Peachhead™ Approved Vacations: Ice Hotel - Quebec City
I was born and raised in Los Angeles so other than Palm Springs, I have never seen real snow…so you can only imagine how excited I was to be invited to Quebec City for the Carnaval de Quebec. I studied the weather (high of 24 and a low of -14), freaked out a bit, and then was comforted by many friends saying they had just the clothes and shoes I could borrow. So off I went to Quebec City. I flew out of LAX to Toronto and then to Quebec City. I left LAX at 8:00 AM and arrived in Quebec City at 8:00 PM so a 9 hour day flying but so worth it. I stayed at the Hilton Quebec . This hotel is in a great location, within walking distance of the upper city, lower city, the Carnival festival, and many restaurants and shops. The beds are incredibly comfortable. There is an outdoor pool and sauna on the 3rd floor and a really nice fitness room. They also have a nice breakfast buffet. I love that they left me chocolates at night, including my favorite, Lindt chocolate, and a form you can fill out if you want a complimentary newspaper left for you in the morning.
My first day I went to the Huron Wendat Museum in Wendake . The Huron-Wendat Museum was created to conserve and promote the heritage of the Wendat People teaching the history, culture, and art of the Wendat People and of other First Nations. We went on a tour and visited The Notre-Dame-de-Lorette Church (first built in 1730). In 1962 there was a fire but the church was rebuilt a few years later and was classified as a historical monument. We also visited the Tsawenhohi House (built between 1807 and 1820), also classified as a historical property. We then walked through the Place de la Nation to see the Kabir Kouba Falls. After touring the museum, I was able to experience my first snow shoeing experience while walking along the museum’s property. Be sure to contact the hotel ahead of time to set up activities such as snowshoeing and the Discovery Tour.
Next we visited the First Nations Hotel , which is set beside the Akiawenrahk River. The hotel offers you the opportunity to experience authentic First Nations culture, knowledge and their art of living. The rooms are beautifully designed and all have a view overlooking the river. We had lunch in their award-winning La Traite Restaurant, where they have a gourmet menu inspired by First Nations Cuisine, drawn from a tradition of hunting, fishing and gathering. I was not daring enough to try the red deer ribs or the pan-seared seal, but I did have the crab tempura with cranberry salsa, a fantastic filet mignon, and a wonderful sugar pie for dessert.
After our visit with the Huron Wendat I went to the Village Vacances Valcartier www.valcartier.com, which is the largest winter playground in North America, with 42 slides--including a high speed section where the Himalaya has very long, steep slopes. Another fun ride I went on was the Everest, a 110-foot-high accelerating slide, and the Tornado, a giant inner tube that swirls down the hill and seats up to 8 people. Valcartier is equipped with 17 mechanical lifts, skating paths, ice karting and, of course, restaurants and bars. I had a blast sliding down huge hills going as fast as 50 MPH in inner tubes and rafts. To see how much fun these rides were, check out this link that has videos of the different attractions in action.
I even went go-karting on the ice, which was fun as I was sliding out of control. I also had my first maple taffy made on snow. Check out this video I found on how it is made. It was interesting to watch them make it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9WFGgtkBgs. Valcartier Vacation Village turns into a water park in the summer with 35 water slides and two theme rivers, as well as many other attractions. They have a campground located next to the waterpark with 700 sites and they offer packages that include the waterpark, white water rafting, or the family river tour. I will have to return in the summer to experience this.
We went to Grill le Feu Sacre for some appetizers and a drink before the opening ceremony of Carnaval de Quebec. All of the appetizers were very good.
We arrived at the opening ceremony of the Carnaval de Quebec just in time to see the opening speeches, after which the most amazing fireworks went off and Sylvian Cossette’s band started playing. They were so much fun playing all of the songs from the 70’s. I hung out dancing and singing to the songs while it snowed on me for 2 hours. It was a magical evening.
There are so many different activities going on during the Carnaval de Quebec, including a 500 foot zipline right in the middle of the Plains of Abraham across the Carnaval site (which I did and it was awesome), dog sledding, and snow rafting (raft holds up to 12 people). They have a great kids' area with everything from life size foosball (they strap the kids onto the poles and then the kids attempt to kick the ball), hockey, climbing structures, and a variety of other activities that will entertain the kids. The Carnaval also has an snow sculpture display with the most amazing works of art, and a nordic spa area (be sure to bring your bathing suit) so you can sit in the Jacuzzis in the freezing cold. We even attended a dog sled race. You will be thoroughly entertained at the Carnaval de Quebec. Be sure you visit the Ice Palace, which is built for Bonhomme, the Carnaval’s ambassador. The first Ice Palace was built in 1955 and in 1973 the Bonhomme Ice Palace was moved opposite the Quebec Parliament. This year’s ice place will have a new interior design based on the history of the Night Parades. There are a few parades that go on during the Carnaval. I attended the day parade featuring giant inflatable characters. It was great standing outside in the snowfall, drinking hot chocolate, and watching the huge inflatable characters go by. Many of the activities at the Carnaval can be enjoyed by purchasing a Bonhomme effigy tag (great souvenir) for $12 that gets you into most of the Carnaval events for the entire 2 weeks (this year the Carnaval runs from January 28, 2011 through February 13, 2011).
I am not a skier; however, I was invited to go cross-country skiing at the Plains of Abraham . I decided to try it and I was very surprised to see how easy it was to learn (I only fell twice). It was a beautiful setting skiing with an incredible view of the Saint-Lawrence River.
My friend and I decided to explore the city so we visited the Chateau Frontenac, a beautiful hotel overlooking the Saint Lawrence River. We then walked down to the lower city and took the Quebec-Levis Ferry across the frozen Saint Lawrence River. It was amazing to see that much frozen water and how the ferry just crushed the ice apart as we plowed through it. Be sure to stand on the deck so you can hear the sound of the crushing ice. When we returned we took the Funicular to Upper Quebec City. The Funicular is like a glassed-in elevator car. It carries about 8 people up and down the cliff between the upper and lower parts of Old Quebec. The upper station is right in front of the Chateau Frontenac. The lower stop is surrounded by shops, boutiques, restaurants and various historic sites.
Quebec City is known for Beavertails (not what you think); it is a line of fried dough pastries, individually hand stretched to resemble a beaver’s tail. I had mine with nutella on it and it was delicious. Another food they are known for is Poutine, which is beef gravy on French fries and fresh cheese curds. Okay, not my favorite. But I did learn about putting vinegar on my French fries and that was really good.
The next day on my way to the Hotel de Glace (also known as the Ice Hotel) we stopped at a couple of waterfalls along the way. The most spectacular one was the Montmorency Falls www.sepaq.com/chutemontmorency.com. The falls, at 275 feet high and 150 feet wide, are the highest in the province of Quebec and 98 feet higher than Niagara Falls. Quite impressive to look at.
Our next stop was at the Four Points Sheraton . This room is set up in conjunction with the Hotel de Glace (call it my emergency back up room in case I can’t make it through the entire night at the ice hotel). After checking in at the Sheraton we took the 5 minute shuttle to the Hotel de Glace. What a magnificent sight. This Ice Hotel is made with 15,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice with ceilings over 19 feet. The walls are covered with original artwork and furniture carved out of ice blocks. It takes approximately 5 weeks to build. The Ice Hotel has 36 rooms and theme suites (each suite was spectacular), the Ice Café, a chapel where couples can get married, a large lobby with a chandelier made out of ice and beautifully lit, a slide (yes I went down the slide, although very slowly), hot tubs and sauna, and the Ice Bar where everyone hangs out and listens to great music being played by the DJ and drink great beverages served in glasses made out of ice. I had a great time hanging out in the bar, bundled up in my layers, listening to great music, drinking from my ice glass, and sitting on the couches made out of ice. The Hotel de Glace launched on January 7, 2011 and will run till March 27, 2011.
When you stay at the hotel you have to take an orientation where they teach you what to wear, how to use the special Nordic sleeping bag, and give you tips on how to sleep “comfortably” at the hotel. One of the most important elements (in my opinion) was using the Jacuzzi and sauna before going to bed. I sat outside in the Jacuzzi in -5 degree weather (I was nervous about being outside in just a bathing suit in that kind of weather but once you are in the Jacuzzi it is awesome) however, the Jacuzzi did not seem that hot (maybe it was too cold to get real hot???) but the sauna was nice and warm. Important tip…remember to bring sandals for the Jacuzzi and sauna. The ground is ice and I forgot my sandals so I am sitting outside the Jacuzzi freezing, trying to get my Uggs on to get to the sauna. After the sauna, I dried off and got into my layered clothes for bedtime. There is a full system to doing this correctly to stay warm. After the sauna, surprisingly, I was very warm. Walking out in the cold was very refreshing. Once I was in my suite I had to get myself tucked into the sleeping bag as explained at the orientation (tip…practice using the sleeping bag in the orientation to make sure you understand it; I did not and had trouble figuring out how to make the sleeping bag tighter). Once in my sleeping bag I was very warm (except for the little part of my face that was not covered). I actually fell asleep for a bit but when I woke up at 3:00 AM and felt that cold air on my face, I heard my warm bed at the hotel calling me. Luckily they have shuttles waiting to take you back to the hotel if you so incline (which I did). I was the second person to leave that night (hey, at least I wasn’t the first). My friend actually stayed the entire night (although she said she did not sleep great). It was definitely a unique experience. Here is a video of the ice hotel being made.
The following morning we had breakfast at the Four Points Sheraton and then went to Lac Delage and visited the Manior du Lac Delage . A hotel with 89 rooms and 8 suites, they offer wonderful winter activities such as snowshoe-trails, ski-joering trails, walking trails, and more. We did the Rand ‘Orientation (snowshoeing with a compass). It was beautiful to be walking through the forest in snow shoes exploring.
I was sad when I had to leave to come home as I really enjoyed my first real snow adventure. I no longer have a fear of the coldness in the snow and I look forward to returning and trying even more adventures.