We’ve all heard about Carnival in Quebec City, with jolly Bonhomme, ice hotels and slick frozen slides, or we’ve sampled the succulently sweet and sticky offerings from sugar shacks, but dig a little deeper, and you’ll find an off the beaten path Quebec that’s primed for authentic adventure.
Get ready to explore, immerse yourself and rejoice in winter’s charm.
Montreal en Lumiere
If you’re flying to Quebec for a winter adventure, you’ll likely land in Montreal. As likely as the snow flies in Canada in winter, there’s likely a festival happening in Montreal. Montreal en Lumiere takes place in downtown Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles, with plenty of free entertainment, food and drinks. Sample frozen maple syrup on a stick, take a ride down an ice slide, or take in the sights from the ferris wheel. Montreal en Lumiere takes place towards the end of February each year – visit https://www.montrealenlumiere.com/ for details.
Once you’re ready to hit the road, head north to the regions of Lanaudiere and Mauricie for some winter fun. Located around 60 minutes from Montreal, these areas are easy to get to, but feel worlds away.
Where Modern-Day Monks Meet Willy Wonka Charm
The Abbaye Val Notre-Dame is a Benedictine monastery tucked in the forest near Saint-Jean-de-Matha. The monks residing here are the original “Oka” monks – famed for first creating the cheese by the same namesake. After selling their original abbey (and cheese factory), they have since moved to their current location, and have gained fame as chocolatiers and selling forest-foraged products in their nearby retail store. You could easily say that these monks have full authority to say their chocolate is…well… “divine”.
Sleep In A Tree
Kabania offers cabins on stilts that are tucked in the forest (grab a couple of sleds from the parking lot to glide your gear into the idyllic woods). Communal cooking and lounging area provide the amenities of home while your treehouse retreat awaits for an elevated slumber.
Go for a Slide
You might ski and snowboard, but do you know how to “slide”? The “Super Glissades” at St. Jean-de-Matha is a winter resort dedicated to tubing. There’s no chairlifts or gondolas here, but a poma-type lift will conveniently pull you and your gear up the slope. From there, choose from one of 55 runs of varying pitches and speeds. You can slide down solo, link up as a group, or head towards the highest runs and ride down even faster pitches on a multi-person raft.
Travel the Region by Snowmobile
It doesn’t get much more Canadian than travelling through maple forests and hillsides by snowmobile. In the regions of Lanaudiere and Mauricie, there’s a combined 4,800 km of snowmobile trails. That said, you don’t have to be in the wilderness the whole time – there’s a variety of cottages, hotels and lodges in the region that you can sled to for a hot meal and a great night’s sleep, like the picturesque La Montagne Coupee.
Soak it up at a Nordic-style Spa
Spending time in a Canadian winter is even better when you can warm up once you’re done exploring. Nordic-style spas are plentiful in Quebec, and feature different types of hot pools, saunas and relaxation rooms. Meant to be navigated as a circuit that alternately heats up and then cools the body, it can soothe weary muscles and provide relaxation. If you feel like jelly after a spa experience, you can stay nearby, like in these tiny houses next to Natur’Eau Spa & Chalets.
Stay in a huge Log Cabin – Sacacomie
There are log cabins, and then there’s Sacacomie. With a commanding presence above a lake by the same name, the hotel offers 106 guest rooms and 500 square kilometres of private forest, trails and wilderness at your doorstep. Head to the gear shack for cross-country skis, snowshoes, even parkas and snowpants, or follow the sound of yips and barks to the on-site dogsledding facility. You’ll learn how to be a musher, guiding your own team of dogs through the picturesque forest.
Sip and Savour
Life in Quebec is all about gathering people together for great food and drink. Many restaurants and hotels offer three-course meals, featuring local specialties such as local cheeses, beef, produce and foraged good. From grilled cheese and poutine to duck confit, Quebecers eat with both their stomachs and their hearts, and mealtime is often a celebration in its own right.
While winter can bring woes of colder temperatures and long nights, celebrating winter brings joy and adventure to the season. Throw on your parka and visit the ice bar at Sacacomie, where a fur-clad local will pour you a tall ice glass of “Sortilege” – a maple infused whiskey that will warm you from the inside out. Sacacomie tradition encourages visitors to make a wish and to throw their ice glass over your shoulder and into the dark woods beyond.
While some might wish for a second taste of the sweet, potent drink, I have a hunch more than a few wish for a few more days of winter fun.
To help plan a visit to the region, visit http://www.quebecauthentique.com.