There’s nothing I like better than to discover a city on foot – case in point my many walking tours in Paris this past summer. Even with a city you know very well, on a walking tour led by a local, you’ll learn something you didn’t know. So when I was invited to Montreal to check out Taste Montreal/ Montréal à Table this past weekend and I saw that as well as the prix-fixe menus in over 125 restaurants across the city, culinary tours all around the city were also on offer in conjunction with VDM Montreal Food Tours! I was very keen to check these out – I mean with a description like this: “Whet your appetite for Montréal with one of VDM Global’s savoury guided walking tours! Four different circuits led by experienced and knowledgeable guides, VDM Global Culinary Tours are designed along the lines of a 5 à 7, or an über-stylish happy hour, where foodies can come together and let the good times roll! They are, without question, the best way to TASTE MTL!” how could you resist?
As I was staying in Old Montreal I felt I needed to take the “Evening stroll in Old Montréal”. It’s an area I don’t know as well as I’d like to and I figured a 90 minute stroll would be a great intro. With just 8 of us on the tour, strolling through the narrow, cobblestone streets of Old Montreal in the dark (the sun is setting at 4.30pm since Daylight Savings started!) was not too tricky – though I’d say 8 would be as many as you’d want. Our guide, Pam, was knowledgeable and personable and really tried to pack in as much information as she could in the time available. It’s obvious the guides are used to the longer tour times (tours are normally 2.5 – 3 hours long) and I can appreciate how difficult it must be to condense everything!
It really was very atmospheric, wandering the dark streets, learning about everything from the history of the city to its architecture to some of its food specialties. Of course it helps that Old Montreal is particularly photogenic
We ended the tour at La Champagnerie, tasting a little bubbly and snacking on mini arancini. And, of course, when you get a bunch of tourists together, people start chatting, comparing notes about what to see, where to go, where to eat etc… Much discussion of bagels (St Viateur vs Fairmount) ensued and enthusiastic recommendations (by me) that everyone should visit the Jean-Talon market!
I also took in the Evening Jaunt through Mile End. Conveniently starting (and ending) near my favourite, Fairmount Bagel...
A truly multicultural neighbourhood with Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans and new generations of Montréalers harmoniously co-existing it’s an area that definitely warrants longer than 90 minutes. SO much to see, eat and drink! Our guide, Ronald Poire (aka FoodGuideMTL on Twitter) was again, SO very knowledgeable it was hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm for this eclectic neighbourhood. In our short time, we discovered Drogheria Fine…
We peeked in the window of the (sadly closed at that hour) Wilensky’s, a Mile End institution. Read about the history of this fascinating relic here and when you are next in Montreal, stop by for a “Wilensky Special” – a sandwich made with all-beef salami and all-beef bologna with mustard and grilled on a roll (made this way since 1932!).
Next we headed to the Bar Waverly – “a neighborhood bar with an edge“.
We enjoyed a quick drink here before setting off out in the cold and dark again. The tour was a nice mix of inside and outdoors (it was pretty windy and cold that night) and even though the pace felt a little rushed, it was good to keep moving in the chill!
Next stop was Comptoir 21 for a tasting portion of calamari and fish and chips… You can’t say we went hungry on this tour, that’s for sure!
The menu here is simple but sometimes it’s best to focus on one thing and do it really well – in this case, seafood. I’d definitely come back here for a meal – loved the communal table and laidback vibe!
Our last stop was definitely the least “gritty” of the tour – but no less interesting or delicious – Geneviève Grandbois, an exquisite gem of a store selling chocolates that look more like jewellery. Geneviève, whose story you read here has been operating in Montreal for just over a decade and now sells her products in 33 different locations across Québec, as well as online. I’d highly recommend, based on my tasting that evening and the, ahem, rather copious samples I purchased that night to bring home, that you seek them out next time you are in Montreal…
After that, we all headed off into the night en route to our Taste Montreal/ Montréal à Table reservations but I am pretty sure many of us were already plotting when we could get back to Mile End to explore more.
That’s what I love about taking walking tours, especially at the beginning of a trip – you’re always sure to get ideas for places to visit, eat and drink – and who better than from a local? Hats off to Montreal Food Tours for doing a GREAT job of whetting my appetite – I can’t wait to get back to Montreal in the warmer weather when the longer tours run.
Disclosure: Tourisme Montréal provided me with transportation to and from Montreal, accommodations in Montreal, two walking tours and two dinners for two. I was not otherwise compensated, nor was I asked to write about my trip. All opinions expressed are my own.