I clutched the arm rests of my seat and closed my eyes. The nose of the plane made a sharp downward turn and my blood pressure sky-rocketed. This was my worst nightmare... we kept going down at what seemed like a faster and faster pace. I looked out the window and saw the Andes mountains whizzing past. As we approached the ground, the plane finally leveled off and we landed in Cusco, a beautiful city nestled at 11,000ft. Turns out Cusco is in the top 3 most difficult airports to fly into - glad I didn't know that before - but it was well worth the anxiety, because this place was beautiful!
Cusco is one of my favorite cities in Peru. It's the hub that blends the modern Peruvian culture with it's Quechua history. When there's limited time, this high-in-the-sky city is often just a means to an end to get to Machu Picchu, but I would recommend putting this city at the top of your travel plans and spend a few extra days here.
The first thing you'll notice about Cusco is the streets. Navigating the city can sometimes feel like a maze, with the skinny sidewalks and the random staircases that make for short cuts to other plazas. Be prepared to do a lot of walking, but also be prepared to do a lot of stopping. There is so much to do and see in Cusco, it's worth spending at least a day just exploring.
We arrived to Cusco on the day of the Sun God festival so the city was teaming with life and vibrant colors. Plaza de Armas is where you'll find the impressive colonial Spanish architecture, however religious activities for both Christianity and Incan beliefs are celebrated in this square. It's in this square that the Sun God festival starts and then makes its way up the mountain for more celebrations and offerings throughout the day. We were a bit winded and tired given the altitude so we decided to stick close to the area and explore the shops.
As you wander throughout the city, you'll more than likely run into my furry friends, alpacas. It's totally normal and don't be alarmed when you're trying to skirt by cars on the streets only to be "stuck behind" a few alpacas and Quechuan women all dressed up. Relish in the moment because unfortunately you can't bring the alpacas home with you, but you can take pictures with them. The women will frequently expect a tip or some sort of compensation in exchange for the photos (or holding baby alpacas - yes you can hold one!!) It can be a bit pricey, but totally worth it. They are soft, cute, and I like to think this photo opportunity is going to preserve these sweet creatures because alpacas are both used for their fur and unfortunately their meat.
Once you've had your fill of alpacas (although I was insatiable throughout the entire trip and stopped every time I saw one), check out some of the more touristy highlights throughout the city. Explore the multiple churches and cathedrals built by the Spanish, learn about Incan history at the Incan museum, and taste test cocoa nibs at the Museum of Chocolate.
Of course no trip to Cusco would be complete without stopping at some of the world class restaurants. Peru is actually known as one of the top culinary countries in South America. Lima has some of the top chefs in the world, but Cusco is right up there with delectable meals that get your mouth watering just thinking about it.
We had breakfast at Jack's Cafe for a hearty breakfast complete with eggs, french toast and Peruvian coffee. Cicciolina was the perfect spot to try different types of pisco sours paired with great service and savory traditional Peruvian cuisine. And we tried alpaca at Marcelo Bartata (I hate to say it, but it was some of the best meat I've ever had - and the restaurant offers cooking classes too!) It seemed every block we turned on there were more and more places to try, but we only had three days in total...and we wanted to explore the culture in the Sacred Valley, just outside the city as well.
If you do spend a few days in Cusco, there are a few places that are must sees just outside the city. If you can, I highly recommend hiring a driver for a day and taking a tour of the Sacred Valley. We were hooked up with a wonderful guy, Clemente, who took us around the countryside and showed us all the best spots - for sightseeing, shopping, and snapping pics.
Our first stop on the road trip was Chincero. Chincero is a small town about 20-minutes outside of Cusco known for its textiles. The community sits at 12,500ft, a little higher than Cusco, so definitely make sure you're acclimated before walking around. The shops are great if you want to pick up blankets or pillow cases in bulk to bring home, but the most interesting part is learning about their textile manufacturing process. Definitely ask to take the behind the scenes tour where you'll learn how they spin alpaca fur into yarn, dye it, and then spend hours weaving it into the beautiful tapestries and garments that gives Peru it's vibrant appearance. We had a ton of fun... and again, I made friends with the alpacas!
As we continued on our road trip, we drove down the mountain from Chinchero into the Sacred Valley. Scattered throughout the land, the Incas ruled the entire valley. Little communities that specialized in various agricultural techniques, this area was made up of farmers. The Cusco region is known for growing potatoes, but as you travelled closer towards the more jungle landscape there was room for pineapples, coca, and passion fruit.
We stopped by one of those agricultural experiments at the archeological site of Moray. Incas tried a new technique of building farming depressions in a circle into the ground. From top to bottom there is a difference of 27 degrees due to different wind and sun patterns. This was to help understand what crops could grow in what conditions... unfortunately this experiment was ultimately abandoned and deemed unsuccessful. But it did leave a pretty cool site to visit!
My favorite spot on our road trip was the Maras Salt Mines. Another relic from the Incan age that has left its mark and still prospered in the future. We drove down a mountain and suddenly we were surprised by an entire side of a mountain, decorated with individual salt pools that reflected the sky above. It was so clear that it gave the illusion that one could walk on clouds.
As we made the winding road down, you could make out thin walking paths that weaved between the pools for salt miners to collect their weekly yield. Each square is owned by individual people, so while the entire mine is protected, the pools are locally managed by those in the community.
The salt was extreme - very salty, but perfect for cooking or to add as a garnish to chocolate dishes... and a great gift for those at home if you have foodie friends!
Cusco has a lot to offer, from food to culture to history. You'll certainly never get bored, but you may still want to head to the Lost Incan City. So while I say you shouldn't skip Cusco, you also shouldn't miss Machu Picchu either - if not just for more alpacas and llamas!
If there's anything I missed in Cusco, share below in the comments! I just might have to go back.
Machu Picchu. It has been on my bucket list for a long time - just the right amount of history, adventure and culture wrapped up into one trip.
Johnny and I had wanted to take a trip before he starts medical school this Summer, so when our friends Jenna and Sean asked us to join them on their South American adventure to Peru, we jumped at the chance to explore The Lost City of the Incas.
But real talk? Machu Picchu is a top travel destination and yet it's actually pretty difficult to navigate your way there. I suppose that's how the Incas preferred it and why it took so long to for anyone to find it (can you believe this magical place was kept a secret until 1911 when it was "discovered"?)
So here it is all in one place - how to get there, what to do and little known tricks to make your trip unforgettable...my top 12 things you need to know for your trip to Machu Picchu. If I don't touch on something, write me a note in the comments, or leave your own best kept secrets of Machu Picchu!
1. Machu Picchu takes a while to get to.
Machu Picchu isn't the easiest to get to from The States. While there are a few ways to get there (like the Inca Trail for particularly fit hikers), there is a fair amount of travel time. Most people can't take extended periods of time off, so here is my recommendation of the best way to get to Machu Picchu fairly swiftly.
2. Go in June - August.
This is Peru's dry season. Yes, it's the time that you'll run into more tourists (quite literally run into some people - it can be really crowded), but it's also the time you're least likely to get hit with rainy weather and the fog will burn off by around 10am. If you're looking for those quintessential Machu Picchu pics, don't risk your trip getting rained out; book between those three months.
3. Buy your tickets in advance.
You can't actually buy tickets to enter Machu Picchu at the gate so you must buy them in advance. We booked through Machu Picchu Terra about 3 months beforehand and decided to travel on our own, but you can also book a guided trip where you'll go with a group. Watch out: in the past year they have started requiring a guide before you go into the citadel. Don't fret if you don't have one; you can snag a guide at the entrance. You'll want one - you learn so much history!
4. Stay in Aguas Calientes.
Soak up your time in Peru and stay in Aguas Calientes, the city at the base of the mountain. We spent almost a full day here before getting up stupid early the next day. We had some of the best food at Incontri del Pueblo Viejo - mouthwatering Italian fare with gelato that rivals Italy! And the souvenirs seemed to be more affordable than in other parts of Peru, so feel free to stock up on gifts.
5. Get up early.
If you want cool temperatures, less crowds, and the possibility to see sunrise at the top, you need to get up early. The first bus leaves at 5:30am, but people start lining up around 4am. Honestly you can get in line around 4:45/5:00am and be fine. They have multiple busses running consistently up the mountain so even if you snag the 10th bus you'll be up at the top by 6:30a when the gates open. Snag breakfast at La Boulangerie de Paris which opens early for croissants and snacks to bring with you for the hike.
6. Bring coca leaves for the llamas.
My fav part about Machu Picchu was the abundance of llamas. Llamas roam the ruins as the natural lawn mowing system. While they are very friendly, they typically are less interested in you than they are with the tasty grass they are eating. Want that llama selfie? I learned that all you need to do is bring coca leaves with you and they will come right over. Also bananas, but who wants to carry something that squishy with you all day.
7. Snag an extra passport stamp.
Right outside the entry gate is a small booth where you can add a special Machu Picchu stamp in your passport. While it's not a country, it is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. You don't want to miss this opportunity to make your friends jealous.
8. Hike Huayna Picchu.
I have mixed reviews on this one. If you follow my story highlights on Instagram, you'll know I had some trouble with this hike (I learned I was afraid of heights on the way up, whoop!)... BUT while it was challenging both mentally and physically, the views are breathtaking and only 400 people are allowed to walk these ancient trails each day - you don't want to miss that honor. Snag the early time slot (7am-8am before it gets too hot, but make sure to bring lots of water) and then wrap up your trip with a visit to the Sun Gate.
9. Wind down with a full-body massage.
I looked at my step counter and I hit 20,000 for my day at Machu Picchu... you bet I needed some R&R after that! We made it back down to Aguas Calientes and had 3.5hrs before our train back to Cusco. We had lunch and then went to Otto's Salon & Spa for a 90minute massage (only $30!) Best. Decision. Ever.
10. Alpacas make the best gifts.
You may have to buy an extra suitcase to bring home all your souvenirs, but whatever you do don't forget to bring home an alpaca. Ok, so you can't bring an actual alpaca home (much to my chagrin... did you know alpacas aren't allowed into the US? You can only breed them? If you want to learn more, check out this site) Alpaca is the material of choice in Peru, but baby alpaca is where it's at. Soft, warm, and perfect for sweaters or blankets - and they make cute figurines!
11. Don't forget sunscreen and bug repellent.
Machu Picchu sits at about 7500ft and the sun beats down pretty harshly so definitely don't forget sunscreen. It's also in more jungle landscape than Cusco, which is more arid so the mosquitos can get ya. Bring bug repellent and light weight clothing to cover up.
12. Go to the Sun Gate for the quintessential "Machu Picchu and me" picture.
Not too far from the entry gate, maybe 10 minute hike, is the spectacular view of the city. Get there early and you can watch the fog lift from around the city but by 10am everything should be clear. Yes there are lots of people, but there are so many places to take pictures you won't have any issues. Soak in the unfinished city and all it's glory - it's truly breath taking!
Business trips - yay or nay? Personally, I love traveling for work. If you go back and forth to the same place it can feel like a “home away from home” or if you frequently travel to different cities it can be a great opportunity to get a feel for a new place (airline points don't hurt either!)
But traveling for work can also be exhausting. Getting off a plane and going straight to a meeting followed by dinner and drinks late into the night; sleep is usually short and you have little time to yourself to really decompress. Anyone else suddenly feel like a grandma by the time 9pm rolls around?
I work in advertising so while it seems all glitz and glam at times – staying in big cities and going out to eat - when we travel it’s go, go, go, particularly on production. Early morning call times, sometimes shooting late into the night... One of the best parts is Craft Services (the snack table on set), but it’s always tempting to sneak chocolate and chips throughout the day until you wonder if you’ve reached your max recommended calories just by gorging on snacks. This is where I wish the camera would take away 10 pounds rather than add it... So how do you stay healthy, get time to yourself, and make your trip interesting so it’s not all about business?
Here are my Top 10 things I do on business trips to help me relax and have fun so that I look forward to the whole experience instead of just wanting to get out of the office.
Always bring a sleep mask. For me, I can’t do anything without having a proper amount of sleep. When I drink caffeine I get squirrely because I have an abundance of energy… until I don’t. And once my battery runs out, I get quiet and really tired. I can usually sleep anywhere, but in order to get a good night’s rest, particularly with only a few hours, I always bring a sleep mask. Even when it’s light out, it helps trick my brain into thinking it’s dark and I have my own personal retreat. Feeling anxious or need help drifting into dreamland? Try dabbing lavender or your favorite essential oil on the strap – it will bring you comfort and calm your nerves so you can rest easy and take on the day.
Drink water. Another tip to keeping your energy up. Drink lots of water and eat light snacks. On business trips it’s easy to gorge on big meals and drink since you can expense most of it, but staying hydrated and having small meals more often will keep up your energy and prevent that post-lunch slump.
See what concerts are in town. After meetings are done, add some fun to your trip by heading to a concert (bonus points if you score free tickets for you and the client!). Working with media partners or production companies, I can usually get the inside scoop from them, but you can also stalk Ticketmaster or StubHub for good deals and cheap seats – or head to the venue to see about last minute tickets or standing room only if you’re up for a show.
Try a new restaurant. I’m a foodie so I’m always looking for the best places to snag a bite. If you’re traveling in the US, I’m a big fan of websites like Spoon University to get a range of options – plus this one is run by mostly college students so you know it will be good grub and there will be options with local flair. If you can, make a reservation to cut down on wait times so you have more time to enjoy the meal and reduce stress; and have a few recommended menu items ready to share with the group if you’ve never been there – makes you look buttoned up and also a little adventurous in front of your boss!
Check out the hotel gym. Workout facilities may be hit or miss, but it’s important to exercise – if not just to keep up your endorphins (see my post on how to reduce anxiety if this trip is particularly stressful). If the gyms are sub par, the hotel might have yoga mats you can borrow or consider a local Pure Barre or Orange Theory class.
Pamper yourself. If you can afford a late night massage or quick trip to the spa, I'm all for that! Otherwise, opt for the more DIY version. Grab a bottle of wine at a local grocery store and draw yourself a bubble bath. My skin always gets dry on business trips with all the flying, so I always pack face masks to replenish my skin.
Extend your stay. This is often overlooked, but usually companies don't care when you fly out or where you fly out from as long as it's about the same price as if you were traveling on the original itinerary. Consider extending your stay for a weekend getaway or work remotely for a few days so you have more time to explore. A few weeks back I found flights out of Minneapolis to go to Quebec that were a little cheaper than flying home. Went to my meetings and then met my mom for a few days of fun in Canada. And I only had to pay for my one-way flight back!
Find a deal on Groupon. You can usually find last minute deals for any activity on Groupon. My favorite thing about this site is if you're indecisive about what to do, just check out Groupon and pick something that looks interesting and is a good deal. It's a great way to get out of your comfort zone and so something fun. Most recent things I tried: Wine and Painting - it's not sad to drink alone when you're painting with strangers! And Laser Tag - because I still haven't really grown up.
Book an Airbnb or Bed + Breakfast. Tired of the same old hotels? Sure you can rack up points, but if you want to infuse more culture (or sometimes great luxury!) into your stay, consider booking through Airbnb. You can get whole apartments to yourself and often times the rates are much cheaper than a typical hotel you may stay in. If you want a more romantic feel, look for local boutiques or Bed and Breakfasts in the area.
Don't be afraid to bump your flight. My last tip isn't necessarily just a business travel tip, more like a frequent flyer tip. If you're flexible with your plans - don't be afraid to bump your flight. Any time they ask for volunteers when the flight is full, you usually will be rewarded handsomely. Free Delta dollars? Hello next girls trip! New seat on the flight? I'll take first class or business class please! Missed lunch? Thanks for the free sky club membership.
So next time you groan when your boss sends you to a three-day conference packed with meetings, team dinners, and homework prep - remember you can turn a business trip into a mini vacay if you look for the extra added flair. Carry your sunshine through that *yawn* 4-hr board meeting.
My mom is cool. There, I said it. It's in writing and I can't take it back. Nor would I want to! My mom actually might be the coolest of all my friends (sorry friends reading this, but wouldn't you agree Snappy Susie one-ups us all?)
While my middle and high school self might be cringing right now, my mom is one of my best friends. She's my shoulder to cry on, my conscience when I think to do something stupid, and my go-to travel buddy. She's amazing in every way and I would be proud to grow up to be half as great as she is.
My mom and I have a tradition of taking mother-daughter trips in the fall to blow off steam (ok - it's now fall and spring... she's just too much fun!) What I love about traveling with my mother is she is always up for adventure. She's not one to shy away from new experiences, in fact she welcomes them so traveling always comes with great surprises. We prefer to mix our trips with good food, active experiences, cultural immersion, and when we can - a little bit of luxury!
So in honor of Mother's Day this weekend - here's my top 5 list of places to take your mom on your next girls trip, because she deserves it!
1. Palm Beach, FL
The perfect weekend getaway for those seeking sunshine. Fall, winter, spring or summer, Palm Beach is known for blue skies and white sand. I recommend staying on Ocean Blvd (my fav is the Tideline Resort and Spa.) You can bike along the beach, splurge on Worth Ave, or take a drive down to Ft. Lauderdale or Miami for a day trip.
2. Boston, MA
In the Spring, Boston comes alive. The snow melts and the Red Sox are out on the mound. But Boston is at the top of my list for fall getaways too. When the leaves start changing, the sky and ground are painted with red, orange and yellow colors that electrify the streets. The city is walkable so take a stroll through the fall colors on Freedom Trail. Along the way, lust after the Beacon Hill neighborhood and warm up with a tasty pastry and coffee at Tatte Bakery.
For being covered in ice the majority of the year, Iceland sure is a hot destination these days. More to come on the blog for what to do and when to go to Iceland (hint: any time!), but as a mother-daughter trip, it doesn't get much better than this island. It's safe and is packed with adventures. From waterfalls to glaciers to sheer stunning views, you don't want to miss this ethereal place. Rent a car, take pit stops along the way, and finish the trip with a dip in the Blue Lagoon. You'll be booking your next trip back before you even get on the plane!
Culture? Check. Relaxation? Check. Tacos? Check! This is one of my all-time favorite places. This beach town is an upcoming trendy place to visit, so check it out before it gets too busy. About an hour south of Cancun, you'll miss the parties, but you'll enjoy soft sand, cenotes to swim in and if you're lucky a chance to swim with sea turtles. If history is more your thing, check out the Tulum ruins or take a day trip out to Chichen Itza, one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World.
5. New York City, NY
Honestly, this is the ultimate gal pal city. In the city that never sleeps, you're sure to find something for everyone. If you want to "treat yo self" go glam and shop till you drop, enjoy a drink on the rooftop of Ink48 Hotel, and see one of many spectacular shows on Broadway. Or if you're feeling a more low key weekend (is that possible in NYC?) enjoy a morning doing yoga in Central Park, a museum tour at the MoMA and a quiet afternoon at one of the many Brooklyn coffee shops.
My mother and I are always looking for new places to visit. Have a fav place you and your mother go? Share in the comments below. Our fall trip isn't planned yet!
What's your go to drink at a bar? I always love a good glass of wine, but after a few I know I'm probably going to regret it in the morning. So if I know I'm going to be out for a long time I try to stick to beer. Living in Richmond, VA I am no stranger to the brewery scene. However my favorite beer, Vienna Lager, is from Devils Backbone, an off the beaten path brewery 30 minutes outside of my hometown Charlottesville.
This past weekend I was graciously offered the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Devils Backbone Basecamp facility. A part of their "Thru Hike" campaign to bring the spirit of the Virginian heartland to cities all over the country, I joined a handful of Richmond bloggers and outdoor enthusiasts for great beer in the beautiful setting of the Blue Ridge mountains.
I had been to the brewery before when I was in college, but it had been at least five years. It's at the base of Wintergreen Mountain so it's always been a good pit stop before a day full of skiing or if you're making your rounds drinking, you'll find plenty of breweries and cideries on Route 151. But the Devils Backbone Basecamp location has grown since the last time I had been there. It's now a destination all in itself.
What used to be a small kitchen and brew pub now feels more like adult camp. A full service kitchen that pulls herbs and fresh veggies from gardens onsite, multiple bars both inside and out, corn hole on the patio and trails you can hike for an afternoon make this place every beer enthusiast's dream. They have festivals throughout the year to learn about what food pairs well with their newest concoctions, music festivals on their 100-acre property for local artists to bring cool jams to the amphitheater on site (The Hoopla Music festival is set for September 28-30th!) and soon they will be adding a camp ground area if you want to spend a weekend getaway with family or friends.
But aside from the atmosphere that feels like home away from home, it's the beer that will make you want to stay. Jason Oliver, the Brewmaster at Devils Backbone, is nothing short of a hops genius! An expert in germanic style beers, he has helped develop over 500 different recipes, 16 of which they have on draught at the Basecamp location in Nelson County, VA. Besides my fav, the Vienna Lager, notable brews to try are the Maibock, with notes of honey that feels just right for Spring, and the new tart Cran-Gose that's sure to make your mouth pucker in delight.
They don't tend to give tours at this location because it's a bit small, but it was there in the back brew room that I tried a beer that might rival the Vienna Lager. The Mile 842 - a hybrid between a golden lager and an IPA - is a new beer they just released with a crisp, fruity finish that quenches your thirst without the overpowering aftertaste of hops. It got it's name because Devils Backbone Basecamp is located just off the Appalachian Trail at mile-marker 842. Hiking is near and dear to DB's heart and many AT thru-hikers like to spend an afternoon relaxing on the patio before hopping back on the trail. I can see why, after a long day of hiking I would welcome a 6-pack of Mile 842 to beat the summer heat.
What I love the most about Devils Backbone is what they stand for. Started during the 2008 recession, this brewery truly seeks to unite people - over the campfire, on the trail, or a lazy Sunday afternoon on the porch - DB prides itself on connecting people over good beer. But it's not just their beer they believe in. Devils Backbone believes all beers should be celebrated. Surprisingly beer sales are down across the nation (might have something to do with hops other cousin getting legalized in some states). Right in line with their family values, DB seeks to unify even the beer community with the push to be #BeerPositive, celebrating all beer making, no matter the style, craft or level at which you distribute. Beer is beer and we should be delighted to drink it!
After a full day of tasting we headed back to Richmond. I was notably pumped after my visit because of the sheer energy and passion everyone at Devils Backbone exudes. Thankfully, the fun doesn't end with the Saturday adventure! DB is continuing to share their love of beer throughout this week in the Richmond area May 5-11th. If you want to join in the fun, attend one of the many events below. I hope to see you there!
If you live on the East Coast and are looking for a quick getaway, look no further than Quebec City. While Canada sometimes seems like the girl next door you might overlook, you definitely should give her a chance. Full of history, great food, adventure and relaxation, there's something for everyone in this city on a river. Plus, crêpes and croissants... isn't that enough to book a ticket today?
I would recommend spending a few extra days in this francophile town, but if you only have 48-hrs in this beautiful city, here are a few must-see places I wouldn't want to miss.
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
What to Do
There are so many different ways to travel - immerse yourself in culture with a home stay, go off the grid to camp in the countryside, or live the life of luxury at a resort... I'm up for any kind of travel. But that kind of travel usually takes time. What if you only have a few days in a city or country? Or better yet, what if you have a half-day layover, what do you do?
I'm going to start posting "speed-travel" recommendations. People who are either passing through or just want to hit the highlights, these are for you!
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
What to Do
Everyone goes somewhere warm for Spring Break. By the time February and March roll around we're all desperately craving Vitamin D, looking to escape SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder - such a depressing acronym.)
So when I said I was going to Canada for my (adult) Spring Break, people looked at me like I was crazy. I wasn't even skiing... why would I go somewhere below freezing when I should be getting my tan on...? Because visiting the Quebec region of Canada is magical and so much better in the Winter than in the Summer, in my humble opinion.
Ok, I totally get the love-hate relationship with snow. If it's not quite cold enough it turns slushy and a few days after it's been sitting on the ground it can turn brown, or worse it ends up as ice. However there's no denying that when it's snowing, it's like you're in your own personal snow globe, and for 2-3 months out of the year Quebec is in a permanent state of beauty.
Most cities are walkable or have good public transportation, but if you're in the outer cities be sure to have snow tires and AAA on call if you need a tow. In Montreal you can enjoy the perks of snow fall without the hassle of snow on the ground. They snow plow everywhere so it always looks clean and it's easy to get around. If you're up for more adventurous travel, farther north in Quebec City you can enjoy the snow by show shoe or cross country skiing. Looking for trails to explore? Quebec City has a great website to help you find the best places in the area. Click here.
2. The Ice Hotel
This one is a bucket list item. There are only a few ice hotels, or even ice bars, in the world. One of them in located 30 minutes outside of Quebec City in the town of Valcartier. Open from January through the end of March, the Hôtel de Glace is rebuilt every year with a different theme. This year it was a circus theme, so every room was sculpted with some sort of extravagant scene of clowns, trapeze artists, strong men, etc.
You can stay in one of the rooms, but be prepared to wrap up tight. While you're given a nordic sleeping bag, you may want to hit the bar for a liquid blanket before spending the night. If sleeping on ice isn't your thing (is it really anyone's thing?) you can still tour the hotel during the day. Book a tour to learn the ins and outs about how the place was made or find out how to book a wedding - yes, you can even have your special day there! If you want even more information you can take a behind the scenes tour and make your own ice glass or if tours are too organized for you then you can wander around the many halls on your own. Just be careful, it's easy to get lost! Wrap up the day with a cocktail in the world's tallest shot glass and head back to town to warm up with a basket of poutine fries!
Want to book a night at Hôtel de Glace? Click here.
3. Winter Sales
Spring Break is that awkward time where it's still cold in Quebec, but retail shops are switching over to the Spring lines. So if you're looking to stock up on winter gear, be prepared to shop till you drop in Montreal. The Golden Mile is great for boutique or splurge shopping or Old Montreal has specialty shops for fur or local artists. Everywhere is walkable if you're willing to get your steps in, and there are some good sight-seeing opportunities along the way like the Notre-Dame Basilica or the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
4. Maple Syrup Sugar Shacks
Maple Syrup in Canada? So cliché, right? Usually maple syrup is the sidekick to buttermilk pancakes or Belgian waffles. Rarely does it get to be the star of the show. However in March and April in Canada, maple syrup has a moment.
Though it's hard to pinpoint when harvest season will start throughout the Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia regions, starting in March you can indulge in a sugar high at a number of maple syrup festivals, or take a trip to one of the infamous Sugar Shacks.
If you want a full educational experience, check out Morgan Arboretum in Montreal. You can take a 2-hour tour of their forest reserve, ending with a maple taffy tasting on the snow banks.
What do you call a frozen dog? A pupsicle! Except in this case, the sled dogs in Quebec live for the cold. If you have a chance to get out of the city, dogsledding is a must-do activity.
I had been dog-sledding on dry land in Alaska a few years back so I thought I knew what to expect, but riding fast through snowbank trails with my team of four malamutes was even more of an adrenaline rush! You pair up as sled "rider and driver" and a team of 4-5 dogs. When you get there the dogs will be itching to run, so as soon as the instructor teaches you how to drive and control the sled, get ready to go because those pups don't want to wait around. Once you've been trained and your team is ready, unleash your team and get ready to fly! Honestly, because the trails are well trodden, you don't have to worry too much about where you're going, but you do have to help steer and slow them down when necessary or your sled basket may topple over. Our team - Sugar, Crack, Usher, and Friendly - did a great job of keeping us safe and at the end were ready for a nap. If only it was colder year round in Virginia, I would have brought one home with me!
There are lots of different companies you can book with, but after a fair amount of research (and a great experience!) I would recommend Adventure Inukshuk. The staff is friendly, the groups are intimate, and the dogs are well taken care of. Book in advance because they tend to fill up quickly. To book, click here.
6. Nordic Spa
So I have a confession, the first time I had heard of a nordic spa was on The Bachelor. It was Nick Viall's season and he went with Vanessa to a nordic spa experience in Finland. But you don't have to be in Finland to enjoy this truly unique idea of "relaxation."
Throughout Quebec, take time to relax at one of these unique locations. While they are open year-round, the best experience is in the winter - because sitting in a hot tub when it's snowing just feels better than when it's sweltering outside. First you start in a hot thermal pool, letting your pores open up and your blood to circulate. Then, hop out and take a dip in the cold ice pool, submerging your head under the waterfall to help restore elasticity and firmness to the skin. Depending on your tolerance level, after a few minutes head into one of the relaxation huts to warm back up in a hammock, allowing yourself to destress and clear your thoughts. Repeat for an hour or two until you're ready to retire to the café for a hot drink or book a massage to finish on a truly relaxing note.
There are a few different locations you can try. In Montreal, head to Scandinave Spa or Bota Bota for a great date spot. In Quebec City I highly recommend Siberia Station Spa. Don't forget to book in advance - and know that families are welcome in the mornings, but in the afternoon/evenings it's adults only.
So have I convinced you to book your next Spring Break trip to Quebec? Honestly, you'll enjoy any time of year in Canada - I mean the nicest people on the planet live here and the scenery is spectacular - but there is just something truly special about enjoying the winter festivities that are unique to this corner of the world.
If you're interested in learning more or want help planning a trip. Let's chat!