By Monica Sanchez
A packed resort at a tropical beach or visiting the island of Montréal in Québec, Canada? This summer, I chose the latter, and I’m glad I did because Montréal is the perfect summer getaway.
I visited Montréal because my uncle who lives there had surgery. Naturally, our family wanted to check on him, and I jumped on the opportunity to help out so I could do a little exploring too while there.
Before packing, I kept checking the weather obsessively. While most people I talked to were preparing for tropical trips south of the border, the weather app on my phone was telling me to get ready for rain and a possible thunderstorm. During my trip, I was pleasantly surprised to find that every day was not only sunny but a little hot, which gave me every opportunity to happily check out some tourist attractions and local hotspots. (We experienced a little rain for a couple of hours on the last day of our trip, but it cleared up just in time for us to go out again at night.)
With any trip I go on, the local cuisine is always the biggest attraction for me. So, of course I had to sample a truly Québécois concoction for my first stop. My cousin served as my tour guide, and she took me to experience my very first poutine, a dish that traditionally consists of french fries mixed with cheese curds and then topped with gravy. It sounded so strange to me initially, but poutine is truly life-changing. My cousin’s favorite poutine place, Ma Poule Mouillée, served up Portugese-style poutine, which included piri piri sauce and our choice of meat as toppings; we had Portugese chicken and chorizo.
My cousin treated me to ‘small’ plate and then we walked down to Parc la Fontaine, a popular local hangout spot, where we sat on a bench in front of metropolitan sunbathers and enjoyed our Québécois dish. After devouring the poutine, we walked around the neighborhood near Parc la Fontaine, passed by a Harry Potter themed bar called Lockhart, saw the classic winding staircases that Montréal is known for and spotted a lot of creative street art, one picture that I especially loved too.
Then, we took the metro to Downtown Montréal. While my cousin went to class at Concordia University, I walked down Rue Sainte-Catherine, a long street that’s great for shopping until I reached Place des Arts, where the Just for Laughs festival was going on. Going through the festival and sampling the food trucks, I stumbled upon a fiesta latina, where I rested and enjoyed a combination of reggae, funk and jazz music performed by Rommel Ribeiro.
During the summer, terrasses (outdoor restaurant terraces) are extremely popular in Montréal. So the next day, we decided to go to la terrasse in Les Enfants Terribles, a restaurant that MTL Blog boasts is “the highest restaurant in Montréal.” Even some Montreal locals who haven’t visited it yet asked me if it lived up to the hype. It definitely does!
At the top of the building where the restaurant is located, there is an observatory with glass windows where visitors can glimpse gorgeous views of the whole city, including the Saint Lawrence river, Old Port and Mont Royal. After visiting the observatory, we went down one floor and had lunch in Les Enfants Terribles. I had a delectable duck confit and goat cheese salad and finished the meal with beignets topped with blueberry and mint with a side of vanilla ice cream.
One attraction we made sure to visit was Mont-Royal, the city’s small mountain. We passed by Beaver Lake, where people were renting rowboats, and hiked up to the Chalet du Mont-Royal, an area where we caught more scenic views of the city. Afterwards, we drove to Old Port, the oldest part of Montréal and appreciated its European-style charm while munching on a Beaver Tail pastry. We ended the night in Old Port with sangria on the terrasse of a resto-bar, Scena by the Saint Lawrence River, next to some docked yachts.
Being an island, nature in Montréal is worth spending time in. So naturally, we had to go hiking again. This time, we went on a hiking excursion in Parc Nature du Bois-de-Liesse. The park is beautiful with trees blocking large portions of the sky, letting streams of sunlight through, creating moments which would have fulfilled any photographer’s dream. I was told it is especially gorgeous to hike through in the fall.
The rest of my Montréal adventures solely consisted of me letting my inner foodie off its leash with family. Locals insisted that I try a Montréal bagel before I went back to the States, revealing a feud I was unaware of: the Montréal bagel versus New York bagel. In order for me to fully comprehend the logistics of this feud, I went with my cousin, her boyfriend, and my sister to St-Viateur Bagel & Cafe, only in Québec. There, I ordered the ‘Cream Cheese Sampler’ from the list of Bagel Palettes. It came out on an artist palette with a placeholder for three bagels and four kinds of cream cheese, sun-dried tomato and feta mixed with spinach to name a couple. Combining that heavenly mixture with a Vienoisse to drink, café au lait with whipped cream and chocolate flakes sprinkled on top, made me want to participate in the bagel feud. So next stop: New York!
Other top-notch foodie spots we visited were Allô! mon Coco, a drool-worthy brunch place with a long list of different types of eggs benedict and Belgian-style dessert waffles. We also hung out at 3 Brasseurs, a brewery that had a burger dripping in maple amber beer syrup; I had to try something stereotypically Canadian, eh? And we finished our trip in Downtown Montréal at C’ChoColat, where they have mason jar milkshakes and delicious crepes.
If you want to check out the sites and enjoy the cuisine of Montréal, I suggest staying at Hôtel Place d’Armes near Old Port. It’s across the street from Montréal’s own Notre-Dame Basilica, next to a lovely outdoor plaza surrounded by gorgeous architecture and a short walking distance from the river and shops. And be sure to brush up on conversational French before visiting Montréal, as the island is very proud of its French culture.
Oh Montréal, I’ll definitely miss the culture, the diversity, and the food. Oui, Montréal est magnifique!
*Written for Arcadia Weekly