Winter a la carte at Montebello /L’hiver à la carte à Montebello

doglsed Montebello

Dog-sledding at Montebello. Photo: Patricia Maunder

It’s been quite the dud winter so far, with little sign of improvement on the horizon. No snow to speak of until just after Christmas, and generally much warmer than usual so what snow there is keeps melting and, even worse, it sometimes rains! My plans for lots of winter fun, including skating, snowshoeing and tubing down snow slides, has been badly impacted. Fortunately, one keenly anticipated weekend of winter activities worked out perfectly, as a generous 40cm of snow fell in one day shortly before my beau and I checked into Le Château Montebello.

Fairmont’s luxurious, giant log cabin of a hotel set on extensive resort grounds has got to be one of the best places for travellers looking to tick off a bunch of Canadian winter pleasures: snow-and-ice-based sports, crackling fires, a huge Christmas tree, rustic-meets-luxurious vintage decor that’s the epitome of Canadiana (in my mind, but it might seem old-fashioned to locals?). After driving about 90 minutes’ west of Montreal, I was enchanted the moment we drove under the property’s big log entrance arch, across the snow-covered grounds, then checked in in the grand central foyer. Continue reading

How cool is that?! / Comment cool c’est ça?!

Me making friends with a sled dog of the future in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. Photo: Marouan Belfakir

Me making friends with a sled dog of the future in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. Photo: Marouan Belfakir

Winter officially ends here tomorrow. Unlike last winter, my first in Québec, I haven’t waxed lyrical, post after post, about the wonders of the season. Am I bored of snow and ice? Was it a mild winter? Au contraire! According to locals, it’s been an exceptionally long, cold winter – and according to me, it’s been fantastic! I haven’t written about it in case my sub-zero enthusiasm became tedious reading, but I can’t resist some edited highlights …

Even as a newcomer to Montreal, I knew something was up when top temperatures started to dip below zero in November. By mid-December, the tops were double-digit-below and overnight lows in the -20s (that’s Celsius, American readers!). Then, just after Christmas, that ‘polar vortex’ you might have heard about blasted through, and this part of the world was colder than Mars. Continue reading

The first Québec winter / Le premier hiver au Québec

Marshmallow snow! Photo: Patricia Maunder

Marshmallow snow! Photo: Patricia Maunder

It’s the first day of spring here today – not that it looks anything like it, as we had 33 centimetres of snow yesterday. The weekend before last though, I got a real sense of the new season as it was several degrees above zero in Montreal. It even looked a little like spring: no snow, and the Old Port’s refrigerated outdoor ice-skating rink had melted patches … I guess it wasn’t designed to operate on days pushing 10C. The real clincher was when I got so hot skating around that I took my gloves off, then my coat, and continued in a T-shirt. Doing anything outside without a coat on those rare days in Australia when it drops to 10 degrees is a sure sign of madness, but after months below zero I guess I’ve adapted.

Looking back on my first winter in Quebec, getting around outside in a T-shirt was just one of many strange experiences and discoveries. Fortunately it wasn’t a total crash course in sub-zero living as day one of my first visit to Canada a decade ago I was doing outdoorsy things at Ottawa’s Winterlude festival on a sunny -30C day (and officially -36 with wind chill). Still, there were plenty of surprises, so here are 10 revelations from this memorable winter in Quebec: Continue reading