Midnight, walking up the red-carpeted stone steps, music and drinks flowing as snippets of French drift by from the next room. My first impression of Montreal. We took a later flight and only arrived at our hotel a little past 12 in the early hours of Sunday.
WHERE WE STAYED
The hotel we were staying at has quite the opulent history behind it, the building originally belonging to Lord George Stephen, converted into a private gentlemen’s business club, and finally now a hotel and national historic site.
We came back downstairs to Bar George after showering up hoping for a quick nightcap, wanting to soak it all up – the stunning neo-renaissance architecture, the beautifully dressed crowd – but it was packed, so we went to bed. We were determined to get a cocktail there, so we went back during the day the next day, and each had a Golden Square Mile Sour which might actually be there best cocktail I’ve had in my life.
WHAT WE ATE
Three things to try: their famous bagels – I have a cat called Bagel, so naturally, I had to. Poutine, because it’s Canada. Fancy maple syrup, as in the type that has been aged and tastes smoky and unlike any supermarket maple syrup you’ve ever tasted.
First stop, we ventured to Old Montreal for brunch at rustic-chic bistro, Bocata, which was recommended to us, and on our way there, I spotted the coffee shop, Le Petit Dep, which was on my Montreal to-do list. We picked up a coffee and a cheese croissant and people watched from the picture windows out front amidst bottles of maple syrup, assorted candy, and decorational pumpkins – it’s that time of year again. I love the shopfronts in Old Montreal – picturesque, quaint and somehow very French but not quite at the same time. Not pictured: the part where I spill coffee all over my sleeve as my boyfriend insists on ordering in French.
We had a late lunch at Terresse Nelligan the rooftop terrace restaurant of the Hotel Nelligan, in Old Montreal. We were actually there in search of poutine, but that is another story. The views were definitely Instaworthy and the small plates were exceptional. Flowers ringed the edge of the terrace, and a bee and a wasp were fighting for supremacy on the edge of my glass as they took turns trying to shove the other into my drink.
For dinner, the standouts were Ferreira Cafe – I hadn’t had much Portuguese food before so was excited to check this one out – and Iberica, a Spanish tapas bar. I love tapas, enough said. On our last night, post-spa, we somehow ended up at an American diner (Deville Dinerbar) on our fraught search for poutine, where two places we were going to grab some gravy-covered potatoey goodness from were both closed permanently or for a private event. Sidenote: one of those was called Vladimir Poutine – see what they did there? Too bad it’s permanently closed.
As for the bagels, Bar George does a great breakfast too – though I believe it’s meant to be English style.
WHAT WE DID
Remember that maple syrup I mentioned? Farmers Market. There are two well-known ones – Atwater Market which is by the river, and the Jean Talon Market which is the larger and one the oldest public markets in Montreal. That’s the one we visited. We picked up some coconut, maple syrup cake, because if they offer you a sample and it tastes that good, can you really not buy some?After our jaunt through the Farmer’s Market, we went for a walk up the hill to Mount Royal Chalet, where we ate our coconut maple syrup cake and looked out over Montreal. Note: there is a slight bit of an uphill walk to get there, so don’t be like me, and wear comfortable shoes! The cake was incredible. The view wasn’t too shabby either. This all while trying to get a spot of reception to hunt for viable poutine options – it is deceptively difficult to get good cell service at the top of that particular mid-city hill.
My one disappointment this trip was that due to the way the climate is changing, the leaves were slow to change color this year. As a result, on our short trip, we missed getting the opportunity to witness the gorgeous fall colors that the region is famous for.
On our last night there, we treated ourselves to a spa night – I had spent a decent chunk of the afternoon self-taping an audition for acting a.k.a. my other life. After a frantic rush as someone did not bring swimming trunks (how effective am I at sourcing swimming trunks in the middle of fall from a foreign country in under 15 minutes?!) we each got a massage and did the Nordic bath thing which is the hot/cold water circuit at the Bota Bota Spa which is on a converted steamboat anchored at the Old Port of Montreal on the St Lawrence River. Highlight of my trip. The view from the steam baths and the sauna was eerily beautiful. Apologies for the grainy phone pics, but we wanted to enjoy this without the burden of getting crisp DSLR shots.
I was sorry to leave – Montreal: it’s such an eclectic mix of cultures. I still couldn’t decide if it’s more French or Canadian, but I’m happy to divide my time between both bagels and poutine. ❤