We just enjoyed a fabulous long weekend in Montreal. Easily the most European city in North America (apart from Quebec City perhaps, which is just up the road), it's a world away from US cities that are close to it such as Boston and NYC.
And here's an idea. If the $1,700+ airfares to Europe for this summer are leaving you befuddled with what to do, you can fly to Montreal for a quarter of the price and seriously pretend you are in France. That's meant as no offence to Canada!
Explore Quebec City also, and then head up to the mountains for a great 10-day to 2-week trip. Enjoy a high end road trip as there are wonderful boutique hotels as well as the major luxury brands. Fairmont in particular have a major presence in Canada.
Anyway, back to Montreal. Yes, it was freezing outside, but I finally remembered to take along a coat, and with miles of underground passageways similar to Toronto and some street corner fire-pits (below), we were never cold. Here's our personal Top 5 Montreal list.
Our Montreal Top 5
1. Old Montreal
With narrow cobblestone streets (above) dating from the 17th century, and a plethora of charming restaurants, bars and cafes (below), we almost didn't want to explore the rest of the city. We recommend Hotel Nelligan in the heart of this district for a relaxing boutique hotel experience. Landmarks include the Notre-Dame Basilica, a soaring Gothic Revival church, and the Pointe-à-Callière museum with archeological ruins from the birth of the city.
This is a foodie city. Obviously there is the huge French influence, and there are restaurants with something modern to say on that theme, and bistros serving classic French fare. But the world is present also. We walked past Polish, Haitian, Irish, steakhouses and even a highly rated Syrian restaurant. Our choice for the high end meal of our weekend was Maison Boulud (below) which is located within the Ritz Carlton. I'd last dined at a Daniel Boulud restaurant perhaps 10 years ago in NYC, and immediately bought his cookbook "Braise" as soon as I returned home. It's remained one of my favorites ever since. He'd been present the night before, so we missed seeing him in the open view kitchen, but that did not prevent us from enjoying one of the best menu gourmand experiences of our lives.
3. Fairmont Queen Elizabeth
I think the Fairmont brand may be underrated. As regular readers know we are somewhat tied to Hyatt's high end hotels due to our Globalist status, though we make sure not to let that affect our hotel recommendations. After enjoying the Hotel Nelligan in Old Montreal we had chosen to move closer to the Bell Center for a concert on our last night in town and wanted to be within walking distance. The "Gold Upgrade" for only a few dollars more than the regular rate, provided us with a funky, modern room (below), and the best hotel club lounge I have ever encountered with 4 meal servings a day, including the breakfast buffet (below). They have invented a new category of food, the super-heavy hors d'oeuvres!
Continuing with more foodie goodness, the Marché Jean-Talon (below) is located north of downtown in Little Italy (yes, and there's a Chinatown) and it's been running since 1933. Considering it was still the middle of winter up here, I was stunned at the amount of produce on display and can only imagine what delights a summer visit would bring. From more maple syrup than is good for you, to cheese shops to macarons, to one of the best mini spice shops (we found sumaq, an ingredient we have not been able to find locally), this was a great way to spend 90 minutes.
5. Montreal En Lumiere (above and below)
We timed our visit to coincide with the last night of this 2 week Winter Festival which hosts over a million guests every year. Organizers coordinate the display of light and art installations in key downtown locations and on select building facades and the event includes fine dining pop-ups, live performances, free all-night activities, and more. Even Montreal's museums stay open all night. Now, after the amount we had eaten at Maison Boulud, we were not going to last all night, but we thoroughly enjoyed a couple of hours with the Quebecois on the streets. Clearly, they know how to embrace the cold and our tour guide Charlotte, who led us perfectly through the history of Montreal on Monday morning, insisted that most locals prefer the depths of winter over the summer!
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