Settling into real life after a weekend at the Quebec Winter Carnival is like coming off a sugar high, or enduring a maple taffy crash, as the case may be. What could be better than hugging it out with Bonhomme, sampling your first shot of Caribou, strolling through Old Quebec and going clubbing with a few Duchesses? Here are 8 tips for soaking up the Quebec Winter Carnival in style.
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Who is Bonhomme?
You may not be familiar with the name, but surely you’ve recognized this 7 ft tall snowman. Who actually is Bonhomme? Well, behind the mask it’s a well guarded secret. But the king of winter isn’t a mere mascot (mascots don’t speak). Bonhomme is the ambassador for the world’s biggest and best winter carnival.
Bonhomme speaks (dude is fully bilingual), enthrals children and dazzles the ladies. I was lucky enough to meet him inside his Ice Palace (tricked out with a pool table, fireplace and lounge chairs, all made of ice, of course!). Sadly, it wasn’t a private tête-à-tête, but when he enveloped me in his humungous marshmallowy arms, I felt like the only girl in the world.
Carnival celebrates all things winter and you can barrel down an ice slide, try dog sledding, or even play a game of human foosball! Locals like to warm up with a nip of Caribou, an intoxicating mixture of red wine, hard liquor and you guessed it, maple syrup. Folks walk around the city with Caribou in plastic canes strapped to their sash (more on this later).It’s all very French and quite liberating.
“Is drinking on the streets legal in Quebec City?” asked one of my American colleagues.
“No, it’s encouraged!” shouted Jim Byers, another member of our crew.
Best poutine in Quebec City
Ok, you’re in Quebec, which means you’ve probably been drinking. Naturally it follows that a spot of poutine is in order. If you’re looking for the very best poutine in Quebec City, there’s one place every local will tell you to go: Chez Ashton. A Quebec City institution, this cafe has nailed the poutine formula. It’s truly the best.
You’ve got your fries made from local potatoes. They’re studded with fresh cheese curds and smothered in a rich gravy. It’s one gloopy mess for sure, but a delicious one at that. As my host Paule said, “Poutine is best used as a prevention or as a remedy.” Truer words…
Pure maple candy
How much maple taffy is too much maple taffy? Two pieces of pure maple candy a day seemed to be about the right number for me. I’ve tried frozen maple syrup on a stick in Alberta and it is NOTHING like the maple candy in la belle province. Boiled to a specific temperature and poured onto fresh snow, it’s a sweet wintery delight that you’re sure to become as addicted to as I now am. The withdrawal is especially painful, so nab a can of real maple syrup to enjoy back home.
The ceinture fléchée or Arrowhead sash is traditional piece of clothing worn proudly during Carnival. Should you get your hands on one, you could tie it around your waist like locals or in a pinch it makes an excellent scarf. Naturally, you’ll need to wear a toque (Canadian for wool hat) and this official Carnival hat that I bought is the coziest I own.
The city does a good job of keeping the sidewalks clean, but there’s still a lot of snow, ice and slush on the ground. I very much regretted wearing my cute booties out one night. Locals tromp around in serious winter boots and change into dressy shoes at their destination. They also bring an extra pair of sox with them if they’re going to be outside for much of the day. It doesn’t seem like much, but changing your sox is a real treat for cold toesies.
Most Carnaval activities take place outside and the weather can be predictably, well, Canadian. You’ll need to warm up a some point and if Caribou isn’t your thing, consider making a bee-line for Siberia Spa. Like many nature spas, Siberia Station Spa has a series of saunas and steam rooms for you to sweat it out in.
You’re supposed to jump into a cool plunge pool immediately after, but there are outdoor hot tubs to cheat at instead. I went full on winter warrior and dunked myself in a river. Naturally I froze my nards off, but I felt amazing after. Best is you get to rest in these tricked out relaxation areas. I cured up into a pod-like hammock suspended from the ceiling, kind of like a bat. Needless to say, the entire experience was awesome.
Ice skating Quebec City
Quebec City knows how to make the most of its assets. In particular: snow and ice. In front of Ristorante Il Teatro, there’s this delightful little ice rink. it’s the most romantic spot to go ice skating in Quebec City.
The twinkling lights, the backdrop of the historic St. John’s St John Gate, it was almost too much. The entire 20-minutes I spent twirling around the ice before heading into dinner at Il Teatro, I felt like I was in a fairy tale. You can rent skates right beside this ice rink.
For an incredible rush, there’s a fantastic toboggan slide on the Dufferin Terrace near Fairmont Chateau Frontenac. It’s super long, quite steep and you can reach speeds up to 70 km/hr. Despite all this, it’s the views from Dufferin Terrace you’ll never forget. On your right, the mighty St. Lawrence Seaway. On your left, the historic Chateau. Down below is the old town, with it’s 400-year old stone buildings flanking cobblestone streets.
It’s easy to see how Quebec City gets rated as one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in North America. But after my winter weekend, I’d say it’s one of the most refreshing.
Have you ever visited Quebec City? What are your must visit spots?
Thank you to both Quebec City Tourism and the Quebec Winter Carnival for hosting my visit. As always, my opinions are my own.