In less time than it takes to drive to the Hamptons, ( an hour and a half flight from New York ) you can get away to Montreal, Canada’s cultural capital. This sophisticated Francophone metropolis enchants with its charming old town, exciting foodie scene and trendy haunts.
The Hotel William Gray which debuted in 2016, a favorite of Lady Gaga and Bono, was my residence during my stay. The luxe boutique property housed in two eighteenth century buildings has a new chic spa and new eighth floor glass tower. It’s ideally located in Vieux Montreal, the vibrant old part of Montreal with cobbled lanes, historic buildings, excellent eateries, fashionable boutiques, galleries and cafes. Rooms and suites done in voguish modern décor feature local art and floor to ceiling windows, some have terraces overlooking the scenic Old Port and the Grand Roue, the new spectacular must ride Ferris Wheel. Evenings, everyone heads to the rooftop café for cocktails with views. Maggie Oakes, the hotel all day restaurant, opens onto leafy Place Jacques Cartier, a lively square filled with bistros, flowers and artists painting on easels.
‘Vieux Montreal ’ is the original settlement on the St. Lawrence River. The ‘old dock’ has become the new hip ‘in’ place attracting creative types, innovative chefs and the stylish set. Former warehouses have been converted to high-end shops and coveted lofts, with real estate going through the roof.
I love wandering the atmospheric Old Town, on Rue Saint–Paul the main thoroughfare and other quaint streets, passing art galleries, cafes, coffee shops, upscale boutiques, boites and bars with music wafting onto the sidewalks. Denis Gagnon Atelier/Boutique, John Fluevog Shoes, Galerie Got and Galerie Saint Paul are some of my favorites. Buildings with centuries-old stone facades are bound to impress but few match the striking architecture of 19th-century Notre-Dame Basilica featuring the new ‘Aura’ show, a not to be missed sound and light spectacular.
A guided walking tour of Vieux Montreal from VDM Food Tours provides an excellent way to get an overview of the neighborhood’s buzzing culinary scene as well as its fascinating history. Eating my way through the old town I sampled pates and cheese at Marche de la Villette, luscious pastries at famed Christian Faure, a variety of maple syrup offerings from a maple Sommelier at Delices Erable et Cie, Portuguese specialties such as cod croquettes and egg tarts at Cantinho de Lisboa, among many others.
For outstanding dining, the old town brims with gastronomic delights. A perennial gem just across from Place Jacques Cartier, Le Club Chasse et Peche consistently makes the list of best city eateries for its clubby ambiance, elevated cuisine and top service. The kitchen’s perfect execution of each dish is enhanced by artistic presentation. Light, flavorful seared scallops with fennel puree and lemon confit plus duck two ways with cauliflower and raspberries cooked to perfection transported me to foodie paradise.
The same team is behind Le Serpent on Rue Prince, a sceney bistro done in industrial-chic decor serving up creative Italian fare including impressive crudo, pasta and seafood.
Restaurant Pastel on McGill Street opened in June and the food is so good, it was immediately packed. The look is airy with an open kitchen, high ceilings and exposed brick walls contrasted with light pastel colors. Quebec products are showcased; bucatini, cacio e pepe, lobster emulsion; salmon, tomatoes all fresh, delectable and melt in your mouth delicious.
Renowned chef Normand Laprise’s Restaurant Toque! ( exclamation point theirs )on Place Riopelle in Vieux Montréal, is another longstanding favorite on the Quebecois fine dining scene. The elegant dining room is splashed out in a burgundy color scheme with posh banquettes. I dined on tastiest razor clams, exquisite just caught Bluefin tuna loin and tender rare lamb saddle with habanero pepper puree, chanterelles, eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini in a red wine sauce.
You can’t visit Montreal without tasting their celebrated smoked meat – brisket and Schwartz’s Deli on Boulevard Saint- Laurent made the scrumptious meat famous. Join the long line; it’s worth the wait. Bagels are another Montreal specialty ( sweeter and smaller than New York’s) with St- Viateur and Fairmount as the two competing local favorites, both shops are farther north in the Mile End neighborhood.
While in the area of Saint-Laurent, visit the eye popping paintings with vibrant colors that line the buildings created for this year’s Mural Festival. A luminous portrait of iconic singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen who hailed from Montreal, is one of the magnificent murals to behold. Continuing on to Montreal’s North End, the enormous and popular Jean-Talon market is filled with all varieties of regional produce, flowers, spices, cheese, meat, fish and yummy Canadian favorites such as maple syrup, poutin and more.
After dining on superb Quebecois cuisine I topped my evenings off with another Montreal treat – music. The Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill became my local haunt where I saw a Turkish Canadian Chanteuse croon Middle Eastern and French ballads and the Ben Racine Blues Band rock. Montreal has it all!