The Charm of Old Quebec City

I’ve been to Quebec City a few times. The first time as a youngster on a driving vacation with the family. The first overnight stop from Toronto was Quebec City. I remember walking through the gates of the old city and feeling like I had stepped back in time. Thankfully the old city is still there today. And it’s a real treat.

Old Quebec is the only walled city in Canada or the U.S. and is designated as a World Heritage treasure by UNESCO. It’s a mix of history, architecture, heritage, art, and culture and is widely viewed as the home of French civilization in North America.

Early Canadian and French history abounds with numerous historic buildings and museums including the Musée de la civilisation . There are many art galleries and boutiques with a French flair. Restaurants and pubs have a warm and intimate feel and most feature Quebec fare including rabbit, deer, and duck confit poutine.

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While there’s a variety of hotels to choose from within Old Quebec and Quebec City itself, my favorite is the Auberge Saint-Antoine. Located in the heart of Old Quebec, the Auberge sits on an historic site dating back to the 16oos. As a member of Relais and Cheataux, the hotel has a strong focus on service and luxury. There are only 60 rooms with no 2 rooms alike, and each contains artifacts that were found on site. Their Panache Restaurant is incredible with Michelin star chef and imaginative menu.

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Quebec City is like 2 different destinations in the winter and the summer. In the winter, it can hit -30c. So cold it’s painful but beyond beautiful particularly during the Carnaval de Québec (the Winter Carnival from January 27 to February 12, 2017).

In the summer, there’s the Festival d’été de Québec (July 7-17, 2016), Canada’s biggest outdoor music event. Quebec City is warm and inviting with quaint streets to wonder down and walking trails to explore along the St.Lawrence River. Outdoor cafes abound and you’ll find yourself stepping back in time… and thinking about your next visit.

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5 Places for Spectacular Northern Lights Viewing

The aurora borealis is the colorful phenomenon created when electrically charged particles within the earth’s magnetosphere collide with particles in the solar wind. The Northern Lights, as they’re also known, are best seen in late August through April from countries near the North and South poles. These neon ribbons of light are not always visible, and the colors present depend on altitude and which elements are in the air. The most common color is green, while red is more rare. Glows of yellow, pink, blue, and ultraviolet are also possible.

Weather, lunar cycle, and proximity to the sea make some cities and regions better than others for viewing. But if catching a spectacular display is on your bucket list, here are Hipmunk’s top destinations for seeing these natural wonders!

1. Fairbanks, Alaska

Located within the auroral oval — a ring-shaped region around the North Pole — Fairbanks lends itself to a steady frequency of Northern Light activity and clear climates. But travelers will have to travel a bit outside of the city limits to see nature’s fluorescent curtains. Stay at the Best Western Plus Chena River Lodge or theSpringhill Suites by Marriott Fairbanks, both short drives from the city’s other attractions should the lights not cooperate. (We’re fans of the University of Alaska Museum of the North, the Alaska House Art Gallery, and the Fairbanks Community Museum.) Alaska Tours will pick up stargazers from their stated hotel and transfer them to the outskirts of the city. Dress warmly to experience the rippling auroras outdoors, or sip a complimentary warm beverage to stay cozy inside the vehicle. Make sure to monitor the University of Alaska’s aurora forecast to get a better idea of when there is auroral activity.

2. Whitehorse City, Canada

Canada’s Yukon Territory makes for great viewing of the undulating light curtains. Head to Whitehorse City and stay at the Skky Hotel, only 0.4 miles from the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport. View the aurora from a custom-built location by the Arctic Range northern lights tour company. Or, drive 18 miles north of downtown Whitehorse and view them from the Takhini Hot Springs for a memorable evening. The pools, which have been in operation for more than 100 years, are between 36 degrees and 42 degrees Celsius, offering a soothing experience. Check out the pool rental rates, which are based on number of guests.

3. Saariselka, Finland

The Northern Lights are best viewed away from city lights, making national reserves like Urho Kekkonen National Park a good option. Stay at the Holiday Club in the town of Saariselka for easy access to the park, as well as downhill and cross-country skiing. For those with a higher budget, have a distinctive experience at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort while hunting for the elusive lights. The resort, located a nine-minute drive south from Saariselka and also near Urho Kekkonen Park, offers its signature glass igloo for two or four people, a log cabin or a hybrid accommodation, which is a log cabin that also has a glass igloo. There are various other options, including staying with in the home of Mr. and Ms. Claus, which Kakslauttanen calls Santa’s Home. For extra fees, Kakslauttanen offers husky and reindeer safaris, sleigh rides and ice fishing, among other activities.

4. Karasjok, Norway

Northern Norway is an ideal location to catch both the Northern Lights and star constellations. The town often has clear skies due to its inland location, and little light pollution. Even if the capricious lights don’t show, visitors will be impressed by the clearly visible star constellations. Stay at the Scandic Karasjok, which has two restaurants and a sauna to get a complete Norwegian experience. The DenHvite Rein Motell offers cross-country and downhill skiing, as well as snowshoeing to stay active.

5. Abisko, Sweden

The typically clear climate of Abisko makes this small town an optimal place to catch the Aurora Borealis. Stay at the Abisko Guest house or the Abisko Mountain Lodge,both offering easy access to the Aurora Sky Station within Abisko National Park.Abisko.net offers three distinct northern light tours to choose from. Snowshoe to the top of a small hill overlooking lake Tornetrask, as well as wild animal trails. Rest near the fire while drinking warm drinks as onlookers stare at the sky. Or, learn how to best photograph nature’s dancing lights. Visitors have to provide their own SD memory cards, but Absiko.net provides the high-quality camera and lens, as well as detailed instructions from a professional.

 

This post was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind Blog on January 8, 2016.

Pack Light and Stay Warm for Winter Trips

With the winter months approaching, packing for a getaway might get a bit tricky. Going light is always ideal, but is it manageable if headed somewhere especially cold? Luckily enough, there are easy packing hacks to keep the load off while still packing the right gear. We’ve got six tips below to make the next suitcase stuffing a (warm) breeze!

Layer up. Who knew packing five huge wool sweaters wasn’t necessary? The best way to stay warm is to stick to lots of layering. Pack light tank tops (for women) or t-shirts (for guys) along with a few button downs or cardigans. Bonus points for packing long underwear or other types of thermal clothing—these will keep people just as warm, if not warmer, than lugging a huge puffy jacket around. For layering 101, especially if traveling for outdoor adventures, make sure to bring base layers that protect against moisture (think: synthetic fabrics), insulating layers to combat the cold (thin fleece or wool), and outer layers (like waterproof or insulated shells) to shield wind and rain.

Remember your head, hands, and feet. A lot of heat is lost through the head, hands, and feet, so it’s especially important to cover up those areas well. Lucky for us, hats, gloves, and socks don’t take too much space and are perfect options for stuffing in a carry-on. If exposed to especially cold temperatures, it’s important to wear two layers of gloves and socks: one thin, synthetic liner, and an insulated outer layer. Do this, and even Hotel de Glace will even feel warm.

Choose compression! This trick is a trekker’s’ dream, especially if looking to do some winter hiking Place the bulkiest items (think coats, thick pants) incompression packing bags. These gems reduce excess air and create more space for other clothes and shoes in the suitcase.

Pack smart. Are three pairs of shoes really necessary? Think about what items are especially heavy (shoes, jackets) and stick to 1-2 of each at a maximum. Rolling instead of folding clothes in a suitcase also saves space. Just make sure to be careful if packing any clothes especially vulnerable to wrinkling; materials like wool and cotton are great for rolling, but collared shirts and nicer business attire should probably be folded. If clothes are folded, save them till’ the end to pack—it’s easier to close the bag with folded items on top.

Bring traveled-sized detergent! While packing light is important, clothes might still get dirty pretty quickly. One of our favorite tricks is to pack a travel-sized detergent to do laundry on-the-go. Simply soak dirty clothes in a sink for a few hours, ring them out, and leave them to dry. (Just make sure to time this so damp clothes aren’t stuffed back into a suitcase if heading to another destination the next day.) Many towns and hotels also have laundromats, so look this up ahead of time. It’s  also best to wear that shirt two or three times before giving it a wash. Unless it’s super smelly, nobody will really care!

Wear the heavy stuff. There’s no denying it: bringing some sort of heavy coat is a must. Instead of worrying about packing it, wear it on the plane, train, or automobile—if it gets warm, just take it off and stow it away.

 

This post was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind Blog on December 4, 2015.