Imagine you book a ski trip to Quebec and then can’t ski, or maybe you are one of those people who hate skiing but your loved one happens to be a ski fanatic. Bummer! Short of dumping them (possible a little drastic!) your only other option is to find something else to do which allows you both to have fun on a ski trip. Before you go ahead and cancel your holiday, or even rule out a winter break to Quebec outright, here’s plenty of ideas for making the most of Quebec for non skiers.
Quebec for Non-Skiers
I know many people recoil in horror at the prospect of a trip to a country more shiver inducing than the UK, but before you rule out such a trip, let me tell you that we have just spent ten days in the tundra of Quebec (some might call me dramatic but it really does feel like an artic exploration at times!) and it has been way more fantastic than I could possibly have imagined.
The sheer volume of things to do in Quebec for non-skiers has left me reeling. I had no idea a winter holiday could be so much fun without those two planks attached to my feet! I’m wondering if I’ve been missing out all these years when I’ve been in such a desperate rush to go hurtle down the mountain as fast as I dared with complete disregard for any other possible available activities.
So without further ado here are some suggestions for a visit to Quebec for non-skiers.
Soak in steaming outdoor spa pools
Oh my gosh, little did I realise the abundance of spa possibilities awaiting me in Canada. Had I known there was such a variety and quality of outdoor spa experiences I would surely not have waited so long to do this trip.
Every town seems to have some version of a Nordic or Scandinavian spa and these selections are just a few of many that we came across during our road trip. There’s nothing quite like donning your swimwear, racing across the snow in sub-zero temperatures and plunging into steaming hot pools shrouded in mist when it is snowing.
Indeed snow is a regular occurrence in these parts so it will not be uncommon for you to be soaking in thermal pools with a fluttering of snow tickling your scalp. Here’s some ideas to get you started.
Manoir Sainte Sauveur
Around an hour from Montreal, en route to Tremblant, is the town of Sainte Sauveur. It’s more American style cowboy than Swiss Alps but it nevertheless has a small town charm with its array of colourful homes adorning the base of the ski slopes for which it is renowned.
The Manoir doesn’t look much from the outside but walk inside and you instantly know you have arrived somewhere special. From the huge focal fireplace to the Indian/Aztec decor in the bar and colourful rocking chairs encircling modern fire-pits in the garden, this hotel is a bolt hole for frazzled city people needing a weekend escape.
Ice and fire thermal experience
The highlight however is the incredible ice and fire thermal outdoor experience. A short walk (or dash in reality) from the indoor steam area brings you to an heated outdoor pavilion where you can disrobe before plunging into the thermal pool. Whilst it may be surrounded by drifts of snow and glowing fire-pits, the temperature in the water is enough to keep even the most cold blooded warm.
The adjacent outdoor sauna is possibly the coolest sauna I’ve visited with a panoramic window over the gardens and by night, colourfully lit pools. The brave may even be tempted to whizz through the ice pool on the way back to the thermal pool but beware it is not kidding when it says ice pool.
Did I also mention that the rooms are massive with fabulous floor to ceiling windows giving you the perfect view of the inevitable snow flutters in winter? You may even bag one with your very own fireplace.
Cost: We paid £134.97 for room only and access to the ice and fire thermal experience.
A winter wonderland wilderness at the Esterel Resort
The journey to the Esterel resort is one of torturous meandering through snow and ice covered roads circling the lake! It’s a somewhat unnerving experience for two Brits unused to driving in Canadian winters, a slow journey as Jason cautiously navigates the twists and turns of the lakeside road from Tremblant to Esterel.
Views of colourful clapboard houses, weighed down by droves of snow, resemble something from an Hansel and Gretel scene fascinate me as we edge along the deserted, thinly covered gritted roads.
The journey is well and truly worth it, especially when you set eyes on your suite with a central fireplace and modern decor. A living room extends onto a large balcony overlooking either the frozen lake or snow covered forest and the bathroom houses a huge tub and shower room big enough for two if you are feeling saucy!
The piece de resistance is the outdoor thermal pool complex with a selection of different coloured pools from purples to blues and greens. They look particularly stunning at night as the colours reflect off the snow, the hovering fire-pits adding to the spectacle. I defy anyone not to love this place!
Cost: we paid £156.92 including a suite, four course dinner, breakfast and access to the pools.
There are a selection of Nordic spas to choose from throughout Quebec, all with outdoor pools and a range of spa treatments on offer. The Spa in Mont Ste – Anne offers day and evening options allowing you to linger in hot tubs surrounded by views of countryside and natural beauty.
Cost: Prices start from $29 for adults for access to the pools.
To find your nearest simply Google ‘Scandinavia/Nordic spa your location’ replacing your location with your actual destination.
The spas truly make Quebec for non-skiers very appealing indeed!
Fine Dining to warm your heart
I don’t recommend Quebec for those on a diet, although you might need one when you return. I truly was not expecting such incredible cuisine in some of the least expected places.
Take for instance, our visit to the Chantecler hotel. Picture postcard from the exterior with its mini chateau facade, from within, it’s more reminiscent of an eighties bus trip hotel, tired and worn with dated furniture, fading carpets and sagging beds.
Chantecler cuisine to die for
It comes as somewhat of a surprise therefore to discover the culinary smorgasbord of Le Chantecler. In a chilly, cavernous dining room, we find ourselves enjoying dinner to the accompaniment of riotous children and piano melodies being delivered by a man with the patience of a saint.
Completely undeterred by the gaggle of children poking his piano keys, he staunchly continues his quest to entertain the guests, who frankly are far too consumed with the delicious food being presented to really pay him much attention.
We enjoy charcuterie starters followed by one of the most beautifully presented steaks I’ve ever seen. Served on a solid wooden platter with chunky fries and a side salad, it looks mouth watering and tastes magnificent, the meat so rare it melts in your mouth.
A dessert of mousse follows in a chocolate cup and again does not disappoint. The service has an element of “Fawlty Towers” to it and our bill was delivered mid way through the meal but we are too enamoured with the food to care.
We have to practically roll ourselves down the corridor to our bedroom. What this hotel may lack in modern decor it more than makes up in its gourmet cuisine.
Cost: we paid £133.79 including a four course dinner for two, double room and breakfast. Bargain!
The ecstasy of Esterel
As if the Esterel was not already awesome enough with the fabulous suites and thermal pools, the dining options lift this hotel from cool to exquisite. Our package includes a four course dinner in the Rok restaurant floating above the banks of the lake. It’s a modern diner with an interesting twist. Food is minimally cooked and served with a hot (very hot!) stone platter on which you further cook it to your satisfaction.
We enjoyed a generous tuna steak and their lemon tart truly was the icing on the cake! Another night where we had to amble back to our room holding our bellies.
Chateau Mont St Anne
Another hotel with outdoor thermal pools (although not as upmarket as the Esterel) is the Chateau Mont St Anne situated conveniently at the base of the Mont St Anne ski mountain, perfect for those seeking a weekend skiing break close to Quebec city.
For non-skiers, there is a spa, pool, outdoor thermal tubs, gym and restaurant on site. The four course Table D’Hote is a mere $45 per person plus taxes and drinks. Admittedly, it isn’t going to be a cheap meal but for what you get, it truly is a bargain. I cannot even conceive of an hotel in England of this calibre offering four courses for less than the same price in pounds.
I highly recommend the incredibly indulgent, smooth French onion soup and the beef for main. Once again the food is delightfully presented and the service is second to none. Beware you need to starve yourself to get the most from your meal as we were already feeling stuffed after the soup! Of course, there are plenty of activities in the area that will help you work up an appetite.
This hotel is also part of the Hotellerie Champetre group which offers a loyalty programme earning you 10 points for every dollar spent. 12,500 points is equivalent to $25 credit towards your room or refreshments.
To sign up and start earning, register for the Programme Privilege. Even better, the Esterel resort is part of the same group.
Cost: we paid £219.34 for room only for two nights. If you want a value breakfast head down the road into Beaupre to the Radio Café.
Winter Activities in Quebec for non-skiers
After all that relaxation and culinary indulgence it may be time to burn some calories. If you either can’t ski (though injury or ineptitude) or simply do not wish to ski, do not be deterred. There are many other options to get active in winter in Quebec for non-skiers.
Some of the things we tried are available all throughout the region of Quebec, simply visit your tourist information or google options near to where you are staying.
The Shannon Chalet de Sports has to be the bargain of the century. For just $12 we hired snowshoes, had all day access to the snowshoe and cross country ski trails and use of ice skates. Having never snowshoed before, I suspect we looked like little fledgling birds taking their first ungainly steps but we soon began to enjoy the quietness of the forest as we trudged along the deserted little pathways.
You can access the site all day. It is open until late and at night the 2.5 km ice skating trail is lit by fairy lights strung from the trees. Beware the trails are not particularly well signposted so you may have to rely on your sense of direction but isn’t getting lost half the fun?
Winter wonderland walks
The Station Touristique du Duchesnay is another venue close by which offers snowshoeing, winter walks and cross country skiing. The station offers access to 47.5 km of trails through a true winter wonderland. It’s incredibly well managed with maps, signposts and warming huts along the route.
The main lodge also had a fabulous bar with panoramic views over the lake where you can enjoy a post walk winter warmer or refreshing beer.
Cost: access to the trails is $7.50 per person
Drink Iced Cocktails in the Hotel de Glace
Ten minutes from Quebec, the Hotel de Glace has to be seen to be believed. Take the thirty minute guided tour included in the price to gain an understanding of how it is constructed and what it is like to stay in the hotel. Incredible ice sculptures adorn the numerous suites and decorative columns gleam in the luminescent chambers.
The artistic mind behind this creation is pure genius with strategically placed lighting turning each room into a masterpiece of light and ice.
We are told that you can sleep comfortably in the rooms entirely naked but the prospect of midnight stumbles to the bathroom in the adjacent building puts me off an overnight stay. I personally think it is over priced given you don’t spend much time in your room and have limited privacy but then let’s be fair, who would want to hang out in an igloo for long?
I recommend visiting for an afternoon, enjoying a cocktail or two in the magnificent bar and marvelling at the designs in the rooms before taking off to somewhere cosier nearby.
Cost: a guided tour including cocktail works out at $55 per couple including taxes.
Play in the Snow
Ok, so I know many of you will not find the prospect of snow especially exciting, particularly if you enjoy ski sports. However have you witnessed Canadian snow?
Snow here is bigger, better, deeper, colder…get the idea? I’ve never seen anything like it. One minute Quebec is just cold and icy and the next it is caught in a snow blizzard. It looks so like a scene from Narnia though who could possibly complain?
My husband and I have skied some incredible places around the world but I have never seen snow on this scale! Road clearing is a military style operation here, so much so that the streets are lined with towering piles of snow, like mini mountains on the roadside.
It is not uncommon to see mini snowploughs in people’s drives either, the only downside must be having to get up early on a workday to clear the damn thing.
A favourite pastime of mine when travelling is to get a feel for local life, hence why staying in a property like the one we enjoyed at Lac St Joseph is so enjoyable.
It also gives you a chance to visit communities you would not typically visit as a tourist and have a good ole nosey at local housing. You may even like to daydream about which house you would pick should you decide to take the plunge and move.
Coming from a country where housing is generally of the brick type, whether it be red, grey or yellow, the variety of housing here is extraordinary. Unlike Britain where a street is usually comprised of similiar housing, here every house seems distinct and boy it is cute.
I find myself ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ constantly as we pass colourful house in shades of pastel pink, lemon, mint, blues and browns.
I imagine sitting in front of a log fire watching snowdrifts pile up outside my quaint little home and find myself never wanting to leave. I’m sure the reality is not quite the fairytale I imagine, after all you have to go out and replenish once in a while which probably means shovelling the drive (not fun unless you have a mini snowplough!).
On the outskirts of Quebec is the ‘Chute-Montmorency’ which crashes over the cliffside into the St Lawrence river below. In winter, much of the falls freeze into vertical ice columns and huge drifts of snow nestle on the cliff side. It’s an impressive sight, 30 metres taller than Niagara at 83 metres and well worth an outing from the city.
If you head to the car park just off highway 138 towards Mont-Sainte-Anne (named after me obviously!), you can take the cable car to the Montmorency Museum at the top. From there, walk the panoramic pathway around to the falls and the footbridge suspended just metres above the top of the falls giving you a real birds eye view of the river in all its raging glory.
It’s an incredible sight, watching the chunks of ice drift down the St Lawrence with the skyline of Quebec in the distance.
Cost: Entry including cable car, museum and access to the falls plus parking – $35 for two people.
Admiring the ice queen of nature
Quebec in winter is a magical wonderland of frozen landscapes. From houses dusted in frost to frozen leaves, stalagmite like icicles and giant icebergs dotting the frozen rivers it is an alien winter landscape to us Brits. Such novelty is fascinating!
Driving along the highway beside the St Lawrence and catching our first sight of huge piles of ice and snow cluttering the surface of the fast flowing river is truly a sight to behold. We are bewildered by the ability of nature to create these huge boulders and yet still the river moves.
It’s as if the snow queen has cast a spell over the countryside coating it in a dusting of thick sugar. It’s hard to understand at times what possessed people to settle here (perhaps they arrived in summer?!) but thankfully they did as we are loving this trip.
Visit Chateau Frontenac, Quebec city
The Chateau Frotenac is reputed to be the most photographed hotel in the world and hovering haughtily above the old town you can see why. It’s gothic expanse and towering turrets create the illusion of a fairytale and the army of doormen rushing to attend to your every need certainly makes you feel like a princess.
It’s pretty special inside too with dark solid wood panels decorating the portrait lined corridors. Motifs are etched into the lifts which whisk you to the rooms which have either city or river views (for a supplement), or a courtyard view. Our room is fabulous with a river and city view allowing me more time to marvel at the ice flowing down the river and the sudden snowstorm which descends.
Eating and drinking at the Frontenac
There’s no need to stay as non guests can drink and dine at the hotels bar and restaurants, although rooms are not expensive by London standards. We paid just £145 for a night in a city view room which was spacious and comfortable with Victorian style elegance.
Beware this hotel is a magnet for families with gaggles of children who render a visit to the pool more an exercise in strategic evasion than a relaxing pastime. Thankfully the bar seems to be out of bounds to children so we can enjoy our cocktails in peace.
It’s an impressive bar occupying a circular position in the turret, reminiscent of the Long Bar at Raffles or the Sazerac bar at the Waldorf Astoria in New Orleans.
We eat in Sam’s bar but it is decidedly underwhelming as we are surrounded by groups of complaining Americans (I promise, I am not anti-American, indeed some of my great pals are Americans but it seemed that every group was complaining about something and not quietly!) We make a quick exit for relief!
Cost: £145 for room only.
Visit the ‘Capital de La Neige’
Quebec, affectionately known as the ‘Capital of snow’ is definitely an ice city. Marvellous gothic buildings tower above the only fortified city in North America. The walls wrap the old town, a warren of labyrinthine streets housing restaurants in brightly coloured paints.
The scents wafting through the open doorways provide a hint of global cuisines. The only problem is deciding which to eat at!
Meander in Montreal
Beware in winter, a walk in Montreal can be a cold affair so dress up warm and head to Mont Royal for fabulous views over the city. From there you can descend into the old town and wander the narrow streets taking in the artsy boutiques.
Montreal is also the place to come for nightlife with the Latin quarter offering a variety of eateries, drinking establishments and live music. We enjoy a raucous night in Jojos on St Denis watching the antics of fellow guests who may have had just a little too much! The music is great, the service quick and the $10 a head entry fee more than worthwhile.
The key to enjoying a visit to Quebec is to come prepared for the weather. Avoid cotton and bring layers which self wick, ideally thin ones so you can layer up and then remove layers as needed. Temperatures can vary vastly from day to day.
Just days before our arrival the temperature dipped to minus thirty including windchill. The lowest we experience is around minus fifteen but it is enough to make your face sting, your eyeballs feel as though they are quite literally freezing and I am sure my eyelids develop mini icicles.
Amazingly, in spite of regular snow storms dropping 25 cm plus overnight, life goes on with little interruption. It seems no matter how deep the snowfall, by morning the roads are navigable as the army of snow clearers take to the streets to restore normality. I dread to think how much the council tax is to pay for this privilege?
Final musings from Anne
We booked this trip before a disc problem was diagnosed in my back and when that put paid to the week of skiing we had planned, I was frankly gutted. I was tempted to simply risk it but given the pain I have endured over the last six months eventually decided against such recklessness.
Boy am I glad because I have loved this trip. Having a car and being able to explore at will and try things we would not have done had we been skiing has given us a much better insight into the delights on offer in Quebec for non-skiers, rather than just the cities and Mont Tremblant that most Brits tend to visit.
In fact, our trip has been enriched as a result of not skiing giving us a chance to try new activities, visit some amazing spas and indulge in some awesome gastronomy.
Yes this province is cold but it is part of what makes it so magical so don’t let anyone who tries to deter you from a winter visit (we had a few!) stand in your way. Book the tickets and go.
Have your say
Maybe you live in Quebec and have further thoughts on our experience. I would love to hear them, for instance we are wondering how much energy bills add up to given the need for heat? Maybe you also have some other suggestions for visitors.
Or maybe you are a traveller with some great ideas based on your own experiences. I’d love to hear from you.
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