I have been converted to Maple.

One trip to Canada – the country that depicts the Maple leaf on its flag, no less – and I’m hooked.

Since returning to London a few weeks ago, not a meal goes by without some form of the Canadian condiment of choice enhancing its flavour. From a drizzle of maple syrup on my cereal (drenched in almond drink) in the morning; to the salmon baked in maple fish rub in the evening; this teamed with sliced British greens and leek pan-fried with a splash of maple vinegar, and a helping of both baby and sweet potatoes baked with a sprig of fresh rosemary, is absolutely divine.

Maple Festival 2016 was held at L’Arsenal in Montreal, where the exhibition space had been transformed into an enchanted forest for the Origin & Destiny theme. Throughout the evening, fellow guests and I experienced the gastronomic journey of maple; from the ancient use of maple water by First Nations, to a vision of 2200, where we were treated to a desert of outer space proportions. Surrounded by screens on three sides, guests were immersed in the past, present and future of maple, led by a presenter who was something of a time traveller, from what I could gather… international guests were given headphones to listen to a translation, as Quebec is home to French-Canadians.

Maple Festival 2016 | L'Arsenal, Montreal

Maple Festival 2016 | L’Arsenal, Montreal

This was indeed a foodie trip, but it was also an experience of Canadian traditions, and weather! Style-spotting in Montreal was a little difficult at minus 12 degrees, as everyone was wrapped up for warmth, but a definite standout was the uber cool dude dressed all in black, including sunglasses, casually strolling along Zoolander style, with his dog in matching outfit – black coat and boots. Yes! BOOTS. On a dog, no less. If we had not been en route elsewhere in a taxi, then I definitely would have stopped him for a pic.

Canada Goose was obviously a popular brand among the locals, but if like me you prefer something way more animal friendly, then I totally recommend the super cosy Everest Slim Polar Coat by Superdry. Unlike down feather options, which are complete losers in damp weather (weirdly), a coat with synthetic fleece lined insulation will keep you warm in all conditions. Seriously, it was like slipping into a super warm sleeping bag… I literally don’t know what I would have done without it. That, and my Heat Holders’ thermals – as soon as I put them on, I felt like I was hugging a radiator.

My Fashion Survival Kit for a Canadian Winter

Wandering Around Old-Montreal

Wandering Around Old-Montreal

Superdry Everest Slim Polar Coat: My warmest coat like, ever. I went up a size as I wanted to allow for more layers – pretty essential to work the layers when you’re stepping from one extreme temperature (indoors) to the other.

Heat Holders Microfleece Base Layer: I wore both the leggings and the long sleeve top, which are a toasty 0.61 tog! The top also looked fine worn as a top layer, which is great if you need to take a layer off when indoors – I wore a sweater over the top when it was really cold out.

Heat Holders Hat and Neck Warmer: These are sooooo cosy! Both in a matching cable knit with a fluffy lining that feels lovely next to the skin. I’m addicted.

Heat Holders Ski Gloves: No way could I have made snow angels in Old Quebec without these babies! Or take my hands out of my pockets for that matter…

Mandkhai Power Coat: Luxury designer knitwear; this colourful cashmere knit is proper cosy and looks awesome over an all black outfit – my usual colour.

Superdry Sophia High Rise Skinny Jeans: These sateen weave jeans are a massive a 98% cotton – totally breathable and ideal for a cold and windy trip. I wore these without thermals on the slightly warmer days, and they were well cosy.

Freeletics FreeTech Zipper Hoodie: This slim fit hoodie was great as a lovely thick layer over a short sleeve top. It’s made of a double-sided ‘FreeTech’ jersey material that feels awesome.

The day after the Maple Festival we travelled to Princeville to check out some maple producing facilities at Érablière Stanfold. This was also our first day of snow – ace! The cabin where we all sat for lunch was totally kitsch, with log burning fire, wall mounted deer heads and an abundance of red flannel throws. Apparently this was the owner’s living room, and just through the door were his maple producing facilities. My favourite spot in there being the corner with the retro fireplace, more sofas and flannel throws, and the lady calendar with handy box of tissues on the windowsill. As a frame to the beautiful snowy maple wood outside, this was pretty awesome.

Before travelling to Quebec, I had no idea that the harvesting of maple takes place just once per year, over 12-20 days, between early March and late April (depending on the region). So what do they do the rest of the year?! They take care of their trees of course; the last thing you want is a bad season when you have to wait a whole year for the next.

Following the visit we headed to Quebec City, where we stayed at Auberge Saint-Antoine in Old Quebec. This was absolutely divine – the hotel and the area. The snow was pretty deep at this point, deep enough for us to make snow angels! I found Old Quebec to be much prettier than what I’d seen of Montreal (which was not a lot to be fair), although Old-Montreal has some lovely buildings. Griffintown in Montreal is a pretty cool place to hang though, we popped down there on the first evening and it was pretty busy for a Monday night. We had a meal at Grinder – yes, with an e (not Grindr) – on rue Notre-Dame Ouest, and just a little further down the same road, we had drinks at both the Burgundy Lion and the Drinkerie.

Our evening in Quebec City was spent at Panache, the restaurant within the Auberge Saint-Antoine, where we were treated to a wonderful five course meal by the talented young chef, Louis Pacquelin. Our party – a group of international journalists from the UK, US and India – had a range of dietery requirements, from vegan through to pescetarian, and Louis stepped up to the challenge to create delicious and interesting meals for all (something I felt was slightly lacking at the Maple Festival, unfortunately).

Five Course Meal by Louis Pacquelin | Panache, Auberge Saint-Antoine

Five Course Meal by Louis Pacquelin | Panache, Auberge Saint-Antoine

We returned to Hotel Sofitel on Montreal’s Golden Mile for our final evening, literally coming full circle as we dined within the Renoir restaurant, where we first met our international party for lunch earlier in the week. Once again we were treated to a meal by executive chef Olivier Perret and desert by Roland Del Monte, chef patisserie. It goes without saying that every single meal we ate during our foodie trip to Quebec contained some form of maple, be it syrup, vinegar or maple sugar. They did, however, save an absolute treat for last…

Our final day in Quebec – which I spent extremely hungover, as a few of us had gone on to the Sir Winston Churchill Pub after our meal, where we continued to mix our drinks while listening to a cover band sing British classics by the likes of Oasis and The Verve – was spent travelling to Brigham to visit a traditional sugar shack. This was awesome.

Cabane du Pic Bois is situated within the maple wood that creates its produce. The cabin is open during Maple Season, March 5th to May 1st, which also marks the beginning of spring. It’s the change in temperature that causes the maple sap to flow, an intense period for maple producers who have to collect and treat the maple immediately, working around the clock to create the syrup. Am thinking we got a better deal with our early visit though, as the snow on the ground made the scene even more picturesque.

The Cardin-Pollender family still tap all their maple trees with buckets, and boil all the sap on fire. We got to check this out before sitting down to a traditional sugar shack meal, which included maple sausages and crispy pork rinds (for the meat-eaters), maple baked beans, fried sliced potatoes, beets and pickles and the like, all served buffet style – as much as you can eat. The cabin, built by the main man – André Pollender, is a wonderful space and perfectly cosy. We went for a wander around his forest after lunch (not sure this is generally allowed), and got stranded when we realised we were standing in a stream hidden by the snow – not cool! Made it home though.

Check out some of my favourite maple products below, and my fashion survival kit if you’re heading out into ridiculously cold weather.

Maple Syrup Display in Old-Montreal by FMS Magazine

Maple Syrup Display in Old-Montreal

My Top 5 Maple Products

Maple Delights Fish Rub: A delicious mixture of herbs and spices combined with maple sugar – my new favourite coating for salmon (and I’m running out.)

Pic Bois Maple Vinegar: In addition to using as a salad dressing, try adding a splash to pan-friend vegetables and omelettes.

iSens Extra Light Maple Syrup: New trick I learned in Quebec – adding a spoonful to soup, or other dishes, somehow enriches the flavour. Don’t know why, just does. Maple syrup is also a great vegan alternative to honey for drizzling over vegetables before roasting. Obviously also great over cereal or… pancakes!

North Hatley Maple Cookies: These are just divine, gutted I only bought one box… but you can order them online. Oh, yeah.

il neige dans ma tête! Maple Sugar: A sprinkle over a serving of fresh fruit adds a tasty sparkle. You can also replace regular sugar with the healthier maple sugar when baking.

Check out www.welovemaple.co.uk for more info on maple products, delicious recipes and more.

Words: Sarah Hardy
Photos: Maple Products of Quebec
Additional Photos: FMS Magazine