Over the last decade, Montreal has quietly reinvented itself into a hip and happenin’ city. Eclectic neighborhoods are everywhere, perfect for meandering, while the food scene has evolved light years from the tired old coq au vin days. The city is brimming with creative, artsy types and full of youthful optimism. It’s as if someone said “Hey, why not undo that top button?” and Montreal decided to take it down two.
And they have also come up with the most perfect P.C. way for you to explore it.
BIXI is the nifty public bike transit service that makes storing your wheels in overcrowded city apartments totally cave-man.
Mosey up to one of the many docking stations, whip out your credit card and voila, you’ve got thirty minutes to toodle around on a sturdy, stylish, well designed vehicle that requires zero maintenance, parking concerns or theft worries.
Bixi is a concept that is so ingenious it belongs in every city that “talks” about reducing their carbon footprint.
Here’s my suggestions for some places to add to your Bixi route next time you’re in Montreal:
The Marriott Chateau Champlain, a comfy, biz-type hotel, is conveniently located in the heart of downtown just a block from the train station. Our bright, cozy hotel room perched up on the 33rd floor offered a terrific city view. We were graciously granted entry rights to the Executive Lounge for a hearty breakfast along with complimentary snacks and soft drinks though out the day. Staff was snappy, courteous and helpful.
Le Petit Hôtel, a recent addition to the sleep scene, offers two dozen contemporary, loft-like rooms in historic Old Montreal. The extremely reasonable room rates include breakfast, internet and all the coffee you can drink!
Rue St. Denis:
courtesy of tourisme-montreal
One afternoon, Bard, a good local bud, took us to his favorite hood, the previously gritty-turned-trendy, Rue St. Denis, in the Latin Quarter. A little of this and a bit of that, the street is home to over a hundred different boutique businesses. We only had time to peer through the windows but found the one-of-a- kind offerings most tempting.
The buildings in this venerable district are a hodgepodge of architectural styles exuding Old World charisma. Perfect for a walkabout, the area is a treasure trove of eateries, boutiques and galleries—many hidden in serene courtyards or on cobblestone side streets. Sometimes “elderly” port towns feel touristy or crumbling and fusty, not so for this old town which clearly knows how to show her best side to the camera.
From the Marriott we took the elevator down one flight, bought a metro ticket and in three short stops we had arrived. Open year round, this farmer’s market offers easy one-stop shopping for everything from farm fresh produce, fish, meats and baked goods to maple syrup. After ogling the incredible lettuce assortment at one stand Sis asked the lady merchant where we might go for lunch to get a delicious salad. With a wink and a cackle she proudly replied, “My house!”
Nice market but still second to The Marché Jean Talon .
Just for Laughs:
Festivals, jazz, comedy and outdoor shows are all a big part of Montreal life. The hotel concierge told us to “just walk down a few blocks until we hear the crowds cheering” and join the throngs for an evening of free, al fresco fun. We caught a terrific Cirque du Soleilesque trio nattily dressed in black tux pants, sneaks and Popsicle bright shirts. These adorable young guys were amazing, delighting the crowd with acrobatic high jinx on a balance beam along with an over-sized hoolahoop routine that had the audience clapping like crazy. You have to love that! Visit the Just for Laughs website www.hahaha.com
We totally lucked out since “We Want Miles” a fascinating Miles Davis retrospective was showing at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. This vibrant downtown neighborhood is filled with numerous museums and galleries as well as many high-end department stores.
Montreal is home to several schools, but McGill is probably the best known to Americans. It’s comprised of more than 80 buildings on 80 acres. The attractive downtown campus brushes up to Mount Royal Park, one of Montreal’s largest green spaces.
A new breed of chefs are using locally grown produce, free-range meat, sustainable fish and their imaginations to produce some exciting cuisine, on par with top food-centric cities.
McKiernan luncheonette and wine bar:
McKiernan’s , the latest in the Joe Beef Notre-Dame chainlet is the only one open for lunch. Chef Fred Morin’s daily Blackboard specials represent whatever catches his eye at the neighboring Atwater Market. Soups, salads, and sandwiches are anything but traditional and it’s impossible to make a bad choice. The chicken tikka with chutney sandwich was a knock-out, the diverse wines by the glass are gently priced and the charcuterie is all house-made. Word is not to miss the johnnycakes (sausage, cheese, egg, and beans wrapped in pancakes) at Saturday’s brunch. Happy hour starts at noon at this 12-seat luncheonette.
This trendy, high-energy brasserie in the old part of town is beautifully styled out with high tin ceilings, over-sized windows, lots of polished wood and copper. Can food be too good? My three-way duck salad was beyond delicious. After finishing the generous serving of foie gras, confit and gesiers on a bed of snappy greens I almost did a duck waddle myself. The lobster ravioli were light as an air kiss and the service was beyond reproach.
A hip winebar/hangout spot with food nibbles to go-with. The do-it-yourself menu is clever. You simply check off what you’d like to eat from categories covering Snacks, Classics, Seasonal and Sweets and hand it in. Ask the sommelier for pairing suggestions to go with the juicy bison burger. Clever architectural touches throughout, particularly the huge chandi made from wine glasses and chairs hanging from the ceiling.
For more ideas (check out the stylish Girlfriend Getaway package) or help in planning your trip visit Tourisme Montreal.