Soak up the season north of the border.
Years ago, when I moved from the Northeast to Georgia, one of the first things I did was toss my snow shovel and windshield scraper. (I held on to the fur-lined, waterproof boots just in case.) Goodbye cold weather and all the complications it brings to clothing, driving and life in general.
But when the holidays roll around, I’m seduced by images of crackling fireplaces, evergreens with snow-dusted boughs and revelers sipping hot chocolate. The music conjures up scenes of sleigh rides, red noses and searching for the perfect present. It’s just not the same when the temperatures are too high to light the living room fireplace.
A December visit to Quebec City, Canada, brought those holiday elements together in a place where people really know snow. No wondering how to get from the hotel to dinner; the sidewalks are shoveled and salted regularly. The roads are wet but regularly cleared by giant snowplows that operate even as the white stuff is swirling down. Winter here allows life to go on as usual, never mind that 8-foot pile of frozen snow in Place Royale square or workers shoveling it off buildings’ roofs. Here, making merry means moving outside.
Start with the German Christmas Market that takes over five locations in the heart of the historic district. Akin to the outdoor Yule markets of many northern European countries, this one features about 90 vendors of artisanal cakes, artworks, decor, crafts and a myriad of goodies made with maple syrup. One of the sweetest treats I found was the roll your- own maple lollipop: A stream of syrup is poured onto a tray of ice, then everyone gets a popsicle stick to twirl the hardening candy onto. The sweetness then melts in your mouths.
Amid the stalls are pop-up musical performances, carolers, puppet shows and an ice rink. The Rue du Petit Champlain, one of the oldest commercial streets in North America, is lined with boutiques of locally produced goods and restaurants specializing in poutine, a local favorite of French fries and cheese curds covered in beef gravy.
Quebec City also celebrates outside during the annual Winter Carnival, slated for Feb. 2-11, 2024. Visitors will find an ice palace and sculptures, night-time parades, canoe races on the partially frozen St. Lawrence river, kids games and the not-for-the-faint-hearted bain de neige, a “snow bath” where brave souls clad only in bathing suits frolic in the snow.
No matter the season, the historic area known as Vieux Quebec has the charm of a European village where the locals are bilingual and welcoming. From the doormen bundled in heavy navy blue wool to the gracious concierges, I was treated like royalty at the castle-like Château Frontenac, reputed to be the most photographed hotel in the world for its imposing turrets and commanding views of the surrounding area. Dating to 1893, the hotel’s indoor pool, two restaurants overlooking the riverside boardwalk and luxurious suites have welcomed real royalty (Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Grace of Monaco) and Canadian royalty (singer Celine Dion). Alfred Hitchcock filmed part of the 1953 I Confess in the grand ballroom, lit by eight enormous chandeliers. More intimate accommodations await in the quaint auberges and B&Bs that dot many of the narrow, winding streets.
A five-hour flight from Atlanta, Quebec City offers the flavor of a European getaway without the overseas haul or having to brush up on a foreign language. A December visit of just a few days is enough to sate my desire for a white Christmas and makes me appreciate Atlanta’s balmy January even more.
Atlanta-based writer and editor contributing to a number of local and state-wide publications. Instructor in Georgia State’s Communication department and Emory’s Continuing Education division.