Emilie Cole | January 16, 2024
We must learn to invite the winter in. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how.”
We're used to cold weather in Maine in the wintertime. We know it's coming. We prepare for it. We sure love to talk about it. We endure it. And even enjoy it. When I was little, I used to downhill ski and nordic ski and ice skate and sled and build snowmen til my heart's content. As an adult, however, I tend to pivot toward indoor activities for the season, bundling up only when necessary to walk the dogs or shuffle off to appointments and such. I've come to tolerate winter.
The drastic change in climate in recent years means that winter is usually only disruptful from late December through late March or early April. Three months or so. How silly to hole up indoors and not really embrace the shift that was so enchanting as a child. After recently reading Katherine May's book Wintering, I opted for a different approach this season.
We just returned from a long weekend in Quebec City. A few years ago I flagged an ice skating trail through the woods in Canada and the historic toboggan in Quebec's old city as activities that sure would be fun. What were we waiting for? With work, school and sports schedules showing an opening on our calendar, we booked a hotel, petsitter, purchased some extra layers from Beans, and headed north.
I caught myself with a silly grin driving on Route 201 along the Kennebec River marveling at how lucky we are to live in this beautiful and unspoiled state. Evergreens painted with snow, the short arc of the sun and sharp contrast in shadows, watching the temperature dip, dip, dip, and the unknown of winding through different towns was, well, enchanting indeed. We made it to Quebec City in under 5 hours with a few quick stops in between.
At a friend's recommendation, we stayed at the newly updated Hilton with a river view overlooking Old City. My daughter's favorite part was access to the Executive Club with expansive windows and unlimited access to food and drink. I think she felt like a celebrity using her room card for entry and attempting her best French greeting the concierge within.
On our first day it was snowing sideways with 50mph wind gusts and temperatures sinking into negative numbers. At home, I'd be cozy by a fire or trying a new recipe or catching a nap after a good book. This day? We donned our base layers and face masks, and out we went! Aside from some sleet pelting us, we giggled at the insanity of it all along with each passerby doing the same. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast (and the awesome bathtub wash basin in the basement) at La Bûche, explored the Fairmont Château Frontenac, held on for dear life descending the stairs to the streets and shops below, took in a VR history of the area at Immersion Quebec, swam in the outside (!) heated rooftop pool of the hotel (yes, even I did this!), and warmed up with a tasty meal at D'Orsay after logging some minutes in the sauna.
The next day we drove 90 minutes west to Domaine Enchanteur in Notre-Dame-Du-Mont-Carmel. If you, too, have been served up this magical place on Instagram or TikTok like I was, you may be delighted to hear I thought it was even better in person! 9 miles of groomed ice skating trails, farm animals to feed, little warming huts and hot chocolate to savor. My son's feet were having a tough time acclimating to hockey skates for the first time on ice this season, so we elected to push along a sled-like chair for a little relief when needed (a very fun option for each of us to try in turn!). We spent four hours outside. The real feel temperature that day was 10.
Our final morning we had one more bucket list item to explore: the toboggan slide at Dufferin Terrace along the St. Lawrence River. For around $4pp, up to 4 people can share 30 seconds of glee going down this century-old track overlooking the river and Old Quebec. We went twice, but likely would have stayed for more races if responsibilities at home weren't beckoning us south. We grabbed some hot tea for the drive and laughed to see it was only 1 degree as we pulled out of town. Who are we?!
IF YOU GO:
Hilton Quebec, renovated, river views, rooftop pool, sauna
La Bûche, open daily 8a-9p, make a reservation, don't forget to go downstairs
Domaine Enchanteur, open daily 9a-9p (until 10p on Fri and Sat), try the snow taffy
Toboggan Slide, open daily 10a-5p (until 9p on Fri and Sat), middle track is the fastest
Carnival du Quebec January 25- February 11, just missed this! Next time!
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