Sixteen years ago Montréal introduced a festival that would make people love winter again. Today, it’s a 10-day city-wide extravaganza attracting visitors from around the world. The sheer number of culinary events, art exhibitions, and live performances can be boggling (pro tip: create a personalized itinerary on the official website), and this is not even taking into account all there is to see in the gorgeous and historic city of Montréal.
Don’t worry: Eat Drink Travel Magazine has done the heavy lifting for you. We showed up for the opening weekend to suss out the best for the 2015, but first a few facts. MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE is not your ordinary food fest. Or music fest, light show, or art exhibition. In the true spirit of Montreal—a city that lives for art, culture, and food—MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE is all of these things at once, and perhaps surprisingly, there are offerings for visitors at all budgets.
Switzerland is the 2015 featured country, so cheese-lovers are in luck! Eat Drink Travel visited Beaver Hall for the all-you-eat Swiss raclette (quite a lot, as it turns out), a traditional Swiss dish made with potato, Bündnerfleisch (dried beef), and melted cheese.
For a taste of what Quebec producers are up to, you won’t find better than the Hats Off to Local Breeders event at Chez Chose. This five-course meal is prepared to showcase local meats, herbs, cheeses, and vegetables, and they do an excellent job, serving bites both surprising and sublime. Chez Chose is family-owned, and the staff work hard to provide a dining experience that is welcoming. Highly recommended.
Charcuterie, which refers to prepared meats like sausages, pates, briskets, and so on, originated in France, so it should come as no surprise to find it in Montréal. Check out the Never-ending Happy Hour every evening at Hambar, starting at 5pm.
Visitors on a budget need not miss out. Hundreds of vendors showcase their wares at the Jean-Talon Market (a short walk from the Jean-Talon Metro), and there are free daily presentations. For a taste of Switzerland, consider brunch at Le Quartier general; you are free to bring your own wine.
Select from the full menu of gastronomical experiences here.
Lights are in the very namesake of MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE, and are an enchanting part of this festival. Imagine music, food, and dancing under a dynamic art and light show. Add diversions like a zip-line, a slide, and a Ferris wheel, and you’ve got the free outdoor site at the Place des Artes. Next Saturday (February 28) is the opening night of Nuit Blanche, and the site will be open until 3am. Check the schedule here.
Art and performance
There are dozens of exhibitions and performances during MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE, but for something both incredible and incredibly Montréal, Eat Drink Travel recommends Jeux de Cartes Coeur, a play by Ex Machina and Robert Lepage, at TOHU. Everything from the 360-degree stage to the costumes to the script were unusual and brilliant, and the theatre does a superb job of integrating subtitles in English, where needed. Jeux de Cartes Coeur runs until February 28.
Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours is Montréal’s oldest stone chapel, and the location of La Fièvre Gospel. Performers change nightly, so check the listings.
For free music and performance, head out to the outdoor site. With an RBC main stage and several smaller stages, you can take you pick of live music, DJs, VJs, or dancers.
MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE runs until March 1, 2015.
If you’re on the route, we recommend taking a VIA Rail train. The tickets from nearby cities are affordable, the view is gorgeous, and the train station is in the downtown core. International visitors will fly into Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport, about 20 kilometres from downtown.
The Hyatt Regency Montreal is central and has a restaurant and bar with a cozy fireplace, and a pool and 24-hour gym. North-facing rooms overlook the free outdoor site.
See and do:
Pointe-à-Callière is Montréal’s museum of history and archaeology, and an historic site itself—go below ground to walk through the preserved archaeological remains of the city. Follow the subterranean signs to emerge in the Mariner’s House, one of six associated buildings, and the site of Les Grecs, an exhibition on Ancient Greece running until April 26, 2015.
For something a little different, consider brunch at Café Cat L’Heureux. From the street, you’ll arrive in a foyer where you’ll remove your shoes before entering the restaurant proper to be greeted by the staff and the resident cats. Diners can feast from a vegetarian menu (their Cat Gentleman sandwich comes highly recommended), and are encouraged to enjoy the feline company. Delightfully kitschy and cozy.