Nothing is quite as thrilling as a spontaneous weekend trip. Be it summer (or winter), a quick visit to a new (or old) destination, far (or close) offers an invigorating retreat for the mind and body. Lucky for us Torontonians we have a plethora of such options right in our “backyard”. One particular weekend destination that is near and dear to my heart is the city of Montréal. Montréal’s unique culture is proudly rooted in its French history and offers visitors the best of both worlds – a city with a friendly Canadian soul and a European flair for culture and cuisine.
My recent 48-hour retreat to the city involved revisiting some of my all-time favorite restaurants, exploring up-and-coming neighborhoods and admiring the variety of cultures present in this vibrantly charming city. Allons-y!
Start your day by enjoying the atmosphere at a local café, where sitting back, enjoying coffee and a delicious baked treat is a daily ritual, if not more. While cities like Toronto have seen a recent uptick in the opening of independent coffee shops, no city in Canada boasts a café culture quite like Montréal. A recent addition to the downtown core is Café Myriade. Located on the famed Saint Catherine Street, underneath the Club Monaco, Café Myriade is a visual delight. No detail is spared in this location, from the tasteful classic décor (think high-end tea salon meets trendy boutique) and aromatic coffee to locally sourced farm-fresh milk. This place is très chic to say the least.
No trip to this city should be complete without a leisurely stroll along the streets of Old Montréal. The historical city centre offers visitors cultural landmarks such as the Notre-Dame Basilica, Museum of Montréal, along with a host of other sites and famous restaurants, including Montréal favorite Chuck Hughes’ Garde-Manger and Le Bremner.
Another famed area in this city, which sits adjacent to the famous Mont Royal, is the Mile End neighborhood in the Plateau. Subsequent to your hike up Mont Royal, where you can find breathtaking panoramic views of the city, consider indulging your inner artist by wandering through this neighborhood filled with some of the best vintage shops, art galleries, and eclectic restaurants. This is considered to be the culturally ‘hip’ district, where the artistic nature of the city can be best experienced. St-Viature’s Bagel Shop and Schwartz’s, both of which are Montréal gastronomical institutions, can be found here. Additionally, famous streets in this area, such as Rue St-Denis or Avenue Duluth, are lined with restaurants, many of which offer patrons the ability to bring their own wine, at a minimal corking fee. An all-time favorite for locals in this area is a restaurant called Khyber Pass. This Afghani restaurant welcomes customers with its simple and yet flavourful traditional cuisine, friendly service staff and colorful outdoor terrasse decorated in bright drapery. Bon appetit!
If you want to take a break from some of the more touristy neighborhoods of the Plateau district or Vieux- Montréal, consider exploring the up and coming neighborhood of Griffintown. This is the former southwestern part of downtown Montréal and is considered to be an up and coming neighborhood. It is also home to Nora Gray, an inviting and pleasingly authentic Italian restaurant. The romantically set restaurant has an ever changing menu which hinges on the creativity of its young chefs as well as fresh and ethically sourced ingredients. The fresh pasta and seafood options are plentiful and a delight. Try to find a spot at the bustling speakeasy-styled bar so that you can have an opportunity to sample an extensive (but reasonable) wine list and a range of cocktail options, known to be some of the best in the city. Sante!
While there is no shortage of options on how to explore this great city, the balmy summer weather serves as a great opportunity to explore the city by renting from the local bike sharing service, better known as Bixi. Affordable, environmentally friendly and fun, biking is a mode of transportation that is well adjusted for Montréal’s cityscape.
While 48 hours presents you with a breathtaking glimpse of this captivating city, it also provides an example of a modern city that successfully preserves its history, appreciates the beauty in diversity of cultures and embraces the future with open arms. À bientôt!