Montreal exists for pure pleasure: fine French food, music for all tastes, unique festivals, museums, excellent walking tours, good value accommodations and safe, reliable transportation.
An island in the St. Lawrence River, Montreal is the perfect getaway with many things to do. The world’s second largest French speaking metropolis sports a culture that values fun for all ages. Almost everyone speaks English, and many with a cute accent.
Getting here: For a kinder, gentler arrival there’s a scenic seven hour train trip from New York’s Penn station that takes in Lake Champlain and the Hudson River Valley.
From Toronto, it’s a five hour journey downtown to downtown through small towns, woods and farmland – perfect for those in need of down time. The first class Via Rail service includes a hot meal, wine and even chocolate truffles.
Eating here: Montreal is a haven for unique comfort food like poutine, a highly addictive concoction of french fries and chicken gravy/sauce topped with melting cheese curds. Optional toppings include smoked meat, ground beef or chicken. At Au Pied de Cochon restaurant you can even get poutine fois gras.
For desserts try the sugar pie – tarte au sucre or pudding chomeur – a moist sponge cake loaded with caramel sauce. When you’re ready for more nutritious fare, visit St.Viateur Bagel Cafe for their legendary pesto & goat cheese bagels on Mont Royal. Premiere Moisson Bakeries with 16 locations provide a hearty lunch of tasty, healthy buns stuffed with pork and brie or tomato and bocconcini.
Hit the convivial lunch counter at legendary Schwartz’s on St. Laurent for smoked meat sandwiches, coleslaw and black cherry coke.
For dinner, look for “Apportez Votre Vin” signs (bring your own wine) at the casual Plateau restaurants along Prince Arthur and Duluth. Try the Mex – Brazilian favorite, Lele de Cuca on Anne Marie just east of St. Laurent or the Vietnamese TA Do at 300 Duluth.
Exploring Montreal: The Plateau, Mile End, Latin Quartier, Downtown and Old Montreal neighbourhoods offer hours of solitary wandering where one of a kind shops and inviting cafes abound. Further afield in the east end, the Jardins Botanique provide acres of exotic gardens for serene musings.
For the Parisian experience, take to the cobblestoned side streets of Old Montreal (particularly peaceful in the evening). Stop in at the Notre Dame Basilica with its deep sky blue interior and ornate stained glass, site of Celine Dion’s wedding and Pierre Trudeau’s funeral.
Sleeping Here: Overlooking the Basilica, Auberge Boneparte, the small boutique hotel,offers a quiet retreat with a tiny, welcoming bar located just off the reception area.
On the Plateau, stay at the Bed and Breakfast Azur. I like the cozy Mango room. Caroline, the proprietor, is a massage therapist who serves healthy breakfasts on her back deck or front verandah. It’s a two – minute walk from the Parc Fontaine, perfect for all hour strolling. For other good value accommodations go to tourisme-montreal.org and search “last minute deals”.
Outdoor Activities: On Sunday afternoons bang drums at the Tam Tam drumming sessions on Mount Royal. You can also rent a bike ($15 for the first day, five for additional days) at 1151 Mount Royal Est or Ca Roule Montreal (27 de la Commune Est) near the Old Port. Cycle the Lachine Canal returning via the St. Lawrence, or head to the artificial beach at Ile Ste. Helene.
Winter Activities: In winter, grab your skates (and hockey stick if you’re so inclined) and head to the nearest outdoor rink where there’s always a game in session that’s open to all. Art lovers head to the Musee des Art Contemporain and the Musee des Beaux Arts de Montreal.
Montreal Night Life: For an authentic Montreal bar experience complete with local music, search out intimate venues with old wooden floors and tin ceilings. Best venues are found on the French side of town, roughly St. Laurent and points east that are designed for friendly interaction: Missy Bar, Le Cheval Blanc and Bar Ste. Elizabeth.
On St. Laurent visit Le Divan Orange and Casa Del Popolo, a vegetarian cafe by day, happening music spot at night, hosting playwrights and solo guitarists. On St. Denis, try Bistro à Jojo for upbeat blues in a laid back setting.
St. Denis is also a great shopping street. Here you’ll find chic clothing and original accessories.