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

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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

It’s cold! It’s crazy! / Il fait froid! C’est fou!

The adventures with snowmobiles, dog sleds and ice karts related in my previous post weren’t the only unforgettable experiences I had on my recent  press trip to Québec City and the nearby region of Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean (full disclosure: I was a guest of Tourisme Québec).

Chilling out at the Ice Hotel. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Chilling out at the Ice Hotel. Photo: Patricia Maunder

It seems there’s no end to the  ways locals have found to have fun with snow and ice – the only limit probably being their ability to convince a few other daring and/or crazy people to join in. I was hovering around my daring/crazy limit the other day when I got out of a divine outdoor hot spa and threw myself into the snow … but only after I’d had a few chilly close encounters over the preceding week to adjust my sense of normality. Continue reading

Winter games / Jeux d’hiver

All set to go tubing at Fête des neiges! Photo: Patricia Maunder

All set to go tubing at Fête des neiges! Photo: Patricia Maunder

Since my previous post, when I wrote about starting my first winter in the Great White North, I have had a wonderful, wonderful time embracing the season’s snow and ice. While the temperature has been somewhat uneven, actually peeping above the parapet of zero Celsius on a few days (making snow melt, paths treacherously icy and outdoor skating unreliable), there has been plenty of opportunity to get out there and enjoy it. An invigorating walk up Mont Royal. Skating at the Old Port’s vast outdoor rink. Frolicking with my beau in the massive dumping of snow that fell at the end of December (45cm in 24 hours – a Montreal record!). Vodka shots on the balcony, poured from a bottle chilling in the snow …

With so much fun to be had at this time of year, it’s little wonder that there are winter festivals across Quebec (and Canada) that make the most of the sub-zero conditions. In Montreal we have Fête des neiges (Snow Festival), which happens over three weekends on an island park in the St Lawrence River. Anything that involves having a great time outdoors with snow and ice is gathered here: dog-sled rides; ice carvings that glisten in the sun; skating along a path with views of Montreal across the river (where I was amazed to see ducks contentedly floating among great chunks of ice!). Continue reading