To be fully honest with you, I profoundly dislike winter. I hate being cold, wearing so many layers that you feel like the Michelin man and weight twice as much as you usually do, having to shovel your driveway twice a day, walking on ice or in sludge for 3 months, etc. But, having lived in Quebec City almost all my life, winter is part of the deal and I've had to find somethings to like about it. I have to admit that winter has a way of making some destinations just a little bit more magical!
As most people in Quebec would say, there is no bad weather, the are only bad clothes! Honestly, winter here is pretty harsh and you need to be dressed appropriately, but otherwise, it can. be a lot of fun. I hope you get the chance to explore the region of Quebec City in your travels.
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Every year, around 40 rooms make up the Hôtel de Glace, half of which are sculpted according to the theme chosen for that year.
The hotel also contains a chapel for weddings, a slide, a grand entrance hall and a bar where you can select one of the winter themed cocktails served in an ice glass.
Guests can stay overnight like in any regular hotel. Of course, the rooms are not heated, but the heavy duty sleeping bags work like a charm.
If you are interested in spending a night in the Hôtel de Glace, check out how I survived my experience here.
Have you visited an ice hotel before? Let me know in the comments!
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Have you ever seen an activity that people were doing and thought in your head: "I could never do that" or "you would have to be crazy!" On my list of crazy things I would never do there is: swim in shark infested water, jump from building to building, spend more than a week at a time in a place with no electricity, etc. Well sleeping in the Hotel de Glace, was also on my list and it seems I need to stop making a list of things I would never do and switch it to a list of things out of my confort zone. (Maybe jumping from building to building is a bad idea though.)
Last winter, I got a new job working as a receptionist for Hotel Valcartier, a beautiful brand new hotel just outside of Quebec City. What I didn't know since I wasn't in Quebec last winter, was that the Hotel de Glace is now owned by Valcartier. So all winter, I got to check-in people that would sleep in Hotel Valcartier and people who would get the chance to sleep in the exclusive Hotel de Glace. The experience is not for everybody as you sleep in below freezing temperature in a room with no window, but as I saw everyone trying it and giving it a chance, the desire to try it for myself grew. And at last, at the end of March, one week before it was set to be destroyed for the season, I convinced one of my best friends to experience it with me!
What exactly is the Hotel de Glace
The Hotel de Glace is an hotel built entirely out of snow and ice. It takes a few months to build every year and it has been open from the beginning of January to the end of March for 18 years now. This year, 45 rooms were built, half of them themed suites. Every year a different theme is chosen by the team and the hotel is decorated with the most impressive ice sculptures representing the year's theme. This year, everything was about the circus. One room had sculptures of clowns, another, magic tricks or wild animals, all of them made out of ice or snow and accentuated by coloured lights. The end result is always breath-taking and magical.
How do you prepare for a night in the Hotel de Glace
Although the hotel is outside in the cold Canadian weather, the air inside is maintained between 0 and -5 degrees Celsius as the snow acts as insulation and regulates the temperature. You are also provided a sleeping bag created to keep you warm in -30 degrees Celsius temperature. So you don't need to wear four sweaters and 12 pairs of socks, just a light layer of comfortable clothing preferably made of synthetics or wool so it doesn't retain humidity. Bring extras so you can change right before bed and be sure to wear dry clothing. It is important to eat a good meal at dinner and not to drink too much as you don't want to have to get up to use the bathrooms during the night. Also, bring a bathing suit and flip flops so you can take advantage of the Arctic Spa which can help increase your body temperature before going to bed. I think the most important part is not to stress yourself out. It can seem intimidating and scary, but the experience is well organized and has been tested over the last 18 years: you'll be fine!
what it was like
We arrived pretty late as I was working during the day, so we started by having dinner at a pub close by and then made our way to the Ice Bar to participate in the activities organized by the night guide. It was fun to get to know the other participants as we would all experience a night in below freezing temperature at the same time. For those interested, you could also get a cocktail in an ice glass or a bottle of champagne to celebrate the special occasion. I also tried my hand at ice sculpting and it is even harder than it looks. I tried making an elephant and it ended up looking more like a koala. I guess I better stay at the front desk because they wouldn't hire me as an ice sculptor.
Once the activities were over, it was time to go put on our swimming suits and go for a relaxing dip in the hot tub. We put on our robes and walked in the snow in our flip flops to our private hot tub and sauna, courtesy of Valcartier (thanks to the management team for the upgrade in the Deluxe suite. It was definitely appreciated!) This was my favorite part. The hot tub and sauna are located in a small open room connected to the suite. The snow walls make you feel disconnected to the outdoor world as it is completely silent and you can look at the stars above you and just relax. We enjoyed a nice glass of wine and talked for hours while enjoying the bubbling water and the warmth of the sauna.
Once our fingers were wrinkly and we were feeling at peace and relaxed, it was time to dry off and go to sleep. Putting on the sleeping bag is a challenge as you need to take off your winter gear and stand on the bed to put it on and then tighten the collar so the cold air can't get in, but once you are settled, the lights are closed and you finally drift off, it is the best sleep of your life. I don't remember having ever slept that well. We both slept through the night... and through our first wake up call! Although we went to bed late and were woken up early, I woke up feeling energized and ready to take on the day. Until about 5 PM when I was ready to go back to bed.
Would I recommend it
Definitely! Like I said earlier, it is not for everyone, but I think it's an experience to try at least once. It was way easier and more confortable than I thought it would be as I am not a winter person. I hate being cold and I don't get all excited for the first snow, but this was a wonderful experience. The hotel looks like you've stepped in an ice palace and every little part is beautiful so although it is not the most glamorous destination as you are still kind of camping, the location makes you feel like you are in wonderland, or maybe Elsa's castle.
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So, maybe I’m a bit biased, being from Quebec City and all. And maybe it’s just because it feels like home and home is where your heart is, especially for Christmas, but I have a feeling you will see it my way before we get to the end of this article.
It’s the obvious reason and you probably don’t feel the same if you were born in Florida or any other summer paradise, but who has never dreamed of a white Christmas? Trust me, I would choose the beach and palm trees over snow-plows and leafless trees any day, except for Christmas. The snow just makes everything more magical and dreamy! The lights seem brighter, the Christmas trees seem greener and everyone is in a better mood when the ground is carpeted in white. Plus, snowmen are real fun to build! If you are worried about the cold, stop worrying: true, it can get pretty cold during Canadian winters, but while January is the worst time of the year to visit , December is pretty mild with the temperature staying around 0°C.
Old Quebec during Christmas season is my all-time favorite! The shops get all decked out for the holidays and the main attractions like the Château Frontenac and City Hall get covered in red and green lights. If you think the Christmas trees and the ornaments are pretty during the day, wait until you see them at night! My family and I like to get to Old Quebec at about 8 PM on December 24th. Most people are at home celebrating with their families so we get the whole place to ourselves to explore at our own pace and take as many pictures as we want. Most restaurants are still open late so if you get hungry, you can get some chocolate waffles as a midnight snack. The only place you will have to hit early is the Beaver Tails as this one closes pretty early (don’t go calling it animal cruelty, it is actually a delicious flat pastry that you can cover in pretty much anything sweet.) After you are done looking at the Castle and the upper town, don’t forget to go down the “escalier casse-cou” to get the best view of the lower part of town. This part is actually my favourite. The tiny walking streets sparkle with lights and the shops are held in 400 year old buildings that take you back to 1600s France.
It may get cold, but winter never stops us from having the time of our lives! One of my favourite activities to do during the Holidays is visit the Quebec Aquarium at night. While most exhibits are closed, you can walk around the aquarium for the best light display in town. You can also see a polar bear, some owls, walrus and arctic foxes. It is a great activity for families or for adults. You can also go skiing at one of our many mountains or go skating. There is a skating rink in the middle of town at Place D’Youville, but my favourite is in Shannon. There are no buses that can bring you, but if you have a car or if a friend can give you a ride, it is totally worth it. It is completely free, you can even rent skates free of charge and it is open day and night. There is space to play hockey, but there is also a trail in the forest if you just want to skate around. Another popular activity is Valcartier Vacation Village where you can go tubing in more than 35 snow slides of all sizes. If you get tired of the snow, you can visit their brand new indoor water park. With a wave pool, surf wave and more than 14 slides, there is fun for everyone. While on the site, don’t forget to visit the Ice Hotel. Completely built with ice and snow, you can go for a visit or stay for a night or even get an ice drink at the bar. It is different every year!
With hostels in the Downtown area for less than 20 CAN$ and the dollar pretty low, everyone can afford a vacation in Quebec City. Most outdoor activities can also be done for free and you can get a good poutine for as low as 3$.
All you need is a good coat, some boots, mittens and maybe a warm hat and you are ready to go! And if you stay until New Years, don’t forget to come celebrate on Grande Allée for a DJ, good food, a big wheel and some fireworks.
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