MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE: a winter fest that warms the soul

Conceived in order to bring a little warmth, light and festive life to the dead of winter, MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE has evolved to become one of the largest — and tastiest — winter arts and culture festivals in the world. Let the following be your guide to the 2020 edition of one of Montréal’s hottest cold weather festivals.

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A bright light in a big city

Organized by the same festive folks who produce the globally renowned Festival International de Jazz de  Montréal and the Francos de Montréal French music festival, MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE — which this year runs February 20 to March 1 — draws some 1,300,000 visitors annually. The fest features an expansive and eclectic program of entertainment and activities encompassing an array of performing arts (live music, theatre, dance, circus arts and more), an especially extensive journey through several realms of gastronomy, free outdoor family attractions/distractions, more than a few surprises and the always hugely anticipated, festival-closing Nuit blanche à Montréal all-night arts party (see below).

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Free fun at a lively site

The MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE free outdoor site is nestled snugly in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles, itself in the heart of downtown. Jammed with all manner of vibrant activities for young and old and all points in between, the site is the epicentre of the action. Free shows on the giant outdoor concert stage, a fully-tricked-out Ferris wheel, a 180-metre zip-line over the site, an extraordinary downtown circuit of immersive and interactive luminous works courtesy of Illuminart, warming-up areas, gourmet pit stops, street performers, fireworks and the always ridiculously popular 110-metre urban ice slide are all features of this colourful, dynamic and family-friendly winter village.

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An incredible array of artful cuisine

Fine dining is the self-proclaimed cornerstone of MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE. To wit, in the 21 years since the fest was founded, over 600 renowned chefs, wine producers and speakers representing both Québec and international gastronomic traditions have taken part in this annual ode to culinary discovery. Anchoring the culinary arts experience again this year is an expanded edition of the Air France Finest Tables program, which this year features exceptional menus from the chefs of 50 of Montréal’s most innovative kitchens, including 12 new ones. Joining the Montréal chefs will be top chefs from Copenhagen, Dubai, New York City, Paris, Switzerland, Haiti, Chile and elsewhere to create utterly delicious dishes. Among these international guests will be no fewer than nine Michelin star chefs with a combined 17 stars between them. But it doesn’t stop there — not even close.

Following its success last year, the Quartier Gourmand returns to its foodie HQ in the Maison du Festival, which can be accessed for free. It’s here that the pleasures of the palate will be highlighted during tastings, expert talks, gourmet offerings, showcases and more — over 50 activities in all, many of which are free. 

Intimate venue L’Astral, also part of the Maison du Festival, has a number of tantalizing activities of its own, including Japan’s Flavours, February 21 and 22, where Asian cuisine aficionados can discover and sample Japanese delicacies prepared by restaurateurs from Montréal’s Japanese food scene. Attendees will also have an opportunity to participate in workshops, tastings and demonstrations. There will also be a Bubbly and Cocktail Night, February 28, which will see sparkling wines and spirits joining forces to create unforgettable cocktails.

And be sure to mark February 22 off on your calendar for the second edition of Nuit Gourmande, the stated mission of which is to help people discover local gastronomy via a wide range of nighttime culinary activities taking place in various neighbourhoods around the city. Over a hundred different establishments (including restaurants, bakeries, bars, specialty stores, fish markets, etc.) will be open late that night from 6 pm to 3 am (though the schedule varies depending on the establishment).

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Hot sounds for cold nights

From music icons to emerging artists, MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE’s musical options cover different styles represented at free outdoor as well as paid indoor concerts. This year’s set list, so far, includes very popular Montréal indie-folk collective The Franklin Electric with singer/songwriter Old Sea Brigade at MTELUS, February 21. And breakout Montréal-based Djiboutian-French R&B artist Shay Lia will share the stage with sophisticated soul-pop songwriter Jon Vinyl, February 26, at L’Astral.

Calling all nocturnal culture creatures

The MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE festivities wrap up with the epic Nuit blanche à Montréal all-nighter starting on Saturday, February 29 and ending well into Sunday, March 1. It’s the best-attended single-day event in Montréal, drawing some 300,000 nighthawks out on the annual urban adventure. Nuit blanche invites both visitors and locals to partake in upwards of 200 (mostly free) cultural activities spread out over more than 150 places throughout the city. So grab a metro ride —  the metro is open all night especially for the occasion — and go catch a head-spinning spectrum of live music, film, dance, performance art, improv, interactive installations, storytelling, digital and visual art, great food and much more at this fitting finale of the fest.

Jamie O’Meara

Jamie O’Meara, blogger

Jamie O’Meara is a writer for The Montreal Gazette, C2 Montréal, Moment Factory and more. He also manages the PR Team at the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and is the former Editor-in-Chief of alt-weekly newspaper HOUR Magazine.

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