Quebecers don’t shy away from winter — they embrace it with a fervour unseen in most other parts of the country. From late October until mid-April, wintertime is when Quebec’s snowy landscape pulsates with life. Weekends and holidays, French Canadians bundle up and rush enthusiastically into the great outdoors to pursue some of La Belle Province’s numerous cold-weather activities.
Snowmobiling and Other Winter Thrills
If you grew up in Quebec, chances are you’ve snowmobiled. That was the case for me. When my dad could get away on weekends, we would head to Mont Tremblant to sled through forested trails and past huge snow drifts.
After more than four decades, I recently had an opportunity to relive my teen years.
Quebec is the birthplace of snowmobiling. Joseph-Armand Bombardier invented the snowmobile and Ski-Doo, conceiving the machine after the tragic death of his two-year-old son in 1934. A lack of winter transportation prevented Bombardier from reaching the hospital in his rural town of Valcourt in time to get his son medical care. Now, there are 33,000 kilometres (20,500 miles) of interconnecting trails that meander through forests, over frozen lakes, and along the sea.
On a recent trip, my adventure began at Pourvoirie Du Lac Blanc, a quaint, rustic resort village in Quebec’s Mauricie region, about two hours northeast of Montreal. With snow falling, we suited up, anxious to get these powerful beasts out into the wide-open terrain. Experiencing untracked fluffy bliss on a snowmobile is every bit as magical as stories make it out to be. Sitting atop the Bombardier, dashing through the snow-capped alpine, I felt the adrenaline rush of my youth.
I am now a firm believer that one is never too old to snowtube. Whipping down at speeds reaching 100 km/hour (65 miles/hour), I channeled my inner child at the Super Glissades Saint-Jean-de-Matha. An hour from Montreal, Super Glissades offers 17 different tubing tracks of varying speeds, as well as individual or multiple seat tubes. Basically, sledding in a tube, snowtubing is easy and incredibly fun. It requires minimum effort (especially when the magic carpet chauffeurs you up the hill), yet yields maximum thrills.
Want more winter fun? Imagine this scene. Dozens of huskies and malamute dogs barking, yelping and howling at once — a symphony unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Unless of course you have taken part in dog sledding or mushing, an ancient mode of travel for Indigenous people. In Quebec, there are endless regions offering the popular riding opportunities.
On my trek, a team of six dogs powered ahead, pulling me along the shores of Sacacomie Lake with astonishing strength and grace. At first, I stayed cocooned in fur blankets against the crisp winter air, sledding over virgin snow through the forest trails and onto the lake. When you hold the reins and feel the strength of canine power, you realize dog sledding offers a front-row seat to one of the most exhilarating experiences on earth.
For a snowy adventure at a slower pace, try snowshoeing. Tucked in the woods in Notre-Dame-de-la-Merci, in the Forêt-Ouareau Regional Park, Kabania was the perfect locale for a one-hour trek over a frozen river and through woods. Snowshoeing, or in our case, strapping on crampons, was a great way to work off some of the amazing fare we’d eaten. Consisting of a trail network of 120 km (80 miles), one can hike a different route for days.
No trip is complete without donning a bathing suit and dipping into the outdoor Nordic thermal pools at Natur’Eau Spa & Chalets. Nestled in the Mandeville Mountains, Natur’Eau is a secluded haven bathed in charm, offering hydrotherapy amid mountains and trees. After the dip, head downstairs to the property’s rustic bistro with wooden tables and wooden block seats. Using mostly locally sourced ingredients,Natur’Eau serves French fare the way it was meant to be, made on the spot, with top-quality ingredients, kept simple.
A Monastery in the Quebec Hills
As the bus drove to the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains, north of Montreal, I caught a glimpse of the stunning contemporary-style abbey, Abbaye Val-Notre-Dame, where visitors flock to the adjacent gift shop to purchase everything from chocolate and marinaded fiddleheads to teas.
The Cistercian monks forage for edible forest products on the abbey’s backwoods, to create many of the delectable products that fill the shelves.
Originally, the monks became known in the area for their Oka cheese. So well known, in fact, they became a product of their own success. Eventually, the abbey sold the rights to the Oka cheese fabrication.
Although the monks live in complete silence most of the time, they do offer tours on request. Originally built 10 years ago for 30 monks, today the abbey is home to only 19 residents – the youngest is a spry 50-something and the eldest is in his early 90s.
The abbey offers spiritual retreats, but above all, peace, quiet and even silence at any time of year.
Where to Stay in Rural Quebec
Perched atop a cliff in Saint-Jean-de-Matha, I was among a group who was the first guests to stay in two contemporary new chalets at the La Montagne Coupée, Auberge Champetre. Accommodating more than 20 people, our home for two nights offered sweeping views on the forest and mountainside. Besides its sensational location, the restaurant serves up a carte du jour using local flavours. Warm up with a T-bone of veal milk, pork osso bucco, or the vegetarian poke bowl, or authentic homemade-style foie gras. Then, finish off your meal like a true Quebecer — with a cheese platter.
Located in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts, deep in rural Quebec, my pine-panelled home for one night was at a rustic hideaway — Hotel Sacacomie. Built with 250-year-old local pine trees, the bucolic lodge, perched high above frozen Sacacomie Lake, features an expansive wood and stone lobby with a wood-burning fireplace and taxidermy, sunset views from most rooms, and sweeping lake vistas from GEOS Spa’s two hot pools and indoor-outdoor saunas and waterfalls.
While poutine is the most famous French-Canadian dish, there are lots of other delicious things to try. The main dining room, bar and terrace features French-inspired cuisine, like meat-centric dishes such as venison, deer loin, rabbit or duck perfectly prepared, while for dessert one must beg for Quebec’s famous tarte au sucre (sugar pie) or the crowd favourite warm maple pudding with vanilla ice cream, served in a 540 ml Sirop D’Erable tin can.
A must at this lodge is the outdoor ice bar. Not a fan of whisky, nonetheless, I was coaxed to bundle up and head outside in minus-21 Celsius (minus-6 Fahrenheit) temperature to try one of Quebec’s proud traditions, an iced shot glass filled with Sortilege liqueur — a combination of maple syrup and Canadian whisky. It is said that early Quebec settlers came up with the concoction as a way to spread some warmth into their bellies on frigid winter nights. As the smooth ember slid down my throat, I made a wish and sealed it by tossing my glass over my shoulder into the dark forest below.
More About Visiting Quebec
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