Stylish, compact and dynamic, the largest city in Quebec is a fabulous cruise-and-stay destination, says Cruise International Editor Liz Jarvis
With its cobbled streets, mix of contemporary and old architecture and incredible gastronomy Montreal is probably one of the most unique cities in the world; and despite the fact that it’s in Canada, the first language here is French. It’s a very popular cruise destination, with Oceania, Holland America and Seabourn among the lines that call here, and the port is within easy reach of many of the city’s attractions, including Old Montreal.
While the gothic Notre-Dame Basilica is probably the most famous church in Montreal, the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral is also well worth visiting – it’s meant to be a smaller version of the Vatican, and if you go inside the ceiling is absolutely spectacular. Parc Mont-Royal offers great views of the skyline and is also a beautiful park for walking through all year round. An absolute highlight of any visit to Montreal has to be the area known as Le Plateau and in particular, Square Saint-Louis; here you’ll find beautiful Victorian houses painted in every conceivable colour. For a very French experience, head for Atwater Market in Little Burgundy, where even the signs are in French. Old Montreal itself can get very busy but it’s still worth exploring as some of the buildings are absolutely charming. And something you can’t miss in Montreal is art, because there are sculptures – including works by the likes of Dale Chihuly and Miro – dotted all around the city.
Where to eat
As you might expect, its French influence means that Montreal has some of the best restaurants in the world; in fact, it’s practically impossible to have a bad meal in Montreal. Highly recommended are Maison Boulud at the Ritz-Carlton on Sherbrooke Street. The menu, created by well-known French chef Daniel Boulud, is contemporary French Canadian (the mini Madeleines are exquisite), and it also has a delightful garden. Evoo, in Little Burgundy, serves wonderful brunches (try the granola with homemade goat’s yoghurt and the milk bread, which is extraordinarily good), and its proximity to Atwater Market means you can go for a pleasant stroll around the stalls and along the picturesque Lachine Canal afterwards. On a sunny evening, head to Pandore on St-Dominique Street; part club/bar and part restaurant, it offers fabulous views from its roof terrace, the ideal place for a cocktail. And for a quick sugar fix, celebrated Canadian doughnut chain Tim Hortons has branches all over the city.
Montreal is known as a shoppers’ paradise. As well as department stores including Simons and designer shops (you’ll find these in Sherbrooke Street West), like many cities with fiercely cold winters there’s also a huge underground city – the largest of its kind in the world – with a wide variety of malls, boutiques and restaurants. For something a little quirkier, Le Plateau, east of Mont-Royal, is the place to go.
Where to stay
The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth is a five-star hotel with a superb location – many of the rooms have views of the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral and it’s within easy walking distance of the city’s main attractions. What makes it really special, though, is its history. It’s the hotel where John and Yoko had their famous ‘bed-in’ for peace (Lennon actually wrote and recorded Give Peace a Chance in their suite). Dignitaries who have been welcomed through its doors have included HM The Queen and Nelson Mandela. Rooms are well-appointed with marble bathrooms and amenities by covetable brand Le Labo Rose 31; upgrade to a Fairmont Gold room and you’ll also have the use of the exclusive lounge, which has fantastic city views and also serves excellent complimentary breakfasts and hors d’oeuvres. There’s also a well-equipped health club and indoor pool (rooms from £95 per night on a bed and breakfast basis).
Its size means that Montreal is a great walking city, but there’s also an easy to use metro system and taxis are affordable. As you might expect in this eco-friendly city, cycle hire is also incredibly popular – you can pick one up and drop one off at any of the stands outside the metro stations.
Air Canada offers direct return flights from the UK (Heathrow or Gatwick) to Montreal from £477.46pp in their very comfortable 787 Dreamliners. Visitors from the UK don’t currently need a visa to visit Canada, but from 15 March 2016 everyone will need an electronic travel authorization (eTA), similar to the one required to enter the US. This can be applied for at cic.ga.ca
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