Nothing makes me more grateful for the balmy winter temperatures of Toronto this year (-5) than a weekend of -28 c with a windchill factor that instantly freezes and renders motionless any skin brazen enough to be unswathed.
BUT, Toronto doesn’t have the largest Winter Carnival in the world, it doesn’t have the beautiful heritage feel and with an unusual virtually snowless winter it certainly doesn’t have the Fairytale Palace look of old Quebec city.
The Quebec Winter Carnival began when the “habitants” of New France/now Quebec began a tradition of a getting together for a rip-roaring party just before Lent to eat, drink and be merry.
With the long Quebec winters and January/February winter temperatures running around -30, I guess you might just as well get out in the open and embrace the climate. And embrace it they do.
Occurring over 3 weekends in January and February (running 1-13 February 2013), the Quebec Winter Carnival takes place at various locations in Old Quebec all within about a 1 km distance of one another. The largest venue by far, and where most of the activity takes place is just outside the city walls at The Plains of Abraham, the famous site of the siege of Quebec in 1759.
Every conceivable celebration of winter is incorporated into the festival including skiing, skating, a sled trail, sleigh rides, dancing in the ice palace, music, and a huge ferris wheel. A mulled spiced drink called Caribou ( spiced whisky and red wine) is available ” on-tap” at every bar and only the french could have such a civilized tent set-up housing a cafe complete with heating, trellised plants, couches and tables. On the menu – amongst other choices, a magnificently valued family sized plate of Quebcois cheeses, French bread and grapes.
The park was full of magnificent ice sculptures and each weekend’s festivities is heralded in and out with a huge parade led by the star of the Carnival – Monsieur Bonhomme, a man-sized snowman who looks like a cross between the Pillsbury dough boy – minus the chefs hat- and a Newfoundland Mummer. The only thing that saves him from coming over as slightly grotesque and creepy is his benign expression and general air of ” hail fellow well met” -which after all is what the name Monsieur “Good Man” means
Once again we had amazing food this trip. My husband – as noted by my late Uncle Jean Marie (my family is french)- is what is known as a “gourmand” he LOVES great food. Our favoutite spots: Aux Anciennes Canadiens – housed in the oldest building in old Quebec (circa 1676) has a reputation as a bit of a tourist trap for that very reason however, with Quebec specialities such as elk (wapiti), duck, caribou and deer on the menu, plus a taster dish of 5 of their deserts including maple syrup pudding, it is a truly french eating experience. www.auxanciennescanadiens.qc.ca
Le Cochon Dingue in the heart of the old city and in the shadow of Chateau Laurier is a favourite for informal lunches with Moules being a speciality. Great Prix fix menu, sandwiches and steak frites plus friendly service and you are good to go for the afternoon. www.cochondingue.com
Our other tried and tested is Bistro Sous le Fort, a tiny little restaurant with only room for about 20 covers again in the cobbled street directly opposite the entrance to the funicular and under (sous) the Old Fort. Always wonderful service in the four years we’ve been visiting; excellent brasserie with a twist menu, and delicious “puddings”. www.bistrosouslefort.com
After an entire weekend of freezing our”chuckies” off both outside and in – our favourite Logis let us down on the heating front this year – we hired a car for the final day
First stopping off for an up-close and personal look at Montmorency Falls which were virtually frozen to the extent that they looked like one of the Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Spring’s limestone terrace. The trail up to the bridge was closed so we had to find a road up to the bridge and stare down rather than up. A couple of little wooden gazebos perched at various view- strategic points on the ice glazed steps leading off the bridge path allowed visitors to get very close to the waterfall which thunders 83m straight. This is considered one if the province’s most spectacular sites and it was certainly impressive standing so close to it. Ordinarily the falls bridge is accessible by cable car – that would be fun.
We decided skirt east along the seaway to Charlevoix which is the ski resort so often featured in adverts of Quebec with skiers poised atop a huge mountain with magnificent views if the St Lawrence seaway. Paradoxically the road takes you to the top of the mountain as opposed to a resort (like most) which is nestled at the bottom of the slopes. And yes the St Lawrence Seaway really does stretch out into the horizon. like a huge “Wedgwood” mural – patches of powder blue water punctuated with “bas-relief” white ice-flow
We travelled back to Quebec City via Isle d’Orleans. Hansel and Gretel cottages nestled in snow duvets: gabled windows, shutters and smoking chimney stacks accompany us around the island renowned as the Garden of Quebec and famous for its cider. Visible from the western tip at Sainte Petronille and during the ride over the bridge, the most magnificent winter light-diffused hazy soft-focus views of Quebec City with the turrets and spires of the trademark Chateau Laurier piercing the horizon.
A fitting end to a memorable trip
Over and Out
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