18 OCT 2011: It’s easy to imagine winter around the corner with the profusion of fall colours and Destination Quebec telling us to get ready. The annual Discover Quebec 2011 Marketplace recently rolled into Toronto and rolled out the red carpet for a fun soiree held at the Fairmont Royal York’s regal Imperial Room.


Model villages complete with a toy train zipped around a food station brimming with steamy vats of potato au gratin and other nibblies. A furry mascot from Mont St. Anne Stoneham greeted the agents and media while 33 partners from Tourisme Quebec graciously welcomed all as we learned about Quebec’s winter fixings.

Book early and save is this year’s one big tip.

Here’s a look at what’s hot in Quebec this winter:

Porter is calling


The vote is unanimous. We conducted an informal poll during the evening on how people liked flying the boutique airline. The consensus: Love it more than like it.

Picture a stylish flight crew. Porter was so ahead of the current Pan Am TV series curve on this one. Strolling up and down the aisle clad in Canadian designed suits from Pink Tartan, the racoon-logo carrier for short haul flights offers snacks accompanied with real cutlery and your choice of wine and dessert.

Now those once unattainable places have thankfully become easier to access. Porter Airlines is starting ski season early this year with flights starting on December 15 to Mont Tremblant.

GTA clients can literally ski right after breakfast. “As opposed to a 7.5 hour drive, you can be in Mont Tremblant in about 1-hour,” says Adam Wilcox, Porter’s extraordinaire director of business development.

For ski-air packages the company’s partnered with Ultimate Ski Vacations with a “best price guarantee”. For more details visit www.ultimateski.ca or call 1-800-465-3034.

Romantic Quebec City continues to be close by with the 3 non-stop daily flights. You can roam historic streets, canoodle in a calèche with your paramour, then embrace by the massive fire place in your choice of boutique hotels or at the exquisite Chateau Frontenac.

Le Massif Charlevoix Train


You know whenever there’s a Cirque du Soleil connection, expect plenty of sizzle.

Daniel Gauthier, one of the Cirque visionaries, long dreamed of reviving a splendid rail route between Quebec City and La Malbaie. The long anticipated fifties-style train known as The Massif de Charlevoix launched last month.

With eleven foot high windows and pewter tone furnishings, this spacious bubble evokes a classic boutique hotel ambiance. Clients can embark on a fabulous seven hour scenic rail route along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River through the picture-perfect Charlevoix. The memorable tour departs from romantic Quebec City and finishes beneath the Grand Dame of the Charlevoix, The Manoir Richelieu.

The train service has scored a huge win-win with its food and beverage service.

Executive Chef Jean Michel Breton from the Richelieu (he first cut his teeth in Lyon alongside Michelin star chef Paul Bocuse) creates scintillating farm to table fare as this Fairmont property is the exclusive caterer.

Reservations and tickets are available by calling 877-536-2774. Additional information is available online at www.lemassif.com/en/train.

“We have so many guests coming already,” smiles Pino Nicosia, the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu director of group sales, who notes that this winter as rail guests arrive by day they can roll the dice by night at the swanky adjacent casino, Le Casino de Charlevoix.

“We even have a tunnel connecting the hotel to the casino.”

Roll the Dice


While Le Casino de Charlevoix is popular, Quebec’s got other high rolling casinos. Urbanites can flock to either the casino in Montreal or Casino du Lac Leamy near Ottawa.

Station Mont Tremblant also has good reason for clients to try their luck at the tony ski resort town. Sales rep Claire St. Pierre laughs as she relays a favourite winter past-time among the skiers. “You know we have a ski-in, ski-out casino and are the only one of its kind to do so,” she explains about the new casino opened two years ago.

Mont Tremblant also has a panoramic gondola for a bird’s eye view of the lake. “It’s free of charge. Even if you don’t want to do the casino you can sit on it. It’s very nice,” she notes. Check winter packages at www.tremblant.ca.

Spalicious

Sure, Mont Tremblant’s got spas. But the Province of Quebec boasts some other unique spa approaches too.

Ever stay at the Ice Hotel? One year we did. We had the best sleep ever! That’s partially due to a long soak in the hot tub followed by a Nordic dry sauna and then racing over the ice into our room into our high-tech sleeping bag.

Spa clients who crave more of the out-of-the ordinary will cue at the Spa Le Nordik for Finnish style treatments (sauna, steam bath, indoor/outdoor relaxation places).

The property is currently undergoing a $3-million expansion and is pegged to become the biggest spa in North America once completed next summer. Watch for a new lounge, a massive salt pool arguably the only one of its kind in North America, five outdoor hot tubs, and three new concept saunas.

The Maa sauna (Finnish for earth) is in the ground. “It’s really hot so you stay in there for five minutes.” There also will be an aromatic herb sauna and a Tuli (Finnish for fire) sauna. Agents can start bookings for the new services starting next spring.

Catch up at www.lenordik.com for more details.

Also located in the Outaouais, media rep Anne Chardon is beaming about the opening of the first LEED-certified spa in Quebec. The $4.5-million BleuSpa (www.bleuspa.com) has Ayurvedic treatments, massage therapy in a tranquil natural setting steeped in bucolic Cantley.

Outdoor Parties


If clients have never experienced the Quebec Winter Carnival, why not have them start now? The upcoming blockbuster winter festival runs January 27-February 12, 2012. (www.carnaval.qc.ca/en)

Over by the Plains of Abraham table decked with a vintage hockey sweater and other memorabilia stood the mad trapper-clad Benoit Gilbert who was hailing the crowd with some snowshoes and vintage skates.

“I’m from the beginning of the century,” he starts as he spun some great lore on the history of snowshoeing which clients can relive when they embark on the 1.5 hour Snowshoer’s Walk, highlighting all that was wonderful during the Belle Epoque days. “Each tourist will wear traditional snow shoes made of moose skin, wear a traditional belt and finish with hot chocolate.” ($15 per person).

The Quebec City Winter Pentathlon (www.Pentathlondesneiges.com) is another huge crowd pleaser.

“You know after the party is over at the Carnival people get ready to compete in the biggest winter event in Canada on the Plains of Abraham,” he says with a Cheshire smile, substituting the outdoor equipment in his hands with a laminated photo of him and two others.

“Last year I won the team of three in Le Pentathlon des Neiges,” he proudly declared, explaining the winter sports event that attracts over 3,000 participants is comprised of five consecutive sports.

Mr. Gilbert is all set for the 2012 big race. I’d love to see him in action. His enthusiasm alone makes him a shoe-in for first place if you ask me.

“We won the prize for the most funny, enjoyable team.”

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Bon chance!


For more details visit Tourisme Quebec http://www.bonjourquebec.com/

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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