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Vive les Festivals

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1 September 2009 by Pete Mathers

Music legend Stevie Wonder kicked off the 30th anniversary Festival International de Jazz de Montréal – the world’s pre-eminent jazz festival – in front of sell-out crowds just a few weeks ago. Each year, the festival brings together some 2,000 world-class musicians from 20 diff erent countries, attracting an audience of over 1.5 million. Music fans gather around the Place des Arts, where outdoor stages present hundreds of free concerts.

With other artists this year including Madeleine Peyroux and Tony Bennett, ‘Jazz Fest’ will admittedy take some beating, but there’s always something on in Canada’s festival city.

International stars of another stripe can be seen at the Just for Laughs Festival (also held each July), where notables such as Tim Allen, John Cleese and Bill Cosby have made appearances. Founded in 1983, the festival has grown to see 2,000 comics amuse hundreds of thousands along Rue St Denis.

Summer skies are also lit up by the Montréal International Fireworks Competition, in which the world’s best pyrotechnicians fire their biggest and newest creations into the Montréal night to the accompaniment of a musical score. In late August and early September, the World Film Festival brings together more than 400 films from all across the globe, encouraging cultural diversity and understanding between peoples. The winter season begins with La Fête des Neiges de Montréal, popular with families thanks to longstanding favourites such as tube sliding, skating, and ice hockey games. Even more spectacular is the Montréal High Lights Festival in February. 2009 saw Montréal illuminated in the image of Paris, with the city’s best theatres, orchestras, restaurants and hotels embracing the celebration. Whatever the time of year, to go to Montréal and not find a festival is unlikely (we’ve found 162 and are still counting). Better still, at just six hours from London, it takes less time to reach than New York so makes an ideal short break.

Here is a city in which American team spirit is mixed with French savoir faire. Fashion is chic, food is délicieux, exports include the internationally acclaimed Cirque du Soleil (which still occasionally performs in Montréal) and attractions include everything from the cobbled streets and boutiques of the carefully restored Old Town to the Musée des Beaux-Arts and an indoor tropical rainforest. Inhabitants are a mix of French Catholics, English Protestants and international immigrants, all speaking a dialect that even Parisians roll their eyes at. Sound complicated, schizophrenic, impossible to pin down? Montréal is all the better for it. After all, places are like people, the more complicated they are, the more interesting you’ll find them.

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To plan your trip to Canada’s festival city, call a Wexas Canada specialist on 020 7838 5966 or email [email protected].

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