Five frosty days in Montreal; travel tips!

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s six hours’ drive from our New York home, door to door.

I lived in YUL for two years in the late 80s when I was a feature writer for the Montreal Gazette; I’ve returned four times in the past two years, twice for work and twice for pleasure. If you’ve yet to visit, it’s well worth your time and money, especially with the Canadian dollar at 75 cents U.S.

Even in winter!

Yes, it’s cold and windy. But if you’ve got warm outerwear, you’re all set. And if you need to buy some, Montreal offers plenty of fantastic and colorful options beyond the default of black nylon, like this red jacket from my fave Canadian brand, Aritzia or this cherry-blossom digital print wool scarf from 31-year-old Montreal brand Mo851.

One of the pleasures of shopping here is finding European brands and styles I can’t find in New York.

NB: City sidewalks can be appallingly, life-threateningly ice-coated — in a nation where lawsuits are rare(r) than the litigious U.S., it’s Yaktrax or bust! Walk like a penguin to be safe; lean forward and take small, slow shuffling steps, with your hands out of your pockets for balance.

Jose and I really enjoyed our break.

A few highlights:

 

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L’Express

 

L’Express

This classic  restaurant on Rue St Denis has been in business since 1980.

I love its simplicity: glossy burgundy walls, those globe lamps, a skylit back room whose walls are covered with beautifully framed images of its staff, a photo taken annually.

Food is classic French, the bread — so many baguettes they arrive in Ikea shopping bags — dense and chewy. I loved my PEI oysters, a glass of Sancerre and cacio and pepe. Jose loved his octopus salad and sea bass.

 

Arthur Quentin

Ooooooh. This store is filled with temptation for anyone with strong domestic urges: linen tablecloths and napkins, lovely china (French brands like Gien), glassware, Emile Henry cookware, spoons, teapots. Even something as basic and essential to making  a great vinaigrette as a small glass bottle with a lid. Also long in business  — since 1985! We splurged, buying everything from a glossy green crackleware teapot to new bowls, spoons and even a saucepan.

 

La Brise Du Sud

This shop offers a fantastic selection of bathing suits for men and women, and cover-ups and some of the prettiest lingerie I’ve ever seen. 3955 rue St. Denis.

 

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Dessert at Leméac

 

Leméac

Another simple room, another long-established locus of chic. This 18-year-old restaurant is on Laurier, in Outremont, an upscale French neighborhood. Delicious French food and great people-watching.

 

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This looks like a scene from Blade Runner! This is one of the views from BotaBota of a legendary piece of Montreal history and architecture, Habitat, built for Expo ’67

 

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One of the outdoor pools, by night

 

Bota Bota

Imagine a former ferryboat made into a spa. In the harbor. This place is amazing. You can go and just enjoy the waters — steam room, hot tub (on the roof watching CN freight trains rumble by and planes soaring into the blue), cold tub, showers, lots of spots to sprawl out and relax in silence. They offer a wide range of services (I treated myself to a hot oil massage and a scrub.) In its restaurant everyone sits in their white terry bathrobes, enjoying a cocktail, snack or a meal.

 

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Love this view, from our hotel room, 16th floor, looking north on Peel Street

 

Hotel Omni Mt. Royal

Have stayed here four times and love the nostalgia of seeing the condos across the street that replaced the brownstone where I lived for a year when I was 12, at 3432 Peel Street. Ask for a high floor (we like the 16th) with a mountain view and you’ll see the enormous cross atop Mt. Royal glowing in the distance. The location is terrific, with lots of shopping two blocks south on Ste. Catherine and plenty of nearby bars and restaurants (and the subway.) Rooms are elegant and spacious. I love the small dining room, which makes it feel much more intimate than a hotel with 299 rooms. Tip: For $15, with your Omni hotel key and ID, you can nip across Peel Street to the fantastic Montreal Athletic Association (admire its classic stained glass windows) and take classes or use their facilities; at 130 years old, it’s Canada’s oldest athletic club. 

 

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How gorgeous is this? Note the two enormous memorial walls listing all the soldiers working for the bank killed in WWI

 

Cafe Crew

This was once a bank. Three years ago it became a co-working space and cafe. With its coffered painted ceiling, inlaid marble floor and enormous chandeliers, its original 1928 elegance, all 12,000 square feet of it, is stunning. My grain bowl was delicious!

 

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Me, lacing up!

 

Skating at Beaver Lake

If I miss one part of my Canadian life, it’s outdoor skating on free rinks. It’s such great exercise and a fantastic way to get some sunshine and fresh air. This rink was so much fun! I brought my own skates (you can rent them) and you can get there by bus without a car. The age range was three to 70, and so civilized to have wide wooden benches to plop onto for a breather.

 

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Looking a little hesitant! I hadn’t skated in a year but I did warm up and speed up.

 

A fantastic guidebook is 300 Reasons to Love Montreal. This is a true treasure, with so many recommendations and so much to learn about this city. I dog-eared dozens of its pages!