Wonder Wonderland

The many snowy splendors of Carnaval de Quebec.

By George Medovoy

Photo by Courtesy Carnaval De Quebec, Dany Vachon

GREAT WHITE NORTH: Enchanting and ephemeral, the Hôtel du Glace is rebuilt every winter, and welcomes guests to partake in its icy opulence starting in early January.


hen it comes to winter fun, Carnaval de Quebec is the place to be!

This annual tribute to all the joys of winter introduces visitors to everything from ice sculpting to tubing down snow slopes . . . and so much more.

Carnaval de Quebec 2018 is set to take place Jan. 26-Feb. 11 in various locations around Quebec City, the charming capital of the Canadian province of Quebec, just north of the border and about a two-and-a-half-hour drive east of Montreal.

Historically, the walls built around Quebec City — about a three-mile defensive belt — were meant to protect from attack by the British, and were later re-fortified by the British after taking Quebec from the French in 1759. But while any threat has long since passed, Quebec City still retains the distinction of being one of only two walled cities in North America. (The other is Campeche, Mexico.) 

Quebec City’s setting is on two levels, and a convenient funicular will easily take you from the lower part of town to the upper part, where you might wish to stay in the magnificent 19th-century Château Frontenac, site of the famous meeting of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Canadian Prime Minister MacKenzie King during World War II. 

I still fondly remember my earlier visit to Carnaval with its opportunity to enjoy the city’s Old World charm. By the time I arrived, the city had become a winter wonderland, with a thick layer of snow covering its colorful mansard roofs and ice floes slowing the St. Lawrence River. On the Plains of Abraham, a magnificent urban park, people were out enjoying cross-country skiing. 

Here and there I ran into Bonhomme Carnaval, Carnaval’s cheery, big-hearted, red-hatted snowman and “King of the Quebec Winter Carnival.” 

Among the activities of Carnaval 2018, one of the most interesting will be the International Snow Sculpture Competition, in which countries will try their luck sculpting ice, with competitors judged on the basis of technical, creative and thematic qualities. Teams will represent the United States, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, Ecuador, Argentina, France and, of course, Canada, last year’s winner.

But you don’t have to be a member of one of these teams to give ice sculpting a try, because Carnaval will offer individual visitors an opportunity to sculpt through Ice Experience, a program for groups of 20 or more.

And speaking of sculpture, Carnaval’s massive Ice Palace will be constructed in front of the Quebec National Assembly building, with entertainment scheduled inside and outside the palace. 

If you really crave the cold, however, the famous Ice Hotel, rebuilt every December about 30 minutes outside the city next to Village Vacances Valcartier, will offer chilly rooms for the night. I have to admit, on my own visit to Carnaval, I preferred the warmth of my “regular” hotel — but I did have a friend who stayed at Hôtel de Glace, and he managed to stay warm inside his sleeping bag. If you dispense with an overnight stay, you can still enjoy the hotel’s frosty beauty by having a cocktail at the bar, where your drink will be served as cold as a snowy night . . . in a glass made of ice.

Winter sports are surely a highlight of Carnaval. If you’re into sledding, get ready for the famous Ice Slide on the Grande Allée. Those who go in for tobogganing should head for Terrasse Dufferin. Also planned are floor hockey, giant foosball, snow tubing and other fun activities for kids and adults.

I remember getting the thrill of my life by joining eight other souls in a giant inner tube as we went careening down a snow path. At one point, with my scarf flying wildly around my neck, I thought I would slip out of the tube, but I managed to make it to the bottom in one piece, joining everyone in wild peals of laughter.

Quebec’s maple groves often have sugar shacks for tasting, and the sweet prize is served in an amazing variety of ways, from maple syrup crepes to a delectable dish I found on the menu of Restaurant aux Anciens Canadiens called maple syrup pie with fresh cream. But for a true Carnaval experience, consider wrapping maple taffy, spread on a board of fresh snow, onto an ice cream stick. 

One of Carnaval’s biggest events, the famous canoe race, will take place in the St. Lawrence River, starting on the afternoon of Feb. 3, with an opportunity to watch it from a boat. Two night parades will also be held — one in the lower part of town on Feb. 3 and another in the upper part on Feb. 10, along with plenty of musical entertainment.

When visiting Carnaval, it’s a good idea to dress warmly and bring snow boots, warm gloves, a scarf and a hat. Chilly weather is a given during any winter visit, but the nip in the air is easily assuaged by a wonderland of activity . . . and a warm Quebec reception! 

Carnaval de Quebec
Jan. 26-Feb. 11, 2018

Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
1 Rue des Carrières

Hôtel de Glace
1860 Boulevard Valcartier

Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens
34 Rue Saint-Louis

If you prefer a more traditional stay, the beautiful Le Château Frontenac offers luxury and history in equal parts — with a commanding view of Quebec City and the Saint Lawrence River.

Photo by George Medovoy

Guests brave the cold to take in the carnival’s night parade, where lamps are lit, participants dance and imaginative floats and giant animals (like this reindeer) saunter down the city streets.

Photo courtesy Carnaval de Quebec, Fred Photo Video.

After partaking in the evening festivities, overnight guests at the Ice Hotel can bed down in elegant accommodations, where Nordic sleeping bags keep out the nighttime chill.

Photo courtesy Carnaval de Quebec, Renaud Philippe.


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