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Three Perfect Days: Montreal

Once a remote fur-trading post, Montreal is now a thriving modern city brimming with Old World charm.

Author Maura Egan Photography Peter Frank Edwards


Picture 15 of 15

DAY ONE | Wake up in a four-poster bed at the very posh Hotel Le St-James (1) feeling like an Industrial-era trade baron. The St. James is in the former Merchants Bank, in what was once the hub of the city’s fur trade. As soon as you step outside, you picture 19th century tycoons parading by the imposing limestone façades whose grand columns line Rue Saint-Jacques. In fact, you notice a bit of swagger in your own step. But before you leave the hotel, put on your Sunday best, because you’re off to church. And not just any church. The Notre-Dame Basilica (2), a five-block stroll from the hotel, rivals the great cathedrals of Europe. Established in 1829, the church was built by an Irish Protestant architect imported from New York. He converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, perhaps so that he could be buried in his creation. Montreal was once a very Catholic city— count the steeples dotting the skyline—with the clergy having as much influence as elected officials. Like hairstyles, hemlines and pop music, that all changed in the ’60s, when the Quiet Revolution led to the secularization of government and education.

From the church, walk toward Place Jacques-Cartier (3)—a pedestrian square that was once the entrance to the city’s port, now thick with street performers and souvenir shops—and wander the cobbled alleyways off Rue Saint-Paul. Amid 18th century stone buildings such as the Chateau Ramezay, a former governor’s mansion that now serves as a repository of Quebec history, you’ll find lofts for a growing creative class. Be sure to stop by the three-year-old DHC/ART Foundation of Contemporary Art (4). Local visionary Phoebe Greenberg has created a platform for Canadian and international talent to stage exhibitions, workshops and lectures. After you’ve had your fill of highbrow culture, relax at Cluny Artbar (5), a former warehouse that’s been converted into a café. Take a seat at one of the establishment’s communal tables and order yourself a smoked salmon panino and extra-leaded espresso.

You’ll need the fuel for zipping around Montreal’s Old Port in some the city’s many bicycle lanes—just swipe your credit card at one of the 300 Bixi (think “bike” meets “taxi”) cycle-sharing kiosks all over town (open May through November). Wending your way along the Lachine Canal (6), lined with ferry terminals, quays and a huge concrete silo, you’ll get a glimpse of the city’s industrial past. Across the river, you spot Habitat 67. Designed for Expo 67, Montreal’s world’s fair, as a prototype for aff ordable housing, the structure looks like something dreamed up by Antoni Gaudí and built with Legos.

You continue pedaling along the leafy Rue Notre-Dame and pass through Antiques Alley to Marché Atwater (7), a European-style foodmarket housed in an Art Deco building, complete with charcuteries, cheese shops and flower stalls. After a serious afternoon of bike riding and window shopping, you’ll want to sit down for a proper meal. Restaurateurs Frédéric Morin, Allison Cunningham and David McMillan have turned the neighborhood known as Little Burgundy into a culinary mecca. Settle on Joe Beef, the name of which belies the upscale fare inside, where you order such classics as Dungeness crab and seared scallops. The menu changes often, but the dishes are simple and bold, so the seafood flavors shine through.

Before you call it a night, head to Altitude 737 (8). In a city known for megaclubs, this is the swankiest, an ideal place to hobnob with Montreal’s most glamorous residents, enjoy a champagne cocktail and take in views of the city.

3 Responses to “Three Perfect Days: Montreal”

  1. Isolde Says:
    February 1st, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    I’m always curious to see what’s recommended to tourists, and this would definitely give them a true taste of beautiful Montreal!
    I am very surprised however to see that CLuny is mentioned, right after DHC/ART, without specifying that the cafe is located inside the Darling Foundry, Montreal’s edgiest contemporary art centre.

  2. Alfred Snyder Says:
    February 3rd, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    As A Lifelong Specialist And Expert On Canada Including The La Belle Of Quebec. I Know Everything There Is To Know About Montreal. From parc du Mont-Royal, To The Notre Dame Basilica, To Ville Place Marie. You Name It. The List could Go On And On, I Have Been To Canada And Quebec Inculding Montreal And Toronto. As I Can Tell You, That If You Really Want To Practice Speaking French, Chances Are, You Have Come To The Right Place. Knowing That Montreal And All Of Quebec Have a Very Proud French Culture Of Its Very own In Its Own Right. And So, Keep This In Mind, When You Go Plan a Trip To Montreal, Enough Said.

  3. Michael W. Cater, MD Says:
    February 15th, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Three Perfect Days in Montreal. For history buffs I would recommend the Sir William Osler Museum for the History of Medicine at the Monreal General Hospital. Sir William Osler, the world’s most notable physician at the turn of the 20th century donated his vast library of ancient medical texts including works by Vesalium, Willis, Addison, Bright, etc. to McGill University, his alma mater. A must see for all those interested in the history of medicine.

    Yours truly,

    Michael W. Cater, MD
    American Osler Society

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