I’ve heard of Carnaval, the winter festival in Quebec City, for years and this year we finally made it there.
Just getting to Quebec City, and staying at the Chateau Frontenac, was a dream come true, but to be there for Carnaval was simply gilding the lily.
The Old City is still walled, and it looks like an old European city as you drive up narrow streets lined by shoulder-to-shoulder houses and buildings. In the snow, it is simply enchanting.
We arrived at night, after flying from Calgary to Montreal and then taking the bus from Montreal to Quebec City. Typically, I prefer to arrive at new places in the daytime, but I change my vote for Quebec City. Driving up into the old town, seeing the lighted towers of the City Hall and Chateau Frontenac and the Parliament Building…well, it simply wouldn’t have been the same in the daytime.
We were lucky enough to get an excellent price on a Gold-level room at the Frontenac, so that aspect of our stay was–um, how to put this–regal. The room was so elegant and comfortable, in fact, that we would have been content not to leave it, except to go to the Gold Lounge for breakfast and cocktails. If this is how wealthy folks live, sign me up!
Our first day there, we walked through the Old City, intent on finding the Carnaval activities that we had read so much about. We found them, and had a blast with our best friend Woody, but overall, we were a bit disappointed. Contrary to what we had been led to expect by photos and videos online (see below), this Carnaval was not set up on a broad plain of snow, with long sledding runs, dog sled rides, and carriage rides.
Instead, it seems to have been split into several smaller venues just outside of the Old City, in what are commonly park areas, I think. There was sledding, but it was on a tiny little course, hardly worth the hour-long wait.
There was human bowling in “snow globes,” but rather than down long, snowy inclines, participants rolled along half of a small block, within a tightly constrained area.
Additionally, and this was a corker, there was no ice palace for Bonhomme, instead just a sample “architecture model” of how they make the ice palace.
There was simply no large snow area with games, tents, and activities. Even the snow sculptures were set apart from the rest of the events in a small park, where I doubt most revelers ever visited.
I wouldn’t have been as disappointed, perhaps, if I hadn’t read up on the event and had my hopes raised by photos of previous years. According to the concierge at the Frontenac, for the past two years they had to postpone activities due to insufficient snowfall by the start of Carnaval. I suspect that this year they hedged their bets and relocated the events to spaces where they could create sufficient snow for all of the activities. Whatever the reason, it was disappointing. More of a neighborhood carnival than Carnaval!
That’s not to say we didn’t have fun, though! We drank Caribou (port, whiskey, and maple syrup blend) from ice tumblers at an ice bar, slid on an ice slide, watched kids and parents cavort in a snowy playground, and ate maple syrup taffy off a wooden stick.
Perhaps our favorite time was spent in the bar of the Frontenac overlooking the gelid St. Lawrence River, enjoying martinis and each others’ company.
Our final night, we went to have dinner at the Restaurant Parmesan across Rue St. Louis from the Frontenac, where we met a curling team (avg. age 65?) from Toronto, with whom we danced and sang at the restaurant, then joined at their event dance in a Frontenac ballroom, before ending the evening in the Presidential Suite at the Frontenac, guests of the entire curling event.
We enjoyed the trip immensely, and will go again some day to experience the vrai Carnaval. Never the grumpy travelers, we will cherish this visit in our memories.