No city in Canada showcases the nations Winter Wonderland potential quite like Quebec City. It’s as if she’s sitting inside a snow globe, a blanket of fluffed marshmallow hugging each building tight. During the winter month’s festive wreaths and pretty red bows decorate the shops in Old Quebec while a heroic bronze statue standing in a petite cobblestone square offers a nod to the city’s 400 year old European charms.
While standing under a choir of icicles at the Fairy Tale castle Chateaux Frontenac I enjoy a perfect panorama of the mighty St. Lawrence. Jagged ice sheets sail over frigid froth, shooting down the river at breakneck speed. I’m hypnotized and slack jawed while staring into Quebec’s thunderous heartbeat.
In order to properly appreciate the coolness of Quebec’s cold, one must begin their visit at the city’s most famous pop up castle, Hotel de Glace. Each winter a team of ice and snow loving architects build a hotel which seems to stand entirely frozen in time… that is until the warmth of spring has her melting into a puddle in the sun.
Celebrating its 15th year, the management at Hotel de Glace expect to host thousands of curious visitors who will whisk their way through 40 jaw dropping suites, sip boozy cocktails from ice chalice via frigid bar and enjoy a thrill while zooming down the lobby’s slide (which you guessed correctly, is also made entirely of ice).
Overnight guests are given a 30 minute tutorial on how to survive the evening which includes hot tips on warming yourself up at the al fresco spa via Swedish sauna and hot tub, how to change your socks without freezing your toes off and how to zip yourself up for the night in your sleeping bag (squirm like a worm).
My first eve in Quebec City was spent with a gaggle of journalists who flew in from across the country as guests of HBO Canada. We had been invited to attend the launch party of Game of Thrones: The Complete Fourth Season on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD which hit shelves in Canada and around the world on February 17th.
At 6pm we were all sitting on comfy couches keeping our hands warm while coddling cups of coffee in the hotel’s lobby. Moments later we were motioned out the back door and marched through the crunch of freshly fallen snow to the hotel’s petite ice chapel. The moody Game of Thrones anthem could be heard whispering through the trees as we tiptoed down a red carpet towards the entrance. A gaggle of tourists and local media gasped as we sauntered past an impressive Game of Thrones ice sculpture duo and booming bon fire.
Once inside the chapel an enthusiastic bartender mixed up Game of Thrones themed cocktails which were served in cubed ice coupe. After each guest had filed into the space we seated ourselves on faux-fur adorned ice benches while staring up at a trilogy of Baanto interactive touch screens. The company designed and developed a very cool software platform that allows Game of Thrones fans to navigate the map of Westeros, using touch to activate teasers to many of the different special features included in the Game of Thrones Season 4 Blue-ray set.
Brian Blazik, Vice-President for Canada and Latin America at HBO Home Entertainment took the stage to offer exciting news about what fans can expect from the newest Game of Thrones DVD offering as well as a brief preview for other HBO favourites such as The Comeback, Looking and The Jinx. The evening came to a close when the party moved outside, just as a gust of snowflakes danced along the tree tops. The group huddled around a crackling bonfire as a flame thrower twirled fiery ball and chain in a rhythmic dance which was choreographed to the moody boom of that familiar heroic Game of Thrones score.
The following morning after slithering out of our sleeping bags we headed to a press conference for the official launch of Carnaval de Quebec. The festivals iconic mascot, the smiling snowman Bonhomme, stood at the entrance to offer a quintessentially jovial Quebecois welcome. After a few spirited speeches media turned to the unveiling of the one-of-a-kind Game of Thrones Ice Throne sculpture which HBO Home Entertainment commissioned this for this years festival. Our Carnaval visit concluded as the group toured through Bonhomme’s majestic Ice Castle.
After spending the past 24 hours indulging in Quebec City’s coolest winter attractions I was thrilled to hop in a cab bound for the city’s historical Old Quebec quarter. I’d be spending the next two nights at the toasty warm boutique property Hotel 71, located in a prestigious building that was once the National Bank of Canada’s first head office. The buildings facade is a stunning example of 19th century neo-classic architecture while its interior featuring 60 contemporary rooms and suites offers sweeping views of the St. Lawrence River and Cap Diamant. My suites real winter winner was the bathrooms spacious rain shower and soak tub which made relaxing a breeze after a long day running around in the cold.
Sips & Nibbles: If looking to grab a quick bite, indulge in craft beer, gelato muddled milkshakes, juicy burgers and a potpourri of poutine at The Chic Shack. If in the market for brunch be sure to sample the classic crepes at local favourite Au Petit Coin Breton. If looking for a romantic fine dining experience book a table at Chez Boulay where fancy food is inspired by the best of Boreal.
I began my exploration of Quebec City by taking the funicular to the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac. The city’s iconic castle just underwent an astonishing $74 million dollar renovation and is now serious about serving its guests razzle dazzle! I spun through the hotel’s lobby doors and arrived at the properties three new creme de la creme culinary offerings. Le Chateau Frontenac’s recently launched restaurant trilogy features jaw dropping interiors, friendly service and menu’s which highlight Quebec’s nouveau cuisine.
I start my tour while skipping through Champlain Restaurant, the hotel’s fine dining concept which features cutting edge regional cuisine, private dining with panache, a gold gilded wine rack adorned hallway and spacious Cheese Room. Next door you’ll find a gorgeous nook, aptly titled 1608 Wine and Cheese Bar which pays homage to the year of Quebec City’s founding which took place on the very site you’re standing. 1608 offers guests one of the largest varieties of top Quebec fromage in Canada, sourced from the nearby Cheese Room. The bar features a dazzling chandelier show, stuffed Canadian Geese which appear to fly out of the wall and an eclectic selection of furniture which makes one want to cozy up to the fireplace, crack open a book and cuddle with a cocktail.
My final stop was Bistro La Sam, a new “Bistro Evolutif,” inspired by the discoverer Samuel de Champlain. The space features a bustling open kitchen and friendly bar which offers jaw dropping views of the St. Lawrence River below. I hop on a stool and tuck myself under the tabletop before being greeted by a smiling bartender who places an iPad in my hands and suggests I flip through their extensive cheese offering. I order a mixed board which arrives at the table topped with two cheeses (Monsieur Emile Chevre, Cheddar de L’Ile-Aux-Grues 4 years) three charcuterie (Old Ham, Le Pieux Sausage, Copa Lauza), crostini, mustard, pickled vegetables and fig jam. The bartender insists she prepares her favourite cocktail, simply titled the Algonquin. I nibble away as she performs a magical smoke show, the end result featuring smoked white cedar and orange peel, gin ungava, vermouth punte mes, chartreuse and aphrodite bitters.
The following morning I met with friendly local guide Steeve Gaudreault (418-520-6565) who spent the next few hours road-tripping me around the outskirts of the city. We started at the region’s most picturesque haven for rest and relaxation, Spa des Neiges. Located along the St. Lawrence River at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Spa des Neiges offers a relaxing and memorable stay for those who enjoy the great outdoors. Located a short 25 minute drive from Quebec City (and a short 5 minute jaunt from popular ski resort Mont Sainte Anne), this Nordic inspired spa offers three outdoor thermal baths, sauna, steam room, teepees, relaxation rooms with a view and a classic massage menu. I’ll never forget floating off my massage table like a dozed zombie, hopping into a white rob, scooting into flip flops and marching into the winter’s cold to bob up and down in a steaming al fresco bath!
Steeve and I hopped back in the car and spent the next few hours driving along cute rural roads in search of his favourite local haunts. Our first stop was a stroll through the wildly impressive Ste-Anne-de-Beaupre Basilica, a popular stop not just for Catholics but those inspired by stained glass and awesome architectural feats. We stopped for a classic snack, maple butter slathered freshly baked bread just down the road at Chez Marie before arriving at the thunderous boom of Montmorency Falls.
As we drove back towards the city we took a detour to Ile d’Orleans, a popular spot to visit in the spring and summer. While the small communities which dot the island are mostly quiet during the winter season we managed to tip toe around the Erabliere Entailleur Sugar Shack (a must for maple fans) and enjoyed a final toast via award winning ice cider at Cidrerie Bilodeau.
The city’s top attraction for the arts enthusiast is the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec, located in the Champs-de-Bataille Park also known to history buffs as the Plains of Abraham. The building was home for nearly a century to Quebec’s prison and guests today can wander through the dungeon which has been retained to showcase what prison life looked like here in the last century. Highlights of the collection include a choir of indigenous stone sculpture, a host of religious artifacts and paintings and a colourful collection of portraits and pastoral landscapes which offer a lively contrast to contemporary pieces such as Unicorn Cock by Jean Dallaire and The Crack in the Chorus of the Body by Genevieve Cadieux.
On my final morning in Quebec City I skipped over street corners covered in slush in search of the city’s farmers market. Located a short stroll from my hotel in Old Quebec, Marche du Vieux Port is the perfect last call for visitors looking to bring home a taste from their holiday. I whisked a dusting of snow off my head before exploring each vendors offering. If you visit the market you’ll of course come across fresh produce, a fish monger, butcher and baker but the quintessential Quebecois treats worth hoarding are found at the fromagerie, charcuterie stand (foie gras, cretons, coils of sausage), maple syrup sellers and jam and jelly makers. I scooped up three butters (maple, pear, apple rhubarb) and two fresh local cheeses which I tightly packed into my luggage before bolting to the airport. My fond memories for Quebec’s capital lived on the following week as I nibbled on casein and slathered sweetly on soft baguette.
My visit to Quebec City was a press trip coordinated by HBO Canada and Quebec City Tourism. Transportation, accommodation, restaurant visits and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary.