Why Quebec is the ultimate winter wonderland destination
Want to live the winter wonderland dream in stunning, remote surroundings, but also have access to cool, vibrant cities just a short drive away? You need to head to Quebec.
Often called the Europe of North America, Quebec is Canada’s largest province: it’s three times the size of France, has 22 distinct regions and combines vast natural landscapes with fun, contemporary and cosmopolitan cities. The locals are, as you might expect, incredibly friendly, and most speak both French and English, so you can dust off that GCSE textbook and practice your finest bonjours.
From November to March, Quebec is in the grip of winter, and we mean proper winter. Think piling on thermal layers, temperatures plummeting to -30 degrees, and most importantly, serenely beautiful winter scenes with snow-covered trees, frozen lakes and the freshest, crispest air you could imagine.
While there’s so much going on in Quebec in every single season, we’d long been dreaming of experiencing some of the province’s winter wonders, so we headed to Montreal, Quebec’s largest city, as well as Quebec Authentique, which comprises the two regions of Lanaudiere and Mauricie, to see just how many winter adventures we could cram into one week.
Start with a scenic flight
A great way to kick-start your trip is to enjoy a scenic flight in a ski-plane or seaplane. We hopped on board a terrifyingly tiny plane with Hydravion Aventure, and quickly forgot about any nerves as we gawped down at the magnificent scenery below me, catching glimpses of huge frozen lakes, icy forests, snow-covered houses, whizzing snowmobiles and even the miniature outlines of children tobogganing.
Dine at a sugar shack
Quebec is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup, and if you’re keen to find out more about the industry (Netflix’s Dirty Money episode The Maple Syrup Heist is a good starting point), a great way to immerse yourself in the world of maple syrup is to dine at a sugar shack. Sugar shacks are cosy, homely restaurants built around the production of maple syrup, and are a favourite of locals.
We visited the warm, friendly Chez Dany. At a sugar shack, you’ll get a guided tour of the facilities in which you learn about maple syrup production, and a typically Quebecois meal, with a never-ending supply of meat pie, maple ham, grilled pork, pancakes and more (all doused with a healthy supply of maple syrup, of course), all while listening to traditional live music and tapping along with a wooden spoon. You’ll even learn how to roll your own maple taffy on the snow.
Try your hand at ice fishing
Even if you’ve never considered fishing before, you have to visit Domaine du Lac St-Pierre for the sheer scenery. The frozen lake is just 26 inches thick, but it’s secure enough to walk and even drive on. For what seems like an endless distance, all you can see is the barrenness of a frozen landscape, broken up only by picturesque heated cabins.
Then, of course, there’s the fishing itself: a guide shows me how to drill holes into the ice and lure enormous pike and perch of up to 18 pounds to take the bait. You can then eat what you catch in a heated cabin while warming up by the fireplace.
Be in doggo heaven while husky-sledding
Ask any dog lover their idea of paradise, and it will likely involve hundreds of friendly pups swarming around them. Kinadapt is one such place. Run by kinesiologist Peter Boutin, the sprawling outdoor training and education centre offers winter sports such as fat biking and snowshoeing, but once you step out of your car and come face to face with hundreds of excitable huskies, the dog-sledding is all you’ll want to do.
Before hopping on the sled, Boutin gives a genuinely fascinating presentation to visitors, providing an insight into the psychology of man’s best friend, so that once you get home, you’ll understand your own pooch better than ever.
After learning all about the huskies and what makes them tick, you then get to go in the sled for yourself, and pinch yourself as you whizz through the most majestic forest trails on snowy paths, pulled by a pack of adorable dogs.
Kick back and relax in the snow
If you want to luxuriate in a four-season pool or you seek even more snowy adventures, a stay at Auberge du Lac Taureau is a must. The log cabin resort has a wide range of nature activities, from ice skating and ice hockey to cross-country skiing and dog-sledding (can you ever really hang out with enough huskies?).
We hopped on board a snowmobile for a James Bond-esque whizz through the trees, and then strapped on some snowshoes for some quiet, laidback exercise through the snowy, scenic trails: both options are perfect if you’re not accustomed to winter sports but want to dive straight into the fun with an easy activity.
Marvel at Montreal’s street art scene
Described aptly by my excellent tour guide @montrealexpert as a “student city on steroids”, Montreal is a buzzing, cool and contemporary city with a thriving arts, food and music scene. One of my favourite aspects of it was the fact that wherever you look, there are incredible murals occupying the walls of otherwise mundane buildings.
Painted as part of the yearly Mural Festival, there are countless works of street art to enjoy. Walk along Saint Laurent Boulevard in the neighbourhood of Le Plateau to see some fabulous examples: clearing the snow away to get close enough to get a good photograph is part of the fun.
While you’re there, make sure to tick off some classic Montreal must-do activities like getting a bagel at St-Viateur Bagel in the cool Mile End neighbourhood and eating brisket at the famous Schwartz's Deli, part-owned by Celine Dion, who has even been known to turn up, pay for all the diners’ food and then get up on the counter and perform an impromptu concert.
Relive the scene of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed-in
This May will see the 50th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1969 bed-in for peace, which took place at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.
Suite 1742 has been beautifully renovated to pay homage to the historic event, with interactive archive displays telling the story of the bed-in, artworks paying tribute to Lennon and Ono’s message, and a special 50th anniversary package meaning you can stay in the suite while ordering the same dishes the famous couple ate during their stay, wearing pyjamas based on those they wore, and receiving lots of goodies, from “Give Peace a Chance” lyrics in calligraphy to a Lennon-inspired tea set. It’s a must-see for fans of the icon.
By Deborah Cicurel
MTV Travelled With... Quebec Original. For more information on Quebec visit www.quebecoriginal.com/en-gb. You can find out more about Québec Authentique (Mauricie & Lanaudière) at www.quebecauthentique.com/en/, and learn more about Montréal at www.mtl.org/en.