Executive summary by darmansjah
Canada’s cultural capital, Montreal is a heady mélange of Gallic joie de vivre and NorthAmerican confidence. It’s traditionally been split down the middle between Anglophone and Francophone communities, but this rivalry has been eclipsed in recent years by a flourishing arts scene, energetic night life and the city’s status as the epicenter of Canadian Indie rock.
In late June, before the humid summer hits its peak, the world’s biggest jazz festival (montrealjazzfest.com) takes place. In July 2012, the just for laughs festival marks its 30th anniversary (hahaha.com).
Marple syrup a Canadian favourite
From Singapore and kuala lumpur, fly into Montreal Trudeau Airport with KLM (klm.com) and Qatar Airways (qatarairways.com), with a connecting stop in Amsterdam and Doha respectively. From the airport, take STM bus 747 downtown (US$6; stm.info).
Best For History – cobblestone streets and colonial buildings make up Old Montreal, thecity’s historic waterfront district. At its heart, Place Jacques Cartier is packed with cafes and street musicians, and it’s s short walk to the 19th century Gothic Revival Notre-Dame Basilica (basiliqueenddm.org; US$4.50).
Notre- Dame Basilica
Best For Views – Conceived by the man who designed New York’s Central Park, Mount Royal Park is an urban mountain – the Kondiaronk Lookout at the top has panoramic views. Don’t miss the Cross of Montreal – a 40 metre high illuminated cross that marks the founding of the city in the 17th century (lemontroyal.qc.ca).
Best For Art – The Montreal Museum of fine arts is Canada’s oldest museum – a treasure trove of works from Canadian artists such as Jean-Baptise Roy – Audy and Paul Kane, with the likes of Picasso, Rembrandt and Monet in support (mmfa.qc.ca; closed Mon: free).
Best For Night Life – The Quartier Latin is the beating heart of bohemian Montreal – a resurgent university district full of thriving restaurants, clubs and record shops. It’s a hive of activity during the jazz festival, with free open air performances a regular occurrence (quartierlatin.ca).
Best For Escape – Just an hour’s drive north of the city, the Laurentians are a landscape of oak-forested hills and crystal-blue lakes peppered with villages. St Jerome is the gateway town, marking the beginning of the Parc Lineaire le P’tit Train du Nord – 124 miles of walking trails (laurentians.com).
La Croissanterie Figaro – styles itself as ‘un petit coin perdu de Paris’ (a little lost corner of Paris) and the pavement outside is always packed. Try bowls of café au lait and croissants in the morning (00 1 514 278 6567;lacroissanterifigaro.com; 5200 Rue Hutchinson; main from Us$8).
Birght and boisterous Juliette & Chocolat was born of its eponymous owner’s passion for the brown bean, which comes in the form of drinks, desserts and pastries, alongside delicious savoury crepes (00 1 438 380 1090; julietteetchocolat.com; 3600 Blvd St-Laurent; crepes from US$9.50).
Montreal’s own Robin Hood, Judy Servay donates profits from Robin des Bois to charity. Seasonal international cuisine is delivered around the exuberantly decorated interior by volunteer staff (00 1 514 288 1010; robindes bois.ca/fr; 4653 Blvd St-Laurent; mains from US$11).
Crudessence in up-and-coming Mile End is favourite with locals, who come to feast on raw, vegan and organic dishes in a cheery canteen-style interior. Try a lunch of courgette lasagna with macadamia nut ‘rawcotta’ (00 1 514 510 9299; crudessence.com; 105 rue Rachel Quest; mains from US$12).
Touted as Montreal’s top restaurant, Toque! Sees fresh Quebec produce rendered with classic French finesse and paired with recommended wines I an elegant dinning room (00 1 514 499 2084; restaurant-toque.com; 00 Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle; mains from US$23).
Getting Around – Montreal’s Metro runs quickly and quietly on rubber-tyres. Tickets are valid for a one-way journey anywhere in the city – bulk-buying works out cheaper. Trains operate until 12.30am, but some bus services run throughout the night (tickets US$3; stm.info).
La Loggia Art & Breakfast is a flamboyant b&b in a 19th-century house in the heart of the Village, Montreal’s gay district. Five modern guest rooms are decorated with original artwork and there’s a leafy sculpture garden behind the house where guests can eat breakfast (00 1 886 514 524; laloggia.ca; 1637 Rue Amherst; from Us$77).
The Bonaparte exudes a faintly European ambience with wooden floors, Luis Phillipe furniture, exposed stone walls and French Windows some with views of the Notre Dame Basilica. There’s also a rooftop patio with great city views (00 1 514 844 1448; Bonaparte.com; 447 Rue St-Francois-Xavier; from Us$145).
Close to the waterfront in the heart of Old Montreal, Le Petit Hotel is the latest pretender on Montreal’s boutique hotel scene. Rooms feature hardwood floors, colourful furniture and an array of electronic gadgets. Don’t miss the lively café in the lobby downstairs (00 1 514 940 0360; petithotelmontreal.com; 168 St Paul Street West; from US$150).
Design aficionados will love The Gault, in Old Montreal. It ffeatures polished concrete floors an steel accents, original 19th-century cast-iron columns and iPads on request. The thirty stark but serene loft-style rooms are spread over five floors (00 1 514 904 1616; hotelgault.com; 449 Reu St Helene; from US$200).
The up-market Hotel le Germain is close to McGill University campus. With an air of calm sophistication, rooms are decked out with crisp white linen and Quebec-crafted furniture, plus there’s a good in-house restaurant (00 1 154 849 2050; germainmontreal.com; 2050 Rue Mansfiled; from US$210).
Fast-Food Fave – in the corner of Lafontaine Park sits gastronomic hotspot La Banquise. You might expect a menu filled with Parisian delights, but what you’ll find is the place where Quebecois go to indulge in their favorite fast food, poutine. You can order 25 variations on the original recipe of French fries with melted curds – never plain cheese. It’s great for lunch, followed by a walk (00 1 514 2415; restolabanqueise.com; 994 Rue Rachel Est; poutine from US46). Bryan Pereira
lafontaine down town park
Two Wheels Good – Lonely Planet forum users (lonelyplanet.com/thorntree) rate BIXI, Montreal’s version of London’s Boris bike. You’ll need a credit card, on which will be placed a US$245 deposit. The 24-hour access option costs US$4.50, for which you get 30 minutes free. Fees are charged after this – but not if you park and pick up a new bike. There are 5,050 bikes at 405 stations from April to November (bixi.com).
Bio Bubble – Lonely Planet forum users also have good things to say about the Montreal Blodome, an amalgam of zoo, aquarium and botanical garden in the Parc Olympique. Four climate controlled ecosystems, from a tropical rain forest to a sub polar deep freeze, are filled with an ark’s worth on animals including two-toed sloths, penguins and poison arrow frogs (ville.montreal.qc.ca/biodorme; 4777 Avenue Pierre-De Coubertin; US$17).