My kind of town:Marvellous Montréal
A host of unwritten rules await uninitiated visitors to Montréal. For instance, crosswalks mean nothing to the city’s drivers. Never lift a hand while out walking unless you want several taxis to screech to a halt beside you. And, always refer to the subway as the metro and the corner store as the dépanneur.
Most important of all, you mustn’t leave town unless you have: a) eaten smoked meat at Ben’s Delicatessen or Schwartz’s; b) taken afternoon tea at the Ritz; and c) consumed a bagel hot from the wood-burning ovens at the Fairmount Bagel Bakery or the Saint-Viateur Bagel Shop.
In a city fabled for its cuisine, these are beloved institutions. They serve up signature Montréal fare (as anyone here will tell you, the bagels are better than those of New York) and they’re filled at all times with Montréalers doing what they do best in both official languages – socializing and eating.
You’ll also find many Montréalers on the mountain. If Old Montréal is the tourist heart of this city, Mount Royal is its soul.
Not so much a mountain as a sprawling hill, it’s an oasis of peace and beauty in the centre of the city, a natural refuge that has scarcely changed in nturies. Most of the mountain is protected by Mount Royal Park, designed more than 100 years ago by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect responsible for New York City’s Central Park.
It’s home to deep, wild woods laced with trails, man-made Beaver Lake where you can rent paddleboats in summer and skate in winter, and two lookouts with stunning vistas – “one of the most wonderful views in the world,” as a visiting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once put it.
At the foot of the mountain, conveniently, lies another of Montréal’s must-sees, a neighbourhood known as The Plateau. Home to a kaleidoscope of people and cultures, the Plateau has emerged as ultra-trendy, by dint of recently being named by an offbeat U.S. magazine as fourth on a list of the top 15 hippest places to live in North America.
Rich and poor, English and French, young and old, locals and tourists, all meet and mingle here. You might even have to queue up for a table at the latest trendy eateries to open along Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Prince Arthur and Duluth streets provide another opportunity to do as Montréalers do – pick up a bottle of wine at a dépanneur and head for one of the many bring-your-own-wine restaurants.
Having explored the quartier du jour, you should also explore the quartier du pass. With weathered, centuries-old stone buildings and the clipclop of horses’ hooves echoing down narrow cobblestone streets, Old Montréal is colonial New France brought to life.
Delights lie around every corner, starting with the fascinating Pointe – Callire Archeology Museum. Artfully designed to incorporate archaeological excavations on the spot where the city was founded more than 350 years ago, the museum lets visitors literally look back through layers of Montreal.
A few blocks away, the magnificent Notre-Dame Basilica, a study in blue and gold, is widely viewed as one of the most beautiful churches in all of North America. One block north, on Saint Jacques Street, the stately old Royal Bank building, with its soaring, vaulted ceilings, is another architectural gem.
Some say that you haven’t really seen a city until you’ve seen it from the water, so hop a harbour tour from the Old Port’s busy waterside promenade at the edge of Old Montréal, or take the ferry to ële-Ste-Hlne and the adjacent ële-Notre-Dame. Formerly the site of Expo ’67, these islands now offer tranquil parks, charming gardens, the Montréal casino and a smashing view of downtown across the water.
Off in the East End, only 10 minutes from Old Montréal by metro, lie two attractions you shouldn’t miss. One is an exquisite Chinese rose garden that goes on forever. With its large collection of bonsai trees, the vast Montréal Botanical Gardens require at least half a day to properly explore. Across the street, the extraordinary Biodome transports visitors through, a lush tropical forest, a Laurentian forest, the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the polar climes.