Montreal has always been the perfect weekend escape from New York since it is only a short flight away and has a distinctly different culture and vibe than the rest of North America. Montreal is best known for its culture, European architecture, music festivals, poutine and smoke meat – but it also knows how to put on an amazing winter festival. This year, I was fortunate enough to visit the city to see it in a different light – during the city’s Festival of Lights: Montréal en Lumière.
Montréal en lumière is one of the largest winter festivals in the world and really shows how Montréal embraces winter weather with free outdoor and indoor entertainment, art events and a gastronomy program that showcases all the great food of the city.
The focal point of Montréal en Lumière is Place des Festivals, in the public space adjacent to the city’s performing arts complex Place des Arts and Complexe Desjardins. The festival site offers a family fun zone, including a zipline that spans two city blocks, a Ferris wheel that soars above the festival, and an urban ice slide that zips you down faster than it looks (I was totally screaming!). There are also a few workshops and pavilions to keep everyone entertained. The best part is that most activities are offered for free! In the evening when the Illuminart installations light up, is when the site really comes to life!
One of the cornerstones of Montréal en Lumière is the fine-dining program, which makes Montréal THE ULTIMATE gourmet destination. Restaurants across the city participate in countless culinary activities to light up (no pun intended) your taste buds. The finest Montreal chefs also prepare themed fine-dining evenings, which include dishes prepared by guest chefs flown in from all around the world. For example, Montreal chef Éric Gonzalez of L’Atelier Joël Robuchon was paired with Michelin three-star chef Alain Verzeroli for a unique and tasty evening. The menu he created for Montréal en Lumière was delicious, balanced, and beautifully presented.
Michael Bom Frost from the Nordic Food Lab held a knowledge conference at Marche Jean-Talon where he talked about combining scientific and humanist approaches with culinary techniques to marry food diversity and deliciousness. The setting was perfect as Marche Jean-Talon is one of the oldest public markets in Montréal, and it still supplies a lot of fresh produce and spices to local restaurants in the city.
The grand finale of Montréal en Lumière is with Nuit Blanche. It is the biggest attraction linked to Montréal en Lumière and is held on the last Saturday of the festival, involving more than 200 cultural activities throughout the city – most of them free. Nuit Blanche is an annual all-night arts festival where the city is transformed into a giant open-air art gallery.
The 19th Montréal en lumière festival runs through to Sunday, March 4.
For complete information, see montrealenlumiere.com
For accommodation suggestions and ideas for other things to do while in Montreal, please be sure to check out my previous blog post “48 Hours in Montreal”