I recently had the chance to pop over to Montreal for the annual Montreal en Lumiere festival, and as usual this culinary and cultural festival – and the city – did not disappoint.
So, follow along as I take you on a whirlwind 48 Hours in Montreal, full of feasting and fun.
If you’re visiting from Toronto, don’t bother driving. You waste too much time coming and going and the weather is unpredictable (though they claim winter’s almost over.) Instead, fly Porter (wait for a sale), or splurge for first class tickets on VIA 1.
Book a room at one of the great boutique hotels in Old Montreal. A few of my favourites are Le Petit Hotel, Hotel Gault and if you’re feeling a little fancier, Le St-James.
1pm: Time for lunch! Pastaga, one of enRoute magazine’s best new restaurants this year, is a buzzy spot on St. Laurent where you should enjoy some lovely wines and delicious dishes like cured trout with shavings of trout jerky, and a carrot cake bread pudding for dessert, which is one of the best ideas I’ve ever tasted.
3pm: Time for some light shopping. If you want to go local and boutiquey, hit St-Denis. But if you want quantity, hit Simons, where I always leave with a bag full of trendy items, usually for under $100.
5pm: Shopping is exhausting, so take a pit-stop at Pullman, home to one of the city’s best wine lists, as well as tasty bar snacks (cheddar-bacon gougers, anyone?)
7pm: Dinner time. (But I’m still full!) Well then, why not cook your supper? I had a super fun time at a cooking class at the Academie Culinaire, a cooking school that’s a unique business model of 1/3rd cooking classes, 1/3rd product development (such as a clarified whipped cooking butter that just hit the market) and 1/3rd corporate team building events. The chefs were amazing, and I couldn’t believe that for a general cooking class we were doing things like cleaning kidneys for Argentinean brochettes with chimichurri. The culinary theme for this year’s Montreal en Lumiere was Argentina, so many Argentinean chefs flew in for the weeks-long fest and restaurants around the city created menus with Buenos Aires flair.
10pm: The night is still young. (Note: Things will likely get crazy.)
9am: I cannot visit Montreal without stopping in at Olive et Gourmando, be it for a chocolate brioche and coffee, or a gooey grilled panini, and neither should you.
11am: While in Old Montreal, walk around, pop into the art and design shops, see what’s doing at the Port, then take in the waters at Spa Scandinave, which offers full-on relaxation in the form of a European-style spa circuit of hot (steam & sauna) cold (icy shower & water plunge) medium (warm pool) and relax (silence please; people are snoozing in beanbag loungers.)
1pm: For a step back in time, and a surprisingly tasty light lunch, tuck into Wilensky for a Wilensky Special, which is a salami and mustard sandwich on a grilled roll. It sounds like nothing, but believe me, it’s something else. Wash it down with an old fashioned cherry-cola. Another great option is to hit Beauty’s for brunch, but be prepared to wait in line. (Totally worth it.)
2:30pm: One more must-stop before dinner: Pick up a couple dozen bagels from Fairmont or St-Viateur (you can’t go wrong with either, despite what the locals tell you.) Slice them in half before you freeze them and you’ll be eating a taste of Montreal for the next few weeks.
6pm: For dinner I recommend Bistro Cocagne, where I had a totally delicious tasting menu, created specifically for the Festival, where maple syrup featured into every course, from the raw beet salad to the braised pork belly. That said, if they don’t always have the warm, rich, mapley pudding chomeur on the menu; I’ll eat my toque.