BY MARK KEAST

In partnership with Expedia.ca 

Every year, many of us roll our eyes when grocery and drug stores start playing staid Christmas tunes, seemingly seconds after the pumpkins of Hallowe’en disappear for the year. All we want to do is pick up a quick broccoli salad and a bag of organic chips, in quiet and peace. By mid month though these songs are like a steady drum beat on the brain.

Old Montreal serves as kind of a Christmas balm for the soul, a Cat 5 cable connecting what’s magical about the holiday season with the inner you. Old Montreal is one of our nation’s jewels – the oldest area in the city, declared a “historic district” in 1964, with buildings dating back to the 17th century – New France days.

Your arrival there marks a re-generation of sorts. Old Montreal is a magical place where you feel transformed far away from the crass commercialism that seems to mark the season.

We always recommend heading out for an early morning walk. Last year we left our St. Paul St. hotel just after 7 a.m., Christmas week, just after daybreak. Snow was falling lightly, the temperature had hit well below sub-zero. It was still and silent, just the distant click of the horses’ hooves from the carriages hitting the cobblestone streets, all under the twinkling lights and festive decorations and Santa Claus figurines.

Okay, we said, now we get it. We finally shook off our Grinch-like armour, and went for our morning coffee. You are in the middle of everything – art galleries, world-class dining, eclectic shops, and the district’s iconic architecture.

 

FIVE GREAT THINGS TO DO IN MONTREAL THIS MONTH

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL’S “CRYSTAL”: World-class ice skaters and acrobats in the very first show on ice from the famed company, featuring incredible speed, fluidity and acrobatics. Crystal’s journey towards empowerment is brought to life on ice, through a colourful, dreamlike world, with astounding visual projections and the signature sound of Cirque du Soleil. Dec. 20-31, at the Bell Centre.

Images: By Matt Beard © Cirque du Soleil 2017

 

NUTCRACKER: The holiday classic, an exquisite ballet that captures the holiday spirit like no other. Dec. 14-30, at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place Des Arts. www.grandballets.com

Photo: Damian Siqueiros/ Zeta Productions; Dancer: Vera Kvarcakova

 

MONTREAL’S GRAND CHRISTMAS MARKET: Holiday awesomeness in the heart of Montreal, open both day and night. Eat, drink, and be merry. The market is a wonderful place for Christmas shopping ideas, and holiday-themed activities. Dec. 1-24, 175 Ste-Catherine St. W, www.marchenoelmontreal.ca, 514-845-0149.

Images: Courtesy Montreal Grand Christmas Market

 

BONAPARTE: One of the top restaurants in Montreal, located on Saint-Francois-Xavier Street in Old Montreal. A romantic setting like no other. Walk in from the cold and feel the warmth, old exposed brickwork with contemporary décor, featuring classical French cuisine, with a focus on the finest and fresh regional products. www.restaurantbonaparte.com, 514-844-1448

Image: restaurantbonaparte.com

 

NEW YEAR’S EVE FIREWORKS

Top off 2017 with a walk down to Old Port, for the big New Year’s Eve celebration. Fireworks, ice skating at the Natrel Skating Rink, live performances – join up to 70,000 of your fellow revellers in a safe, friendly environment. www.oldportofmontreal.com

Image: oldportofmontreal.com

 

WHERE TO STAY IN OLD MONTREAL

HOTEL EPIK: Stylish, boutique luxury hotel, just ten cozy rooms and suites, 171 Saint-Paul St. W., www.epikmontreal.com, 514-842-2634

Image: Mark Keast

 

W HOTEL: Modern, contemporary luxury, sleek, sexy, steps from Old Montreal and a lengthy list of downtown Montreal attractions. 901 Square Victoria, www.wmontrealhotel.com, 514-395-3100

Images: Courtesy W Hotel

HOTEL NELLIGAN: Lavish rooms and suites, matching contemporary luxury comforts with exposed, classic century-old stone walls. 106 rue Saint-Paul St. W., Montreal, 514-788-2040, www.hotelnelligan.com

Image: hotelnelligan.com