MONTREAL, QUEBEC, Canada, December 12, 2017 – The river island of Montreal celebrates its 375th anniversary in 2017 and the whole town is getting ready. From new coats of paint to their historic bridge that will light up to ferry visitors across the river to one of the most charming towns of our northern neighbor.
Montreal is a river island with the St. Lawrence river splitting at its northerly tip, running alongside the sides of the island, creating a feeling of uniqueness to a city where unique is on every corner. The river originates in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, fed from the Northern Atlantic Ocean, flowing down the easterly side of Montreal where it splits into the Prairies River that splits the island down the center, separating the island of Laval from Montreal and to the west the Lac des Deux Montagnes rivers.
All these rivers creating incredible places to enjoy the beauty of the most populous city in Quebec and the second most populous municipality in Canada. If outdoor fun makes your vacation perfect check out the MTL Blog to find tips to the best outdoor places to find romance, or enjoy a natural water slide.
But on this trip, we are heading to Montreal to explore a city that is nothing short of charming.
From the Old Montreal found on the waterfront to the present day skyscrapers, none of which is higher than Mount Royal, the western ridge that defines this city and the spring to winter play to be found there, Montreal is a city unto itself.
True to its French roots, Montreal is filled with lots of food, expressive street art, museums of history and art and some of the most magnificent churches that tell the cities oldest tales.
The true gem of Montreal is the constant surprise of a city that embraces its past, celebrates its present, and cheers its future. It bursts with music, art, romance and that joie de vivre that makes each day in the city a gift.
The only way to experience Montreal is to embrace Montreal.
Start with a birds-eye-view of the city at the Observation Deck and #MTLGO, an interactive presentation of Montreal’s past and present. From its floor to ceiling glass walls on the 46th floor observation deck of Au Sommet Place Ville visitors can enjoy a 360 view of the city.
The Observation Deck also presents #MTLGO, an interactive exhibition that lets visitors participate in the life of Montreal. Experience a virtual Bixi (bicycle) ride along the Lachine Canal, frolic in the crisp Canadian snow on Mount Royal or take a pilgrimage to St-Joseph’s Oratory.
There are 55 video portraits of Montrealers on display, with 11 themes such as hockey, food or neighborhoods.
Using a RFID (radio frequency) bracelet, “like” your favorite images, and receive a tailor-made ticket that lists four places to visit that are based on the activities you liked.
It is a perfect way to gather your geographical bearings and plan your itinerary.
From #MTLGO, visit the highest restaurant in town, the brasserie Les Enfants Terribles.
The food at Les Enfants is a delightful combination of modern and traditional French cuisine and Montreal themed fair, like the gravy-laden poutine french fries and maple syrup laced mojitos.
Poutine is a decidedly Quebec dish that has spread across the provinces. At first glance, one may see french fries, or frites in the native language, tossed with chunks of creamy cheddar cheese curds, all generously laced with gravy.
But seriously, its far more than it appears.
What makes or breaks poutine is the gravy. Traditionally, it is a thin, yet substantial brown chicken, veal, or turkey gravy, somewhat salty and mildly spiced with a hint of pepper that has been strained to give silky feel and appearance.
A traditional French duck confit, among the finest dishes originating from the farming Province of Gascony, is served with broccoli rabe and peach compote over a bed of crisp, peppery arugula meets even the highest expectations.
What makes this dish extremely moist and flavorful is the preparation, which can take days, of seasoning the meat before burying it in duck lard to rest, then slow cooking until crisp and tender.
Time your visit right and experience one of Montreal’s signature events, The Montreal Jazz Festival (June 28-July 8, 2017), which shows off the heart of the city and its people. It is an inclusive street party, all about music and performance art, food and more food, and the smiles of some of the most welcoming people ever encountered.
It was this event, with people stepping to the side to allow a wheelchair bound women a front row seat to the entertainment to the many families dancing, singing and sharing the “love” during the street entertainment. If you can arrange your trip to Montreal during the 2017 festival (June 28-July 8, 2017), you will enjoy this annual event that highlights the real heart of this city.
Walking back to the magnificent Montreal Marriott Chateau Champlain with its magnificent city views following a concert featuring Canada’s own Wainwright Sisters and hours spent sharing the 20176 Jazz
Festival street party where the native les habitants, or ‘habs’ as they are colloquially known, were happy to see a neighbor from the south enjoying their festival. Despite the late hour there was a feeling of absolute safety; even when walking back to the Marriott, alone, well after the bewitching hour.
But in one Montreal, no one is ever really alone or ever excluded. For those single travelers joining the concert are welcomed with smiles as the crowd graciously parts for a wheelchair-bound woman to allow her a front row view of the concert.
Another Montreal signature is the Jacques Cartier Bridge, the historic steel truss cantilever bridge that crosses the Saint Lawrence River from Montreal Island to the South shore at Longueuil, Quebec.
The structure was constructed over a three-year span (1926-1929) and required 33,000 tons of steel. For the 2017 Anniversary celebration, it will light up at night.
The bridge crosses over Île Sainte-Hélène in the center of the river, where off ramps allow access to Parc Jean-Drapeau where one can find the remnants of the Expo 67 World’s Fair. The ‘parc’ is located 20 minutes by car, but is also accessible via the pedestrian lanes on the bridge or public transportation.
Parc Jean-Drapeau is made from two islands, Saint Helen’s Island and the artificial Notre Dame Island, the site of the “Man and His World” World’s Fair featuring exhibitions from over sixty countries.
Notre Dame Island was constructed by using the fill excavated during the construction of the Montreal Metro. Today, find the La Ronde amusement park, operated by Six Flags, which, indications are, will be greatly enhanced in size for the anniversary celebration.
Still standing at the ‘parc’ are the French exhibition building, now the Casino de Montreal, and the Montreal Biosphere which was the United State’s pavilion during the 1967 Expo.
Like Mount Royal, Parc Jean-Drapeau is a year-round playground for Montreal’s habs and tourists alike. During the summer, a beach in the Olympic rowing basic creates a man-made lake perfect for swimming.
There are also bike paths, gardens and walking trails.
During the summer months, look for the weekly electronic dance festivals held beneath Alexander Calder’s sculpture Man, one of the many pieces of public art commissioned for Expo 67.
Not all of Montreal’s treasures are bold and obvious. Some are more subtle and difficult to spot. Watch for the hidden art, found in the most interesting of places. From sculptures to fabulous Art Deco era architecture visible in reclaimed buildings
One fabulous way to see the city is the Le Petit Navire boat tours. Environmentally friendly electricity-powered boats will take you on an excursion along Montreal’s Old Port, soon to be the site of a new cruise line dock, and or the Lachine Canal.
Montreal also boasts many cathedrals, such as the Notre Dame Basilica, Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral that is modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, or the stately Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal.
American Author Mark Twain named Montreal ‘La Ville aux Cent Clochers’ (The City of One Hundred Steeples) (1881) saying ‘It’s the first time I come to a city where you can’t throw a stone without breaking some church stained glass…’
A more accurate description reflecting the cities intense religious heritage is ‘The City of 1000 Steeples’.
One church that speaks to Montreal’s deep religious history is The Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel located in the port of Old Montreal. One of the oldest churches in Montreal, it was built in 1771.
Emphasizing the connection between the chapel and the port, the chapel is often called the Sailors’ Church. In 1849, Mgr. Ignace Bourget, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal, gave the chapel a statue of the Virgin as Star of the Sea, which was placed atop the church overlooking the harbor.
Sailors returning to the port would bring “offerings”, intricately carved replicas of their ships, that were hung from the churches ceiling and are still visible there today.
The chapel also houses the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum dedicated to the life of the saint, an early educator to the island’s poor as well as the early history of Montreal and the chapel site. Below the chapel, the crypt is being excavated as an archeological site and will offer new revelations for 2017 visitors
Montreal’s history infuses every part of the city, not just along the Old Montreal Waterfront. Da Emma’s is a wonderful trattoria where Italian food is served in generous portions in the now relaxed atmosphere of a 19th-century women’s prison with thick blocks for walls, low wooden beamed ceilings and sold steel doors with small reinforced windows
True to its Italian heritage, there are no printed menus and the service is casually friendly. The cuisine at Da Emmas is modest, but not underwhelming – plenty of pasta dishes, flavorful hunter’s baked rabbit cacciatore with the essence of rosemary wafting from the dish, and creamy burrata served with fresh tomatoes and salty prosciutto.
Wine is an important part of an Italian feast, and decanters of light berried 2011 Il Grappolo Brunello di Montalcino from the Tuscany Sangiovese grape gracing the table. It is the perfect medium priced red table wine when multiple flavors and herbs are being savored.
Served family style are generous plates of fresh green beans, artichokes, fusilli with tomato sauce of grilled zucchini and eggplant.
No true walking city is complete without handheld foods to eat while watching soccer with the natives or carrying to any of the city’ scenic pocket parks or plazas to see the street festivals and performers.
A favorite of the habs is Chez Jerry. The domain of Chef Jerry Ferrer, this is where chef-driven food meets the casual dish to delightful results – with foi gras and lobster becoming street food.
A lobster roll with large chunks of sweet, firm lobster claw, celery, cucumber, red peppers and vinegar – not mayo – based dressing on a soft, butter-rich roll is filled with light and crunchy and sweet and savory.
Served with a Bec maple syrup sweetened cola and sweet potato frites (not fries) Chez Jerry’s would be, if living in the city, one of my first and favorite haunts.
Old Montreal is filled with cobblestone streets and narrow buildings filled with shops, savory pastries, and eateries from the traditional to the hip.
In Montreal the weather just is. It does not stop the activities or the constant stroll of the native les habitants, or the tourists. On a rainy Saturday, the maître d’ at Holders greats us with clean, crisp linen kitchen towels to dry hair and pat clothes.
Find Old Montreal in the borough of Ville-Marie bordered on the west by McGill St. Ruelle des Fortifications on the North. On the east is Rue Saint Andre and on the south by the Saint Lawrence River. Or just ask how to get there and be cheerfully pointed in the right direction.
It is in Old Montreal that you will find the cities oldest buildings along the cobblestone walks, including The Old City Hall that is now the restored 169-year-old Bonsecours Market, the oldest and largest public market in Montreal (circa 1847).
Beneath all that is above ground, find time to explore Montreal’s underground a fun way to experience the cities heritage via bakeries and delicatessen shops that line the underground walkways on your way to the metro that will swiftly take you to new destinations to explore.
Do not miss the Farmer’s markets that filled with the bounty of the land.
Unwrapping Montreal reveals constant joys. Even discerning world travelers who bypass Canada as “not exotic enough” will find 2017 the perfect time to visit a city that has something to celebrate whenever, and wherever, you visit.