Getaway: Quebec's 400th Birthday Bash

Barbara Radcliffe Rogers

Editor's note: For Jan. 16 publication

Quebec City is turning 400, and everyone is invited to what promises to be a major 10-month celebration.

The city on the St. Lawrence has been sprucing itself up for the 400th celebration, even adding attractions including a new 1.5-mile riverside park, Promenade Samuel de Champlain, named for Quebec's founder. Expect the whole city to be bigger, better, flashier and brighter.

The charming city's legendary bonhommerie (good natured-ness) will of course be well on display. And this includes at Quebec's annual Winter Carnival, great fun every year, but really expected to outdo itself when it gets under way next month (Feb. 1 to 17).

As the first major festival of the city's 400th year, the winter celebration will feature a gala one-hour parade the nights of Feb. 9 and 16 - all new, with new floats and characters, original music and multimedia projections on buildings along parade route. Bundle up and be part of the admiring crowd.

But Winter Carnival is a lot more than a parade. It's a big outdoor party.

Snow sculptures line a boulevard across the Plains of Abraham (the historic battlefield park), which becomes a giant winter playground with tubing, games and snow castles for kids and live entertainment, dog sledding and sleigh rides for everyone. Elsewhere, crowds will cheer a canoe race across the half-frozen St. Lawrence, where teams alternately paddle through the water and push the huge canoes over the tilting ice flows.

More adventure awaits just outside the city at Duchesnay, where a new hotel is built each year, completely of ice. Guests can enjoy evening drinks at an ice bar before retiring to comforter-heaped beds carved of ice, each in a designer room with ice walls, floor and ceiling.

While all of this involves cold-weather fun, it's just the beginning of the $80 million-plus 400th celebration, which is on until October. While Quebec serves up all its usual pleasures - including an endearing Old World charm - there is much special for the anniversary period.

Nearly every place in Quebec is involved with history, culture and food.

Restaurants are boasting original 400th menus and dishes, museums have special exhibits, even the Quebec Symphony gets into the act with 1,000 musicians performing Mahler's 8th Symphony on March 18.