For the residents of Quebec City, winter is a reason to celebrate—with snow, ice and an adorable snowman. You can meet Bonhomme at Carnaval de Quebec, the world’s largest outdoor winter festival. Carnaval turns the chill of the Canadian winter into a party of snow and ice.
I must admit, I had never considered snow and ice as a setting for a party, so I layered on as many clothes as would fit under my coat and headed north to Quebec City to check it out.
(All or part of this trip was provided free or at a reduced cost for review purposes. But the opinions are solely that of the writer.)
The Main Attraction
Attracting more than 700,000 visitors each year, Carnaval de Quebec offers a winter playground for everyone from tiny tots to Grandmoms like me. The main attraction in this snowy winter wonderland is a lovable larger-than-life snowman named Bonhomme, who sports a brightly colored arrowhead sash. Everyone knows about Santa Claus, but to the children of Quebec, Bonhomme is a much bigger deal.
This is not your average snowman. Bonhomme is alive and he is everywhere at Carnaval de Quebec. The party comes to life when Bonhomme arrives! I watched him dancing to his favorite tunes on the snow, greeting children of all ages with his generous hugs and entertaining in his spectacular home, the Ice Palace. (The Ice Palace is not to be confused with Quebec’s world famous Ice Hotel, which is located outside of town. This year, the Hotel de Glace includes a Frozen-themed room. See the video here.)
Bonhomme’s Ice Palace
Constructed in three weeks using over 2,000 blocks of ice weighing 300 pounds each, the Ice Palace is fully equipped with everything Bonhomme needs to eat, play, rest and refresh. Bonhomme’s dining table is set for 12 guests complete with placemats and a table runner matching his brightly colored sash. (It’s all for show—guest don’t actually get to sit down toa meal there.) There is a fully equipped kitchen with an ice stove where he prepares for his dinner parties. What does a snowman serve for dinner? Ice cream cones, ice cream sandwiches and popsicles, of course.
Bonhomme loves company and welcomes everyone to see his frozen palace. If you’re lucky, you might catch him at home. He was there when I visited posing for pictures with everyone and giving out those great hugs. I collected a couple myself!
Playing in the Snow
Held over three weekends in late January until mid-February, Carnaval de Quebec is a magical wonderland experience. There is something to entertain every age group. Join in a huge snow ball fight, cheer for your favorite team at the ice canoe races or marvel at magnificent works of art sculpted from dazzling white snow at the national and international snow sculpture competitions.
The city’s historic and enchanting urban park, The Plains of Abraham, is the heart of Carnaval de Quebec. There are approximately eight miles of ski trails for beginner and intermediate cross-country skiers, a two and a half mile trail for snowshoeing and three and a half miles of walking trails – all with unobstructed views of the partially frozen Saint-Lawrence River.
Keep the winter fun going with a nostalgic horse-drawn sleigh ride, glide across the winter landscape behind a team of powerful Alaskan Husky sled dogs, take the plunge down a huge snow slide or soak in an outdoor spa surrounded by pure white snow.
When you need to knock off the chill, step inside Bistro SAQ. There’s hot chocolate for the kids and an abundance of coffee options for the grown-ups. This Globetrotting Traveling Grandmom went for something a bit stronger, a Caribou. The warm mulled wine mixed with brandy warmed me up and prepared me for more playtime in the snow.
My grandkids weren’t with me for this trip, but I will definitely return and bring them along. Carnaval de Quebec is an event families can visit year after year and experience something new each time. The 2015 dates are Jan. 30-Feb. 15.