If you associate festivals with denim shorts, wellies and drinking cider in the British summer, Igloofest is the winter party scene that flies in the face of seasonal prejudices and embraces bopping in the open air all year round.
As snow and ice cause widespread travel chaos in the UK, I decided to escape the weather woes and head for a destination unaffected by the cold - Montréal, Quebec in Canada.
Unaffected not because it's warmer, in fact it's more than a little chilly over there at this time of year and can easily hit -30º Celsius, but that doesn't stop the locals from having a good time. I dragged myself away from central heating and general grumpy hibernation to party with the gregarious Montrealers, under the stars and in the snow at electro music event Igloofest.
Returning for a seventh year, Igloofest brings together well-known local and international DJs for four weekends of electronic music at the Old Port of Montréal. Against a backdrop of the historic skyline of Old Montréal, revellers dance in the snow, togged up in neon ski suits and supping on Jaegermeister and Sapporo to keep the frost at bay.
The festival places as much importance on light as it does on sound, giving the crowd a sensory serving of hedonism. The beats work with the mollifying pink, purple and blue lights of the bar area and you can fully immerse yourself in a booth that displays moving flashes of light. Think old-school screen saver of stars whooshing past but on a much bigger scale.Image: Elise Apap
Wandering around the site will take you 10 minutes max, which I view as a real plus point. It's not so big that you get lost and feel like an extra in The Grey when trying to get back to the entrance. It also means that you keep warm enough to dance outside all night - you're either in a crowd with lots of other warm bodies, in the confines of the gift shop (grab yourself a neon Igloofest beanie - they're super cosy and you'll look the part), or warming your derriere on a heated bench. Why we have not introduced these to the UK yet, I just don't know. I'd wager national whinging would decrease tenfold.
Provided by Tia Maria, these sauna-like wooden seats warm your cockles just enough to get back on your feet and enjoy the tunes and the snow. I also had a cheeky Tia Maria and coke while I was there and felt 16 again. I mean 18. Of course.
What really struck me about the festival is, the people. Montréalers are used to extremely cold weather and snow, which is probably why they don't think twice about a festival by the water in January. Instead of hiding away, they embrace the freezing temperatures in dazzling colour and good humour - I saw more fluorescent one-pieces in one weekend than I did in the 80s. Until we launch an event so ironically whimsical over here, I hope to head back to Igloofest again to make the most out of next winter.
After a few hours of braving the elements, there's no feeling like coming back to a luxurious hotel room, a hot bath and fluffy pillows. I spent the weekend at Le Saint-Sulpice in the heart of Old Montréal and a mere five minutes away from Igloofest. So even if you feel the onset of frostbite, you'll be back in sumptuous surroundings in a jiffy.
Situated behind the stunning Notre-Dame Basilica, Le Saint-Sulpice is an inviting boutique hotel with 108 suites, all of which promise a minimum of 500 square feet floorspace. The muted tones, plump bed, squishy sofa and equipped kitchen make for a home-from-home feeling. And if you're desperate to warm your bones, the deep, oval bath is the fastest filling bath I've ever known and the L'Occitane en Provence products will have you sighing into sleepiness. Just don't turn your back on it for long as it fills up.However, if you're feeling brave and want to fully immerse yourself in the subzero theme, you could book yourself in for a night at the Snow Village on Île Sainte-Hélène, situated southeast of the city.
Made entirely from snow and ice, the ice hotel comprises 25 rooms and 15 suites, each one artistically carved into the theme of this year's honoured city, New York. The bed frames are made of solid ice and are covered with faux fur throws. But you amazingly don't turn into an icicle overnight as you're provided with a sleeping bag warm enough to withstand temperatures as low as -30º. Perhaps I'll be brave enough to try a night there next time, but for this trip, I was impressed enough to survive lunch in the ice restaurant.
Seated in a booth, again made from solid blocks of ice, we stayed toasty with cups of hot chocolate, a bowl of piping soup and a moreish hot salmon pitta. Keeping all your layers, gloves and hat on is imperative.
After travelling so far for the weekend, a tour around Montréal is a must. After all, the festival runs from 6.30pm each night, so you have all day to explore your surroundings. I found the distinction between neighbourhoods unique. As you travel around, you'll notice that the lampposts change from one neighbourhood to the next and even the street signs have their own mark. In Old Montréal for example, all the signs are red with curly, gold writing, giving the area a quaint feel of yesteryear.
Getting around the city is a cinch, especially if you're well accustomed to London's tube. Montréal's underground system is simple with just four lines - the map looks like a toddler's attached four bits of Meccano together. I was riding around, visiting museums, shops and cafes on my own with no stresses.Getting around the city is speedy and if you fancy a day of museum hopping, you can buy a pass that gives you access to 38 museums. Well worth visiting is Point-à-Callière, the birthplace of Montréal and built on top of archaeological remains.
But if you're worn out from all the cold and dancing in the snow, Scandinave Les Bains in Old Montréal is a blissful way to spend a morning. I was suffering from jet lag and this thermotherapy spa went some way to making me feel human again. Moving from hot baths, to an icy plunge pool, to steam room and sauna to refreshing cool shower, my body felt revived and relaxed afterwards. It's a haven of total silence too - and someone will come and tell you to shut up if you start gossiping with your mate.
For me, food is intrinsic to travel: I base my experience of a place largely on the food - it's what I remember and associate most with wherever I've visited. And I remember meals worth writing home about.
Le Bremner sticks in my mind for its unusual yet delicious lobster focaccia and kimchee snow crab. Hidden below street level, the stone walls, cosy candlelight and knowledgable staff make this a restaurant ideal for a romantic date.If you're ravenous, you can't go wrong with a meal at Kitchenette. The main courses are more than substantial and packed with fresh ingredients, prepared by chefs who work right in front of you. Don't leave without trying the Mississippi mud pie. Maybe share it between the whole table though, it's of doorstop proportions and decadently rich.
For some truly local comfort cuisine, you have to try Poutine, found in most cafes in Montréal. I don't know who came up with this, but I suspect one Montréaler came over to the north of England and ended up in a chippy after a night out. A standard portion of Poutine is chips in gravy with cheese on top. We all know that's a winning combo.
The jet lag can be difficult to cope with if you're flying over from the UK for just a weekend, so make sure you try to get in their time zone as soon as you touch down. Don't keep thinking your body is actually 5 hours behind. And depending on how you fare with the cold, you may find the temperatures a shock. But it's only your fault if you get too chilly - be prepared with base layers, thermal socks, gloves and a warm hat. Remember, you're right at home in ski gear at Igloofest.
Stick your tongue out at the cold and make the most of winter. That's my overall impression of Igloofest and Montréal. The festival and the city exude joie de vivre; a love of the arts in open spaces nods to a social and inclusive approach to life.Image: Fracois Rousseau
This Amer-European island city has a mystique that will have you puzzling about exactly why you love it. Is it the French influence, the soft sounds of the romance language combined with the Canadian easy-going attitude? There is a je ne sais quoi about Igloofest in Montréal that has rightly earned itself a place on the festival bucket list.
By Karli Drinkwater - find Karli on Twitter @karlibubbles
For more information on Igloofest, visit www.igloofest.ca/en/
To find out more about Le Saint-Sulpice, head to www.lesaintsulpice.com.
Karlie flew to Montreal with Air Canada - visit www.aircanada.com for flight times and prices.