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Quebec City turns January into a winter wonderland

When most people think of January, they immediately conjure visions of chilly temperatures and blustering snow drifts. A few destinations, however, make this vision enchanting, and Quebec City does it best. In this Old World town in the heart of French Canada, people head outside in droves to capture the best of the season, whether to watch a dogsled race outside the famous Château Frontenac hotel, go tube sledding on the Plains of Abraham, or visit the ice palace of Bonhomme, the king of Winter Carnival.

2007 celebrates the 53rd edition of Carnival. If you plan soon, you can take advantage of special offers. The city and surrounding area also host other winter activities, and for those daring enough to bask in the frothy air, the Ice Hotel right outside the city welcomes guests for the day or overnight.

Winter Carnival

Many destinations tout their festivals, but Mr. Christie’s Quebec Winter Carnival is definitely worth the trip even if you have to brave the weather. After all, it’s the largest winter carnival in the world and is as much an international event as a local one. During the 17-day festival, running from January 26 though February 11, people from all over the world don their long johns and fur-trimmed parkas to witness lavish opening and closing ceremonies, parades, snow-sculpture competitions, and thrilling athletic events such as canoe and dogsled races. There are also many interactive family activities such as snow rafting, ice fishing, and visits to a sugar shack. This year’s theme is “challenges,” so expect a few extra games and competitions throughout the festival.

To gain access to most of the activities, you’ll need a Carnival Effigy Pass, which costs $10 CAD (about $9 US; check for current exchange rates).

Many hotels are offering special Winter Carnival packages, starting at $40 CAD per person per night. Most include one or two nights’ accommodations, breakfast, and an Effigy Pass. One of the more robust offers is for the four-star Hôtel Château Laurier, which provides one night’s accommodation, breakfast, and a Carnival kit for $99 CAD per person. In addition to the Effigy, the kit comes with a fringed belt (as worn by Bonhomme), a luminous lapel badge, and two winter activities such as ice fishing or sleigh rides at the Place Desjardins; kids receive a plush Bonhomme toy.

Other January activities

The rest of January is considered low season for Quebec City and its surrounding area, so visitors can often find lower hotel rates, as well as packages that usually include lodging, breakfast, and a winter outdoor activity. For those who prefer to stay warm indoors, other deals focus on spa treatments and dining.

Some of the best values are found outside the walled city such as at the Village Touristique resort at Mont-Saint-Anne just 30 minutes away. Packages there start at $86 and include lodging and activities like skiing, dogsledding, or horseback riding. SEPAQ – Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier, one of Quebec’s national parks, has an outdoorsy offer from $134 that comes with two nights in a wood-stove cabin, three days of snowshoe rentals, and park entrance fees.

On the high-end, the five-star Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Old Quebec has put together a ski package from $338 for two that offers accommodations in a Fairmont room, full breakfast, and lift tickets for one day at one of two nearby ski resorts. The Hôtel Manoir Victoria, also in Old Quebec, has created packages for fine dining (from $164) or spa with massage (from $233).

For a list of winter vacation packages, visit the Quebec City Tourism website. Many other hotels also have similar offers.

Ice Hotel

For a truly unique winter experience, visit the Ice Hotel, about 30 minutes outside Quebec City. Constructed entirely out of ice and compact snow, this hotel is not a place to curl up and order room service, but rather an adventure that requires snuggling inside an Arctic sleeping bag placed on a bed made of ice.

Although the rooms offer a rugged night’s stay, the Ice Hotel is part of the Duchesnay Station (non-ice) resort complex, which provides upscale dining, winter recreational activities, hot showers, and luggage lockers for Ice Hotel guests. All guests also have complete access to Ice Hotel facilities such as the bar, disco, and chapel (all made out of ice), as well as the outdoor hot tubs and sauna.

Surprisingly, the cost for this novelty isn’t as much as you might think. Room packages start at $299 CAD per person for a basic room and include accommodations for one night, a cocktail served in an ice glass, breakfast, overnight equipment, and gratuities. Other packages cater to couples, families, and adventure enthusiasts, and may provide additional savings per person. As there are no in-room amenities, the amount of ice carving determines the price of the room.

For those who just want to witness this amazing ice structure without an overnight commitment, day tours are available for $15 CAD for adults, less for children and seniors. Evening tours are offered at a reduced price.

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