A couple of weekends ago, the husband and I decided to take a much needed break from our respective jobs and take a road trip north to Canada. Neither of us has spent any significant amount of time in the northern areas of the U.S., much less Canada. We figured that if we don’t end up being New Englanders for very long we should take advantage of seeing all we can of the north and northeast.
Montréal was the perfect place for our mini getaway: a French speaking foodie haven with a fantastic, well respected indie music scene. We spent a lovely long weekend eating, drinking, watching hockey, hiking Mont Royal (whaaat, can you believe it?) and exploring the Mile End neighborhood. Also, the 5 ½ hour trip from Stamford up through New York was quite beautiful with great views of the Catskills and Adirondacks.
I highly recommended Montréal as a getaway destination. There is so much to see and the locals are incredibly friendly, welcoming, and helpful. They didn’t even roll their eyes at my terrible newbie French (although I did get laughed at once for looking like a deer in headlights when told in French to sit wherever for dinner at Main Deli)!
Here are a few highlights from our trip; a guide of sorts if you ever find yourself in the area.
Now, full disclosure, if not for my employer, we may not have chosen this hotel – but had a great stay none the less. We were in the heart of downtown close to the Old Montréal at the W Montréal. It’s centrally located with immediate access to the metro.
Since we only had a couple of days, we decided not to exhaust ourselves and kept it simple.
1. Old Montréal
First things first, breakfast! We had an amazing experience at Olive et Gourmando sitting family style with locals and tourists alike. I cannot recommend the “poached egg on your face panini” more to lovers of spice and breakfast sandwiches. The husband, a true lover of all things smoked meat and kraut, had “the reubenesque” which was also quite delicious. This spot has a great bustling vibe but you don’t feel rushed to finish your meal. Another plus: through the enormous windows (which are opened during the warmer months) you can watch the horse and buggy tours sauntering about the streets.
At the top of my “Must Do” list was tour of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal. It is truly a sight to see – incredible Gothic Revival architecture and a breathtaking interior inspired by Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. After the tour we stopped for a hang session in the Place d’Armes square just out front of the basilica – there were some particularly great buskers around.
While we typically avoided eateries in Old Montréal because we found prices to be a bit higher, we were privy to a great deal at Taverne Gaspar for happy hour: $1 oysters between 5 and 7, Monday through Friday! The best part about this deal is that the oysters are $1 CAD, which means, $0.82 USD! Let me tell you, I was so incredibly stoked by this. Oysters are typically $3.50 each everywhere in Fairfield County!
2. Mont Royal
Another “must do” on my list was hiking to the top of Mont Royal. I wanted to see the Montréal skyline from the lookout at the chalet. We started our walk at the George-Étienne Cartier monument near Rue Rachel. The main paths are fairly easy to handle, but near the top there is the staircase of death – so be prepared, it is not a fun staircase to be on. Not scary by any means, just ridiculously steep and long. But, of course, once you get to the top, the views are worth it! And there is free wifi in the Chalet, which is pretty great. I recommend hiking on a Sunday, because on the way back down to the George-Étienne Cartier monument you can stop and take in the fabulousness that is the Tam Tams, a gathering of local musicians and artisans.
3. Mile End
We ended up spending most of our time in Mile End, mainly because it is home to many of the restaurants and bars we wanted to check out. It is also home to video game developer, Ubisoft (geek-out)! We strolled along St. Laurent Boulevard and the immediate surrounding streets; here are a few of the places we checked out:
Life changing bagels. LIFE CHANGING. Try the onion with cream cheese! I’m seriously considering ordering these for delivery to Stamford, I love them so much.
Some of the best cocktails in Montréal, and certainly the best house mayonnaise.
Dieu de Ciel (God of Heaven)
A brewpub featuring delicious rosé cider and numerous snacks. Good music (they played Metric the entire time I was there)!
We had a delicious seafood dinner at Lawrence – such yummy cod (who knew cod could be so great), arctic char, and king crab salad! Perfect service, perfect portions. Deciding on seafood was very odd because Lawrence is really known for their meats (see Boucherie Lawrence). I guess we will just have to go back!
Can’t beat a $6 CAD Glenlivet! This place reminds me of the now defunct Empire back home in RVA – but perhaps better. I mean, hello, Arcade Fire started out here!
This spot is a little outside Mile End in Plateau Mont-Royal. We heard their smoked meats rival that of the tourist favorite, Schwartz’s, and that it is Celine Dion’s favorite, so we decided to give it a go. It didn’t disappoint! If you go, make sure to get a side of poutine.
Unfortunately, I cannot remember the names of all of the shops I went into on St. Laurent Boulevard. Just know that if you walk down this street in Mile End you will find them. We came home with some cocktail coupes, but oh my goodness did I want to buy more items. From vintage clothes to modern furniture to a store that was just like Anthropologie but with better, much better, prices.