Whether you’re planning a trip to properly kick off Montreal’s 375th Anniversary or simply want the latest scoop on maximizing your visit to the most sophisticated city north of the U.S.- Canadian border, the following hotels and activities are all sure bets:
It’s hard to believe that Hotel Gault actually got its start in 1871 as a cotton factory. Now one of Old Montreal’s smallest historic boutique hotels, its exterior retains the original ornate Paris-inspired Haussman greystone fascade. Exposed brick walls, wood beams, and cast iron columns form the back bone of the hotel’s minimalistic interior.
All 30 loft-style rooms are at least 350-square-feet framed by tile-and-concrete and brightly patterned carpeted floors with sleek blond wood furnishings and rough brick walls. But that’s where the minimalism ends. Luxury appointments like custom crafted mattresses, Casa Novea linens, and a nightly turn down service that includes a selection of fresh baked treats embody the other dimension of staying here.
Bathroom floors have heated tile floors while several feature freestanding soaking tubs. 5th floor 1,020-squarefoot deluxe apartment rooms have private terraces, kitchenette, living room, dining area and work space perfect for quick “livin’-it-large” visits as well as longer term stays.
The hotel’s multi-use lobby functions as both reception area and restaurant/lounge with a large Francesco Binfaré yellow sectional couch to the side of the front desk while brightly colored Knoll chairs are situated near soaring windows perfect for people watching over an Allongé and fresh flaky croissant in the morning. Alternatively, your evening can include browsing their magazine library and rotating art exhibit of local painters, photographers and illustrators while sipping signature cocktails like a Kombucha Libre or Montreal Ice Tea.
Wellness packages here include passes to Bota Bota and Scandinave les Bains, both spas a short walk away with saunas, steam rooms, and cold plunge pools. Bota Bota, once a ferry boat and now an indoor/outdoor floating spa is docked in Old Port while Scandinave les Bains is fully indoor.
Also located in the heart of Old Montreal but overlooking Place Jacques Cartier, this newly opened hotel is an artful amalgamation of preserved historic architecture and bright energy efficient modern design. A newly constructed 8-floor, 127 room glass tower straddles 18th century crushed limestone Maison Edward-William-Gray and grey stone Maison Cherrier buildings.
The interior is not only elegantly appointed but outfitted with regionally produced furnishings and amenities all the way down to the en suite doormats made from recycled rubber by a local artisan. Natural light is maximized in every way possible from floor to ceiling windows, light toned wood flooring, concrete ceilings, and white sheer curtains.
Art adorns the walls featuring bird drawings by Canadian artist Steven Spazuk. Utilizing fumage, a technique of creating trails of soot using a candle or torch flame, Spazuk then sculpts them into his uniquely winged creatures.
Bedding down for the evening is a treat with sumptuous Marie L’Oie linens, down comforters, and pillows. In the bathroom, Frette towels, multi-jet rain showers, and Le Labo bath amenities await. Twice daily housekeeping and mini-bars fully stocked with made in Montreal snacks make the in-room experience extra special.
Their rooftop deck and cafe with full bar provides spectacular views of Old Port, Notre-Dame Basilica, and Victoria Square among other historic landmarks while onsite Maggie Oakes Restaurant features an indoor wall mounted herb garden, while prime steaks and an extensive wine cellar ages under glass completely visible defining the dining room’s focal point.
Now in its second location on the ground floor of the hotel facing Rue Saint Vincent, Café Olimpico appears as if it’s been here for centuries with exposed rough-hewn beams, thick stone walls, and marble counter serving up espresso drinks along with locally baked specialty pastries. Walk through the back of the cafe into independent retailer Boutique OTH, showcasing local clothing designers as well as Canada’s only Vans Partnership outlet.
The cranes are onsite at Rue de Bleury and the anticipation is building but the doors of Hotel Monville won’t be open for guests until July 2017. Under construction steps away from the Palais des Congrès and Quartier des Spectacles, Hotel Monville is shaping up to be a 20-story masterpiece with a sleek ultramodern cubist glass exterior enclosing 269 artfully furnished rooms and suites accompanied by more than 4,000 sq ft of meeting space and what promises to be a breathtaking terrace.
Once a major trade route linking the Atlantic Ocean with the interior of North America, the Lachine Canal served as a key shipping route up until 1950 when it quickly lost its relevance due to increasing vessel size and completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Today the canal is purely recreational with boat tours and an accompanying 14.5 km pathway open to bikes and pedestrians. Bike rentals can easily be arranged trail side at Ma Bicyclette.
Ranked the third most beautiful urban circuit in the world by Time Magazine in 2009, this path follows the canal from Bonaventure Expressway west of the Old Port to Chemin du Musée in Lachine. Open year round from dawn to 11:00 p.m. but only maintained from April 15 to November 15, cross-country skiers and snowshoers can find their slice of heaven here during winter.
Each 1.3 mile narrated walking & drinking tour through the Entertainment District includes 3 craft breweries with a total tasting of 6 different beers. Beyond chugging the samples, a very tempting prospect indeed, your tour guide encourages you to look, smell, and note the flavor profile. Tastings are further enhanced with food pairings like poutine, gravlax & cheeses, and several varieties of chocolate. Plan on consuming the equivalent of 2 pints throughout the experience making it quite adequate for developing a slight buzz.
Co-founded by a community organizer and an entrepreneur, tours not only focus on breweries but on the neighborhood’s historical and cultural aspects like the former Red-Light District, once the scene of hustling and brothels during the city’s shipping heyday. Walk past the sites of Montreal Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs Comedy Festival as well as public art displays and architectural gems made all the richer by narrated stories and anecdotes.
Food trucks are a recent phenomena in Montreal. From 1947 to 2013, they were banned due to hygiene concerns and competition with established “brick-and-mortar” restaurants. But The Quebec Food Truck Association worked hard to light a spark that has now ignited roughly 200 food trucks throughout the city.
Choices range from mainstays like grilled cheese, and pulled pork to mobile haute cuisine like foie gras poutine by Chef Martin Picard at Camion Au Pied de Cochon and lobster truffle cappuccino by Chef Jérôme Ferrer at Europea Mobile.
Montreal food trucks must be affiliated with an established restaurant or catering business and commit to periodically move from site to site ensuring variety in each neighborhood.
Au Sommet, atop Place Ville Marie, occupies the skyscaper’s top 4 floors with les Enfants Terribles Brasserie, Made in Montreal boutique, and #MTLGO, an interactive cultural exhibit exploring hockey, gastronomy, performing arts, and Montreal neighborhoods via 55 videos and 500 photos culled from city archives and social media shares. Select what appeals to you and print out an actual ticket which doubles as your personal Montreal bucket list for favorites to experience in person like the Biosphère’s geodesic dome, riding a BIXI bike from the Plateau to Old Montréal or climbing the Clock Tower.
A recently opened Observation Deck at the top 46th floor is the main attraction with stunning 360° views outfitted with the same digital telescopes used at Dubai’s Burj Khalifa along with a 4-season outdoor terrace with 12-foot-high bay windows and an urban garden. It is here that you can zoom in on the majestic St. Lawrence River, Jacques-Cartier Bridge, the Quartier des Spectacles or Mount Royal to the west providing Montreal’s iconic natural backdrop.
During winter, it’s comforting to know that Place Ville Marie is in the heart of the city’s RESO Underground Pedestrian Network as well as home to a massive revolving spotlight and giant illuminated Christmas tree.
Photos courtesy of Montreal Tourisme, Montreal Craft Beer Tours, Hotel Gault, Hotel William Gray, Hotel Monville, & Steve Mirsky. Coverage made possible by participating in a partially sponsored visit.