I’ve never been one for roses and chocolates (lies: I’m all about the chocolate). And Valentine’s Day always struck me as annoying — in a relationship, it’s a forced time for romance; single, it’s a time to feel badly about yourself. No thanks.
But one thing I am a fan of is giving a little romance to yourself (and not in that way; minds out of the gutter, please). Coupled, singled, it’s-complicated — no matter your relationship status, I recommend you set aside a date for you and you alone, whenever you can, no matter the day on the calendar. And I particularly recommend, if you’ve got the time for it, a full weekend of going solo. Need some ideas? Let me suggest Montreal.
If Paris is the City of Love, then her little cousin Montreal is the City of Independent Women Chic. I’ve long loved everything about Montreal, from the fashion to the nightlife that goes on long past the rest of Canada’s, to the je ne sais quois Euro vibe that oozes from the streets and locals. It’s stylish, vivacious, and historic, and somehow it’s one place where romance doesn’t feel forced upon you (while still being ridiculously romantic). Montreal is just cool that way, calling all singles right along with the couples. If you’re tempted to get some quality “you” time in Montreal this year, here’s your guide to treating yo’self. Because after all, you are your best date ever.
Indulge in Food, Glorious Food
Montreal’s got a killer culinary scene, with far too many fabulous spots to list. But to get you started, here are few choice picks with a sprinkling of romance tossed in.
Barroco: Barroco may just be the prettiest little place you ever did see. This tiny restaurant in Old Montreal is charmingly rustic and warm, with original stone walls, antique accents and dark, cozy corners perfect for whispering with your girlfriends.
The French-Spanish-inspired menu features hearty steaks and rich fish — think dishes like 12-hour braised beef short ribs in maple and balsamic, and sea bream stuffed with ricotta, spinach and black truffle. Meanwhile, the cocktail menu is a book of classic libations (literally, it’s presented in an old bound book) upgraded with a twist, like the maple old-fashioned or the mojito with pink peppercorn. If that’s no enough, for some celeb clout factor, ultimate cool girl Jennifer Lawrence told Elle Canada Barroco is her favourite restaurant in Montreal. And J-Law waits for no man.
Chez Delmo: Celeb clout factor #2: I arrived at Chez Delmo a few days after Michael Bublé had been spotted dining in the restaurant. The crooner is apparently a fan of the place, and it’s no wonder. Indulgent French-styled seafood dishes dominate the menu, with dishes like creamy lobster thermidor or, my favourite, crevettes au pastis — shrimp tossed in cream and anise-flavoured liqueur. Also located in the Old Port, Chez Delmo is a little bit old world, a little bit modern chic. It’s also a Montreal icon — the restaurant’s been around since the 1930s (with a brief closure, relocation and rebrand in the early 2000s). Yeah, there will be couples dining at the tables next to you, but who cares when I would marry my lobster because it’s so delicious?
Le Contemporain: For a more modern take on dinner, Le Contemporain, located in the Musée d’art Contemporain, serves inventive, artistically presented bistro cuisine that change with the seasons. It’s a bright, airy space, and conveniently located in the Place des Arts complex, which houses the Maison Symphonique, the Opéra de Montréal and Les Grand Ballets Canadiens — the perfect place to stop before taking in a show solo (keep reading). Because the menu changes with the market, I can’t recommend one particular dish, but trust me, it’s all good.
Fill Your Sweet Tooth
Dinner done, it’s time to get your sweet on. And what better treat for a French date than the macaron?
It’s been the dessert du jour for a while now, as anyone who follows fashion bloggers on Instagram can attest. Brightly coloured, perfectly formed, delectable to bite into — they’re as photogenic as they are delicious. They’re also the star of the show at Maison Christian Faure in the Old City, where a glass case of pretty, multi-hued macarons greets you as soon as you walk through the café door.
If macarons aren’t your thing, a second case offers up tarts, cakes, croissants, éclairs and other goodies. But for a true treat, enrol in one of Maison Christian Faure’s pastry classes. They have 5- and 10-class packages, but also one-off afternoons where you can learn to make anything from pies to mousse. Talk about a sweet date.
Alternately, if cupcakes are your dessert of choice, Les Glaceurs will blow your mind (and your waistline). Red velvet, chocolate mint, praline, lemon vanilla, chocolate peanut butter, coconut lime, green tea, salted caramel, Grand Marnier… convinced yet?
Treat Your Inner Artist
Montreal is an art-loving city. You’ll find it everywhere, not just in galleries and museums, but on the street, from sculptures to murals. The city even has a policy in place that deems 1% of all public spaces must integrate some form of artwork. But if you tire of exploring what’s outside, you can also check out the city’s great art galleries, which are ideal for wandering around solo. Let your own instincts guide and take your sweet, slow time exploring the Musée des Beaux-Arts, pausing at the pieces that speak to you, and you alone. The museum features a huge collection of artwork, ranging from archaeology to international contemporary to photography and graphic art.
Or, you could settle in to watch a performance of the internationally acclaimed Montreal Symphony Orchestra at the Maison Symphonique, which is a spectacularly sleek, modern space with state-of-the-art acoustics. Sit back and let your head fill with the sound of music — an experience best enjoyed in a solo state of mind, in my opinion.
Spa It Up
Spas are lovely. Maybe a little too lovely, honestly. A little too new-age chi-chi much of the time. But Bota Bota is industrial-chic zen with a vibe that feels too cool to be couple-y. It’s also the perfect place to go solo because talking is forbidden once you’re within the spa area. Sweat yourself into oblivion in one of the saunas, then do a cold plunge, then float in one of the whirlpools with a view of the Old Port to keep you entertained. And all the while, escape into your own thoughts with no obligation to speak to a single soul around you.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
Montreal’s locals know to hit up Marché Jean Talon when they want to find fresh-from-the-farm produce, homemade treats, handcrafted treasures, and other great gifts for treating themselves. The market is located in the heart of Little Italy, far away from the touristy zone of the Old City, so you know you’re going to find the real Quebecois deal here. Scoop up Quebec musts like local cheeses and maple syrup, or sample some local produce the province is known for, like mushrooms, beans, apples, and berries.
After the market, head to the Plateau and Mile End regions, which are known for their cafés and trendy boutiques featuring fashion and art by local designers (be warned: your credit card is going to get a workout). While you’re in Mile End, stop for another Montreal must: fresh bagels. There’s been a long-running heated debate as to whether St-Viateur or Fairmount makes the best bagels — send yourself on a carb-filled taste test and pick a side.
Once you’ve wandered and explored, scooted and spa’d, finish off your solo date with a solo nightcap. Montreal has no shortage of bars to choose from, but if it’s something special you’re seeking (your date is worthy of it, after all), head to Sara B. in the Intercontinental Hotel. An “authentic absinthe hideout,” Sarah B. specializes in the green fairy. If you’re with friends, book one of the private booths in the back or, if you’re on your own, sidle up to the bar. Either way, you can get a full lesson in how the once-banned booze is poured, served and properly sipped. If you’re hungry, their tapas menu is the perfect absinthe companion.
If you’re a wine aficionado, make a date with Accords Wine Bar, the largest wine bar in the city. There are over 50 wines served by the glass to choose from, and the house sommelier pairs every menu item with a suggested wine. In summer months, bring a book and snag a spot on the oh-so-pretty patio; in winter, cozy up inside the stone-walled dining room and admire the wall of wine — you may even find a bottle or two to fall in love with.
I’ve always been told you need to love yourself before you can love someone else. They’re words to live by, and reason to never underestimate the value of taking some serious “you” time. Treat yourself to any of the dates above and you’ll not only love yourself a bit more by the end of it, but you might even have found a new love, named Montreal.