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Valentine's Day in Montreal: 2017 Edition
When you've lived in Montreal all your life, you kind of take for granted how romantic this city is. Sometimes it takes a chat with one of my American or European colleagues to jostle me into remembering that Montreal has a lot going for it in spite of sociopolitical economic indicators suggesting otherwise.
And Valentine's Day in Montreal is just the occasion to discover --or rediscover-- that salient point. So I've been racking my brain putting together what I consider the ultimate of ultimate date ideas. We're talking dates that last for hours each with a special theme.
See Also: Montreal's Most Romantic RestaurantsContinue to 2 of 12 below.
02 of 12
The Mountaineer: Snowshoes Meet Molten Cheese... or Sushi
I went on a Mount Royal snowshoe trek under the stars a few moons ago and LOVED it, even though it was a bitterly cold night, with temperatures hovering around -18ºC (0ºF). But I brought my snow pants and had no issues with the weather AT ALL because the activity itself heats you up. But definitely bring snowpants if forecasts anticipate a dip below -10ºC (14ºF), just to be on the safe side.
So what is this activity? It's a forest trek atop Mount Royal on snow shoes that starts after the sun goes down and involves a guide who shares insight on mountain fauna and flora while throwing in historical anecdotes about Montreal as the snowshoe trek progresses, leading a small group through the woods with either hot cocoa, or in the case of Valentine's Day editions treks, mulled wine this Friday, February 10, and Saturday, February 11, 2017. Mount Royal forest trek info here.
Does the prospect of exploring an urban mountain daunt? I'm telling you. It's an amazing experience. But... fine. Here's a different Montreal winter activity for your consideration. Ice skating at Parc La Fontaine. If you've never skated before, there's no time like the present to strap on a pair of rented skates and learn. Parc La Fontaine ice skating info here.
Now here's where your evening comes together. Finish up your trek and mulled wine, hop in a cab and head down to bring-your-own-wine restaurant La Raclette, which coincidentally is not too far from Mount Royal and is only two blocks away from Parc La Fontaine. On Valentine's Day itself, the Swiss-themed restaurant offers a special $78 menu per person, which naturally includes the house specialty, melted Swiss raclette, one of my favorite childhood winter dishes. Live musicians are planned on V-Day itself. Since the restaurant is BYOW, you'll have to bring your own bottle. For a raclette meal, my personal recommendations are either an Austrian Grüner Veltliner or an Alsatian Riesling to bring the best out of the meal's flavors.
Prices too much on the steep side? Okay. Here's another BYOW in the neighborhood. It's a sushi BYO located a few blocks from Mount Royal (cab this one, guys, summer is one thing but it's too much of a walk for winter). It gets nearly zero media attention but don't let Yuukai's lack of a PR budget complete with free food media nights for bloggers fool you into believing this place is anything less than charming. Take a look at their Tripadvisor page. Potentially fake reviews aside, this is what regular folks with no hidden agenda, no conflicts of interest, and no experiences based on smoke and mirrors* have to say about the place. They echo what I have to say about the place. And the prices are fair. Very, very fair. Think $50 for two. There's also a liquor store in the area which makes it extra convenient to pick up a bottle of wine after your forest trek.
*That's what restaurant media events are most of the time, folks. Smoke and mirrors. I've known this since I did my first one nearly 20 years ago for my college newspaper only to find out when I showed up as a regular patron, the "incredible" food I had at the press event was NOTHING like the slop I was served as an unknown Jane. In a way, it was incredible, incredible how easily the eatery duped me into writing a rave review. And here my glowing critique of the place was their FLAGSHIP media review. All that was missing were neon lights around it on their webpage. I was horrified.Continue to 3 of 12 below.
03 of 12
The Antiquary: Roman Artifacts, French Cuisine
I have this weird habit.
Most weeknights before bed, I end up engrossed in The Book of the Dead, gnostic texts, obscure grimoires claiming Solomonic roots or some translated Latin manuscript or other from the middle ages has recently caught my fancy. And if I'm not trying to make sense of that or whatever angelic script some famous occultist or other claimed divine, then I'm using my smartphone to watch documentaries dissecting competing theories on ancient times. Sumer, Ancient Egypt, Assyria, the elusive and egalitarian Etruscan civilization wiped out by misogynistic Rome, Ancient India, Gobekli Tepe, impossibly monumental pre-Incan structures and of course, Ancient Greece top the bill. But I'm open to anything.
The first is a small free admission natural history museum with a smattering of Ancient Egyptian mummies and dinosaur bones. The second... is the city's most illustrious art museum, complete with a collection of pieces and replicas from Ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, Persia, Japan as well as a sizeable collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts.
See Also: Montreal's Top 15 Museums
Treat your Valentine to the grand tour -and don't forget to check out the Fine Arts Museum's most romantic room and the museum's special sensorial event on February 10- before heading to the evening's pièce de résistance.
Considering you're in the thick of downtown Montreal's Golden Mile, I can think of at least two ridiculously romantic restaurants but a short walkway, both French fine dining establishments prized for their consistency, be it in the kitchen or in terms of service.
For the broke among you who aren't prepared to spend three figures on dinner, head to Ste. Catherine Street and go west. There is an assortment of delicious cheap eats, most of them Asian. If you can handle Kazu's perpetual lineup, then do what must be done. It's the best Japanese izakaya in the city. Or try Sammi & Soup Dumplings' xiaolongbao. They're super affordable. Messy. But affordable.
And a quick heads-up. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts closes at 5 p.m. every night except for Wednesday, so unless you're booking an early bird dinner, you're going to have to find a way to fill up a two- to three-hour window between the exhibit and dinner. If plans to return home (or to your hotel) to freshen up aren't in the cards, then consider a small bout of shopping. Select shops a five- to ten-minute walk south of the museum on Ste. Catherine Street extend their hours past 5 p.m.Continue to 4 of 12 below.
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Okay. This V-day idea is so simple and so straightforward, you'll probably wonder why you didn't think of it first.
A night of jazz. It's smooth, it's sultry and it sets the mood. More info on Montreal's best jazz clubs.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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You've done the flowers. You've downed the chocolates. Now you want to do something sexy, something titillating and stimulating with your valentine.
A little smut and a lot of kink is the way of Cirque de Boudoir, a Montreal events team known for their risqué BDSM-friendly bashes. For Valentine's Day, Cirque always proposes something risqué. Admission ranges from $30 to $50 plus taxes and/or service charge. VIP tables for 2 or 4 range from $250 to $400. Buy tickets.Continue to 6 of 12 below.
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The Late-Night Tête-à-Tête
Want to eat upscale at a steal? Then you're gonna love these late-night menus. Just one thing. Call and check that these menus stand on Valentine's Day itself. More than a few restaurants are known for voiding their usual specials to make room for a special Valentine's Day menu which is typically more expensive.Continue to 7 of 12 below.
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Bubbly on Ice
Quintessential winter activity? Ice skating. Romance potential at the Bonsecours Basin in the Old Port? Significant.
See Also: Montreal's Best Skating Rinks
Choice après-skate activity? Bubbly. And I have just the place for you. It's about a five-minute walk from the Basin. And if you order a full bottle -different price ranges are on offer, including a bottle of Prosecco, Spanish cava or Quebec sparkling cider in the $45 to $65 range- staff will let you saber it. You heard me. With a real saber. Technically you could do the same thing with a butter knife and a bottle retailing under $20 at home but I can't guarantee you'll have quite the same ambiance. But La Champagnerie isn't just a champagne bar. The food menu is all over the place, fusing Asian, French, Italian, bistro and Quebec influences. Think foie gras lobster filet mignon poutine or a high-end pho with scallops, shrimp, muscles, clams, octopus, tempura crab and (also) lobster and filet mignon.
See Also: Mon...treal's Most Romantic Restaurants
Rather eat a meal dominated by seafood? You're on the same block as Le Bremner, a success story run by Food Channel personality Chuck Hughes. The raves are plenty and the bet is sure. You'll love it here.Continue to 8 of 12 below.
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Start V-Day on the right foot with help from an ancient southeast Asian discipline, yoga, one of India's most hyped exports in modern times if the abundance of studios dedicated its practice is any indication.
Count on yoga studios like Yoga Vieux Montréal proposing a special couples accro yoga workshop, ''a combination of acrobatics, yoga and therapeutic arts'' which are generally intended for all experience levels, so don't be intimidated if you're a beginner. It might just bring the both of you closer. Admission per participant hovers around the $40 range.
Sticking with the Yoga Vieux Montréal? Then try these nearby dinner options.
Barely 2 minutes away is Kyo, an upstanding Old Montreal izakaya serving what I think are the BEST shrimps in the city. Lovely sashimi too and an outstanding sake selection. If you're certain you hate sake, be prepared for a change of mind. That's what happened to me when I tasted a sweet, cloudy bottle of Sayuri Nigori... and sampled some ice cold bubbly varieties. And here you were thinking sake was flat, clear, harsh and only drunk warm ;-)
Or if you're prepared to walk an extra five-ish minutes, head down to Chinatown. The main street is lined with lanterns in celebration of the Chinese New Year. There are all sorts of best bets in that area so go with your gut. Go nuts eating Mai Xiang Yuan's thirtysome assortment of dumplings in a tiny hole in the wall, eat one of the best bowls of tonkinoise soup in Montreal at Pho Bang New York (mind you, I go there for the grilled beef, it's glorious), or go upscale with Orange Rouge. And if you want a nightcap, there's one and only one place in Chinatown I'd heartily recommend: Le Mal Nécessaire, Montreal's hottest (and only) tiki bar. Because who doesn't want to drink out of a hollowed pineapple?
Insider tip: Is Pho Bang New York packed? Try Pho Cali. I know, it sounds like an east coast/west coast rivalry type deal but Cali is actually 20 footsteps north of New York. I'll be the first to admit that New York edges out Cali by a smidgeon -their beef is a slightly better cut- but if you can't be bothered to wait, Cali does the trick. Minor caveat: reviews suggest Cali service is spotty. In contrast, I've been lucky myself and had consistently positive experiences.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
09 of 12
Float my Boat
Ever go swimming outdoors in toasty waters in the dead of winter? One of the BEST feelings in the world. Memories of bathing in Banff's hot springs or Mont Tremblant Hilton's pool overlooking Quebec's poster child ski hill are among my most glorious. The rising heat raises body temperature enough that surrounding cold air has no cooling effect on the skin.
Intrigued? So here the Valentine's Day deal. You and your date will linger in a heated pool. This pool will be on a boat. This boat will overlook Old Montreal's heritage buildings. And it will relax you to no end since this boat is a full-service spa complete with massage therapy, facial and body treatments, mani-pedis, yoga sessions and the pièce de résistance: a nordic water circuit.
And there's a restaurant on the boat. A great one, if you can believe it. Food is supplied by Auberge St. Gabriel, a nearby Old Montreal... restaurant which just happens to be one of my favorite places in the city to wind down after a long week or day (if you spot me sipping on a glass of red at the bar while picking apart a charcuterie platter, say hi).
Back to V-Day. Bota Bota always proposes Valentine's Day packages. Their 2017 deal is called the Ice Breaker Package at $240 plus taxes for two which includes a glass of vino, three-course meal prepared by Auberge St. Gabriel, a live harp and handpan performance and access to the spa's water circuit.
Other packages are offered at different price points. Visit Bota Bota's website for the scoop.
Apart from Bota Bota, there's another way to swim outside in a heated pool in Montreal in the dead of winter. Book a room at Hôtel Bonaventure and access to their mythical pool is yours.Continue to 10 of 12 below.
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Brunch and Butterflies
Not everyone is into Valentine's Day. I get it. If it isn't the sense of being forced to show one's love on a specific day, then it's pricey V-Day prix-fixe menus and crowded restaurants which seem to irk select folks.
But instead of skipping V-Day altogether, why not simply carry the sentiment forward --an excuse to bond with your loved one-- on a day that won't leave you feeling slave to a commercially imposed holiday?
So skip February 14 but consider highlighting the next weekend on your calendar, just in time for Montreal Botanical Garden's Butterflies Go Free's debut. A chance to hang out with a couple thousand butterflies in climate-controlled greenhouses has a certain romantic charm, non? Source? Personal experience ;-) And save some money on what could be an expensive restaurant bill by heading to brunch either before or after your visit. Here are some of Montreal's best brunch spots for inspiration.
Or how surprising your Valentine about an at-home... wine and cheese two weeks after V-Day weekend? Here's what you're gonna do. Stuff yourself silly with free made-in-Quebec cheese samples at Fête des fromages d'Ici running February 23 through February 25, 2017. And once you've tried everything, buy your favorites samples on the spot for a discount. When I went, it was only $5 per cheese, a steal compared to what they cost in stores.Continue to 11 of 12 below.
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So Much Chocolate
What a stroke of luck for Valentine's Day in 2017. Montreal Chocolate Show Je t'aime en chocolat is running V-Day weekend, February 10 through February 12, 2017.
That means a lot of free chocolate samples. And a lot of a certain aphrodisiac for sale in one location, which incidentally, is across the street from two my restaurant recommendations from an earlier date idea, La Champagnerie and Le Bremner. You're also in the neighborhood of Les 400 Coups.Continue to 12 of 12 below.
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