Montreal.. With its fusion between old and new and French European influence, it’s really difficult to describe this city in words.
As we took a long stroll down the streets of old Montreal, I asked my husband what his impressions were. Being his first time there, I was curious to hear his thoughts. “It has that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that many European cities have… I don’t really feel like I’m in Canada” he said.
Having been to the city several times myself, I’ve experienced Montreal in many ways. The atmosphere is different from many other cities in Canada. This is why Montreal is one of my favourite cities to get away to.
It All Starts With a Boutique Hotel…
Walking into our hotel, I made note of its gorgeous modern design and touch of vintage sophistication which set a romantic tone for our time there. We stayed at Le Place D’Armes Hotel, a 19th century neo-classical building in the heart of the old city across from the Notre-Dame Basilica.
As we sipped our Nespresso coffees in bed, we relaxed in our comfortable house coats and watched the fire blazing in the fireplace across from us. Usually, I’d be the first one up not wanting to waste a great morning on sleep. But it was delightful to wake up late without an alarm in a dim hotel room of a historical building. Something about the hotel, the snow outside and the atmosphere of the old city gave me the green light to relax and go with the flow.
A Leisurely Stroll in Vieux-Montreal…
The city is very live and vibrant in warmer months. But Montreal in the winter is pretty quiet. There’s a mysterious lull in the air that says it’s okay to wake up late, skip breakfast and go for brunch instead at a chic bistro along the cobblestone walkways.
You can’t help but marvel at the old European architecture, outdoor fire escapes on low-rise buildings, vintage looking restaurants, bakeries, horse and carriage and the smell of fresh bread and smoked meat in the air.
One of the must-see places in the old city is Place Jacques-Cartier. This is a communal square surrounded by restaurants and bars. It lead us to the old port and St Lawrence river, 2 piers on either side of the square and a Clock Tower built as a replica of Big Ben in London. The river along the old port was frozen and covered over by ice and snow, making the scene a lot more beautiful.
Looking Down at Montreal…
Blessed with above freezing temperatures, we set out for the rest of the day to explore around and outside of the old city. Montreal is extremely walk-able and the best way to get around is by foot. Everything, for the most part, is within reach. The city’s traffic laws and parking are a headache, so think twice about renting a car.
Following only my memory of being here before, we walked all the way to and up Mont Royal. This is the highest point of Montreal island and it looks over the city toward the Saint Lawrence river.
Bustling with tourists and locals, some were cross-country skiing their way down, some hiking or sledding and other’s like us were exploring by foot. We stood over the edge of the terrace at Chateau Mont-Royal at the top of the mountain. The entire city is visible from up here. This has always been and still is my favourite place in Montreal and one of the most romantic.
Relaxation and Well-Being for Two…
Waking up on a lazy Sunday morning, I was really excited for a spa day with my husband. He’s not a spa guy himself, but I was able to convince him that it’s okay to go to the spa with his wife. I promised that it didn’t include him getting a manicure or pedicure, so he caved..
I booked us an appointment at Rain Spa, located inside Le Place D’Armes. The spa houses a hammam steam room and private hammam rooms for rituals and exfoliation treatments, modeled after traditional Turkish baths.
I got the black soap hammam exfoliation treatment and my husband got the thermal mineral body scrub. This was one of the most interesting, relaxing and worthwhile experiences we’ve had. After the hydration, detox and exfoliation, my skin and body felt incredibly soft, clean and relaxed.
Following our treatments, we spent a few hours in the hammam together, soaking in the atmosphere of well-being. My husband’s exact words were: “I feel like a new man”.
Exploring the Culture of Eating…
Walking into Bouillon Bilk that night, we both thought nothing of it. It’s a very plain restaurant in a random part of the city. But as the items on the tasting menu came out, we were left speechless with the creativity and amazing flavours. We weren’t just eating food, we were experiencing the food.
The French view eating as a culture, so they place a high priority on the enjoyment of eating. Eating at restaurants is the number one activity in Montreal and that’s mostly what the city is known for. It’s an ideal city for sophisticated and adventurous foodies.
Both my husband and I were extremely busy before our trip and we had neglected to make reservations at the restaurants that we were hoping to try (something we never do). Every restaurant on our list was almost booked solid, but luckily we got late dinner reservations at some of best.
Next time you find yourself in Montreal…
Don’t forget to make all of your restaurant reservations ahead of time! My list isn’t exclusive, but here are a few of my favourite restaurants to try:
1. Bouillon Bilk: This restaurant easily climbed its way to the top of my list. Their tasting menu is out of this world!
The Decor: Minimalist
The Vibe: Laid back and romantic
The Food: French influence, creative and extremely sophisticated
2. Suite 701: In the same building as Le Place D’Armes, the vibe and decor is incredible.
The Decor: Posh and modern
The Vibe: Vibrant
The Food: Good mix of meats and fish, fancy and creative
3. Quattro: A high end Italian restaurant in old Montreal.
The Decor: Traditional and modern
The Vibe: Warm
The Food: Italian, traditional and homemade
4. H4C Place St-Henri: This restaurant specializes in unique brunch experiences.
The Decor: Modern and inviting
The Vibe: Vibrant and relaxed
The Food: Creative, French influence, adventurous
5. Le Local: A French restaurant that makes you feel right at home.
The Decor: Modern and innovative
The Vibe: Cozy and mellow
The Food: French and authentic
From its streets to its culture, Montreal has something that no other city in Canada has. It has that something that I can’t put my finger on. It has that ‘je ne sais quoi’, a uniqueness that makes it one of Canada’s most worthwhile cities to explore.
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