In part one he looks at the best things to do in Montreal.
First things first and for full disclosure - this trip was built round my personal interest in Janet Jackson and the fact she was performing in both Toronto, Canada and Buffalo, USA which are in close proximity to each other.
So with that in mind, we commissioned a trip around her two concerts and turned it into a road trip. Flying into Montreal, we decided to go without a car for the first few days. Our private transfer picked us up at the airport for the short drive into the heart of the city. Staying at the Sofitel Montreal, it was only a short walk to all the key sights.
Our first morning saw us snap up a hearty breakfast at Eggspectation Maisonneuve. Though a chain, the food was really something to write home about. Adjusting to North American portions always takes some getting used to but as our first main meal in the city, it certainly was wolfed down speedily due to its tastiness.
From there, a walk to the beautiful Notre Dame Basilica. A focal point of the city, this church is one to stop by - there’s a small entry fee but the tours inside give you a good understanding for how the city came about. At nights a spectacular light show takes place within the church accompanied by the humongous organ - something worth setting aside time for if you can.
After your morning tour of Notre Dame which translates as Our Lady, then head to Montreal Old Town. On Rue Saint Paul you’ll find quaint galleries and art shops, cafes and wine bars. We stumbled across Jacques Cartier Square too which had street performers and its own Nelson’s column.
We spent the afternoon at the beautiful Bota Bota Spa. Set on an old tugboat, this is known as Montreal’s best place to relax. With a thermal circuit of hot and cold water options, after heating yourself in the sauna the challenge is to dunk yourself into the ice cold bath. Apparently it’s good for you to open and close your pores a few times and certainly gets your blood flowing and heart rate up!
We opted for an hour-long couple’s massage which really helped get out those knots after an international flight and a hard working week. Prebooking is essential.
For dinner we headed to the Gay Village - yes it’s an area of Montreal that’s actually officially called that, much like Chelsea is called Chelsea or Hammersmith is called Hammersmith. The best place for dinner in Montreal is O’Thym. It’s one of the cosiest restaurants on offer in the city but bear in mind they offer two sittings so book ahead.
For drinks afterwards, check out the District Video Lounge followed by the drag show at Chez Mado - Montreal’s iconic drag bar. The acts are entertaining, though you’ll be in a better position if you understand French. Mado likes to play with the tourists by saying “Where are those of you who speak English? Well good luck tonight.” She will often then offer shots at a set price, before then telling the locals in French that theirs are half price!
We were up early the following morning for a little walk up Mont Royal, where the city gets it name from. A steep climb up a large number of stairs, but the views from the top are stunning and give you a real sense of perspective over the city.
Rue Saint-Denis is worth exploring in the afternoon and for dinner you absolutely must try to get a table at L’Express. It’s usually fully booked but stumbling upon its online booking system a couple of hours before saw us manage to snap up a cancellation. L’Express is Montreal’s most famous restaurant and often rated one of the best in the city. Complete with a resplendent chequered floor, some of the waiters have been there for decades and the predominantly French cuisine is accompanied by fine wine. We opted for the homemade ravioli and I can’t more highly recommend the lemon tart with a white chocolate ganache.
This Canada Fly Drive 8 day journey through the urban centres and rural splendour of Ontario and Quebec celebrates Canada’s English and French heritage. Travel from cosmopolitan Toronto and the natural wonder of Niagara Falls to the neo-gothic Parliament Buildings of Ottawa that promise both to impress and delight.
Then, travel east and cross into Quebec as the scenic highway continues along the St. Lawrence River to the walled centre of Quebec City. Turning inland to the Saguenay region, the rolling hills and dense forests of the Mauricie / Bois-Francs region promise to enchant en route to Trois Rivières and francophone metropolis of Montreal - the second-largest French-speaking city in the world. Returning to Ontario, visit historic Kingston and its tranquil 1000 Islands from the deck of a comfortable cruise ship before arriving back in Toronto.