Montréal Vacation: A Dance of Contrasts

By Corey Quinlan Taylor

Montréal is a dance of contrasts. This city-island, nestled between the Prairies and St. Lawrence rivers of Québec, excels at being many things simultaneously. It was founded as a mission in 1642, yet has a vibrant nightlife and commercial scene. Its residents are proudly Francophone, yet English exists in bilingual signs, pamphlets and a sizeable population of local speakers. Its old town district, “Vieux Montréal,” says European architecture, while other parts of the city project modern Canada. This celebration of contradictions is manifested in gorgeous venues conveying the sensorial artistry of this town. If you are fortunate enough to visit this celebrated city, be certain to include these decadent experiences in your Montréal vacation.

A Promenade or a Massage

Much can be learned about a city from a leisurely walk, and a Montréal vacation provides several settings conveying the beauty of this town. While walking through Vieux Montreal, take note of its cobblestone streets, townhouses, sidewalk cafés, horse-drawn carriages and nightclubs with live music performances.

If you’d prefer another neighborhood with a bit more Bohemian flair, one place to consider is Old Port Montréal. With its own narrow streets and aged architecture, Old Port is Montréal’s answer to Brooklyn, with food tours, art galleries and outdoor dance parties in January (yes, January). There are also two local spas — Spa Scandinave, with Nordic hydrotherapy and massage in a stunning modern facility; and Bota Bota, which is a permanently docked multi-deck boat on the St. Lawrence River with massages, yoga, steam baths, sauna and dining options.

Local Delights & Bites

From a culinary standpoint, Montréal is a city of tucked-away treasures. Although its Chinatown isn’t huge, the flavors of dim sum, fresh-made noodles, dumplings and dragon’s beard candy (handspun cotton candy with nuts, chocolate bits and sesame seeds) will make your visit worth it.

As for restaurants worthy of a Michelin star, there are several contenders in Montréal. Toqué, a forbearer of the farm-to-table movement, serves seafood fresh from the coast — rack of lamb, duck magret and parsley root soup. For a Québecois approach to new Nordic cuisine — known for natural and seasonal ingredients to craft new dishes — consider Le Mousso, by chef Antonin Mousseau-Rivard. His culinary creations include: a spiced pig blood cake with fermented apple gel, sea buckthorn berry juice or beet candy floss with chilled foie gras.

Transitioning from the unconventional to the traditional, Montréal is a great town for all things maple, and one location to appreciate this is Délices Érable & Cie (also known as Canadian Maple Delights). First opening in Vancouver in 1999, there are six boutiques in Québec celebrating the longstanding institution of syrup craft. Take home a bottle of 100% pure maple syrup, maple spread, maple nuts or maple sugar candies (shaped like maple leaves, of course). Délices Érable & Cie also sells products derived from honey and cranberries. You’ll never see pancakes the same way once you’ve tasted this caviar of the trees.

A French Jazz Culture  

Since this American artform’s exposure to France in the early 20th century, French culture and jazz have been forever linked. This appreciation exists in Montréal as well, with a number of lounges and open-air venues specializing in live jazz performances. Located in Old Montréal, Jardin Nelson is a creperie with a garden patio, open from April to November, where visitors can listen to evening jazz with dinner. The bistro and wine bar Modavie features local groups performing jazz, R&B and blues. The Upstairs Jazz Club is a classy joint from another time, with elegant, linen-covered tables, stone walls, wood paneling and a top-notch sound system. Within its walls, jazz is a community as well as a music genre, and the Upstairs Jazz Club has a wide lineup of musicians and styles representing this big tent of melodies.

Basilique Notre-Dame

Built between 1824 and 1829, with inspiration from the Gothic-Revival style of that time, the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal is the city’s oldest Catholic church. With its brilliant blue hue, ornate sculptures, pillars and stained glass, the majestic house of worship is an architectural wonder. Take one of its guided tours or sit in and listen to the church’s 7,000-tube organ.