during the Winter Carnival, where the locals celebrate their city and the season with invigorating enthusiasm and pride.
And to capture this carnival spirit, next up on my agenda was the mythic Ice Canoe race on the frozen St. Lawrence River. Before the advent of steamboats capable of breaking through ice, ice canoeing was a practical activity used to traverse the Saint Lawrence River.
The race developed as a competition between two families who provided the service of transporting people and goods across the river.
Since then it has become a popular sport with its biggest race being held during the Carnival. It was awe-inspiring to watch the dedication, skill and, frankly, craziness of the athletes gliding through the broken ice and near-freezing water.
If ice-canoeing looks exciting to you, you can try it while you’re there! Among the Winter Carnival attractions include ice sculpting competitions, marching bands and plenty of the famed Québécoise food including Poutine, comprising of chips, gravy and cheese curd. The official carnival hotel is the luxurious Hilton Hotel, located in the city centre.
For a truly unforgettable activity try dog-sledding. For me, it was a totally novel and exhilarating experience being at the behest of a group of eager and powerful huskies sprinting unremittingly through the breathtaking Québec scenery.
Last up on my itinerary was the Hôtel de Glace – a literal ‘hotel of ice’. It takes 32 days to build, and takes on a new form every year.
It is made of 500 tons of ice, 30,000 tons of snow and has ceilings measuring up to seven meters tall. In it, there are 44 rooms and themed suites, a Nordic area with hot tubs and saunas under the stars, a ‘Grand Ice Slide’ and perhaps most importantly an ice bar where you can drink cocktails in cups made entirely of ice.
The themed suites of the hotel are magical. Each one is wonderfully creative and unique, taking advantage of the medium of ice-sculpting to produce captivating works of art.
I should also mention that the beds are very comfortable, and allow for a deep sleep like you’ve never had before. It’s also just plain fun, and makes for a highly memorable experience.
Additionally the hotel is located in the Village Vacances Valcartier, which is a four-season outdoor playground with a wide array of activities including a Winter Playground with 35 tube slides, 17 lifts and a skating path.
As I said, Québec City does winter best. It feels like a whole new country and culture, even though a large majority of people speak English fluently.
It’s an unforgettable city, with a beauty and spirit which will remain permanently etched in your memory. And, like me, you’ll find yourself encouraging everyone to be sure to visit.