A view of the Petit Champlain area of Old Quebec, North America’s oldest shopping district. (Nicole Feenstra/QMI Agency)
Quebec City is delightful to visit in summer, but is especially charming during the cold winter months.
Twinkling lights and Christmas décor still adorned the snow-covered historic brick buildings of Old Quebec during my mid-January visit, casting a warm glow on the slushy cobblestone streets in a truly idyllic winter scene. A UNESCO World Heritage Site hugged by the oldest fortified city walls north of Mexico, this part of the capital captures the essence of a European trip without having to leave Canada.
SEE PHOTOS FROM THIS TRIP: Quebec City
Ski hills are just a short drive away, but the locals embrace winter within Quebec City and there is much for travellers to do once they bundle up and head outdoors. Go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing across more than 240 acres at the Plains of Abraham urban park, dare to paddle the St. Lawrence River in -30 degree temperatures on an ice canoe excursion, or, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 15, 2015, experience one of Canada’s most popular winter festivals in the 60th Quebec Winter Carnival.
Quebec City is very walkable and a guided foot tour is one of the best ways to sample more of the sites – and tastes – this 407-year-old city holds. Tours Voir Quebec runs a fantastic walking foodie tour that takes guests to some of the best craft beer brewers, maple syrup producers and local wine and cheese vendors the city has to offer, while highlighting architecture and history along the way.
WHERE TO WARM UP
After a chilly day exploring all the season holds in Quebec City, the boutique Auberge Saint-Antoine hotel, located in Old Quebec’s former port along the St. Lawrence River, is just the place to warm up and pamper yourself.
Cozy up in front of a fireplace in the lobby lounge and enjoy a plate of delectable seafood tapas while listening to live jazz or grab a DVD from the concierge desk and treat yourself to a private screening in the hotel’s 94-seat movie theatre. The Auberge Saint-Antoine will even provide the popcorn. And don’t miss the opportunity to be pampered at the hotel’s spa. Soothing massages, specialty facials and luxury manicures are all available. Be sure to relax post-treatment in your suite’s extra deep bathtub, which will be calling your name from the moment you check-in. Bathroom floors are heated, so no need to worry about catching a chill after a soak.
Fashionistas, or those who just enjoy a spot of good tea, will love the hotel’s fashion tea. Taking place on the third Saturday of every month until May, this afternoon tea service transforms the lobby lounge into a runway as models showcase fine clothing, bags and jewelry from well-known and emerging Quebec designers. Ladies and gents who lunch take in the show while sipping their Darjeeling or Earl Grey tea and nibbling on scones with jam and Chantilly cream, mini cucumber, smoked salmon and chicken sandwiches, and indulgent macaroons. It’s an afternoon treat that even draws the locals in from the cold.
These amenities add to the charm of the 95-suite Auberge Saint-Antoine, where historical décor has been married with modern design and the finest service to create an atmosphere that is at the same time luxurious and completely welcoming. During an expansion of the hotel in 2003, more than 5,000 artifacts were unearthed from the dirt of what was once North America’s largest shipping port. British merchants’ chipped cups and saucers, clay pipes and iron hardware were uncovered and are now displayed in the lobby, hallways and even within guest suites.
The approach to food at the Auberge Saint-Antoine is also very eclectic, and Panache, the hotel’s four-diamond restaurant nestled in a restored 19th century maritime warehouse, has a seasonal and sustainable focus. The kitchen uses herbs grown on the roof of the hotel and produce from the property’s own vegetable garden located just 15 minutes away. The winter menu features meats and cheeses from Quebec, as well as seasonal root vegetables: parsnips, celeriac and turnips. Panache’s wine sommelier is also always available to recommend a local Quebec wine to accompany your meal.
NEED TO KNOW
It’s easy to escape to Quebec City and the Auberge Saint-Antoine this winter. The hotel’s Winter Escape package includes a one or two-night stay, breakfast at Panache restaurant, hot chocolate in the lobby lounge, indoor parking and your choice of a dog-sledding excursion or ice hotel tour. Rates start at $380 per couple, per night and the package is available through March 20, 2015. For more information or to book your stay at the Auberge Saint-Antoine, visit saint-antoine.com.
For information on travelling to Quebec City and the 60th Quebec Winter Carnival visit quebecregion.com and carnaval.qc.ca.