Visions of Swiss chocolate danced in my head. Zurich awaited me, along with my second year of Christmas markets. I had hotel reservations, a Google map of chocolate shops to visit, directions to a bunch of holiday events. And then all the unsold seats dried up, along with my dreams of delicious truffles and bon bons. Like any good non-revver, I didn’t fret. I simply canceled my plans and started looking at my back-up options.
That’s how Mr. Pretty and I ended up in Montreal last December. Of course, I wasn’t expecting the near-constant snow. Maybe I should have. I mean, it is Montreal . . . in the winter. There wasn’t any snow in the forecast, though. Like none. Yet . . .
Of course, snow made the Christmas markets in Montreal very seasonal, and the markets needed the snow. Le Grande Marche de Noel at the Place des Arts is the biggest of the markets, with perhaps two city blocks lined with food stalls and shops filled with trinkets. Of course, you can visit Santa, too. At the end of the market is the Place des Festivals and the unique Luminotherapie exhibition: 13 giant light-up zoetropes that are interactive.
While the Le Grande Marche de Noel was the biggest, the more festive market was at Place Jacques-Cartier. It was smaller and more compact, containing about 30 market stalls and six microbreweries. Small bonfires burned here and there, and the bottom of the market was an outdoor movie theatre with bleachers. Granted, it was quite cold–Mr. Pretty and I managed to sit through about 20 minutes of How the Grinch Stole Christmas before frostbite set in (well, almost). This market offered some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, so if nothing else, that’s one reason to give it a go!
A few other much smaller markets dotted Montreal, as well.
So how do Montreal’s Christmas market measure up to the Christmas market in Brussels? Well . . . look, Montreal’s markets are not even in the same ballpark. Even Philadelphia’s Christmas market is a cut above the traditional markets we visited in Montreal. That said, there’s something very quaint and charming about wandering around Montreal at night with the snow falling and people knocking back hot cocoa and the holiday spirit making people smile. Maybe it didn’t matter that we weren’t in Zurich (or Brussels, for that matter). There was plenty of very, very good artisanal chocolate, too, but that’s a topic for another post.
The best market (albeit not a traditional Christmas market) for picking up great gifts, though, was the Winter Edition of the Puces POP Fair. This maze of independent makers was located in the basement of Eglise Saint-Denis. It was packed–jam packed. You could barely move. But who cares? I picked up more amazing gifts here than anywhere else. Pillows, jewelry, wood carvings . . . even handmade, small batch truffles. I was particularly excited to see Cindy Labrecque selling her wonderful handmade ceramics–her white porcelain coffee bowls covered in insects are gorgeous (and the one I bought was a gift for myself–hey, I deserve something pretty, too!). I’ve been considering buying up a bunch more of these from her Etsy store and flying back to Montreal for the sole purpose of picking them up to avoid the outrageous shipping fees to the U.S.
I’ve been to Montreal a few times before, but always in the middle of July for dragonboat racing. The city looks a lot different in the long gray days of winter. If you’re looking for a quick December trip to get you in the Christmas mood, Montreal might be a good choice.