Oui! “Montréal ma façon” began on a cool, brisk October evening. A cab ride from the airport dropped us at Loews Hótel Vogue, conveniently located smack-dab in Montréal’s shopping district, and even more conveniently loaded with a bevy of luxurious amenities. While enjoying a glass of vino in the Atrium Bar, I witnessed a rather long line of locals forming on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. While sipping my second glass of wine, I enjoyed a supplemental aménité of the Lowes Hotel Vogue as I caught a rather long glimpse of several dapper young gentlemen signing autographs as they maneuvered their way through the crowd and into the hotel lobby. An inquiry to the friendly bartender produced an informative reply that these hunks were the Florida Panthers, in town for a hockey matchup with the beloved Montréal Canadiens. (DROOL!)
In my travels, I’ve found that booking a sightseeing tour the first day is great for discovering the layout of a new destination and often provides insight on attractions I was previously unaware of. Such was the case with “Day One” in Montréal. My husband Mike and I drug our jet-lagged booties out of bed just in time to grab a much needed coffee and hustle the short walk to the depots of Guidatour. Lasting about four hours, the tour stopped at historic sites including the Notre Dame Basilica, Montréal Botanical Gardens, Olympic Park (home of the 1976 Olympics), the Port of Montréal where we caught a glimpse of New Hampshire on the distant horizon, Mount Royal Park (the city’s namesake) and a thorough tour of the city’s downtown area.
Montréal is the largest city in the province of Québec and the second largest city in Canada. This vibrant metropolitan center of nearly 1.7 million primarily French-speaking residents is awash in rich history and conventional French traditions countered with a youthful, cosmopolitan society inspired by the prevailing cultural trends. Case in point … Mike and I took an engaging (and hilly) stroll through Old Montréal and came out on the other side in front of the uber-trendy W Montréal Hotel. At nearby Square Victoria, we discovered an entrance into the RÉSO (translates to network), an underground city (labyrinth) consisting of 20 miles of tunnels lined with shops, boutiques, restaurants and more. With 120 exterior access points located throughout Montréal, RÉSO links malls, hotels, apartments, museums, metro stations and universities throughout the sprawling city. Given Canada’s bitterly cold and icy winters, the underground city seems like a stellar idea to me!
In conversing with some of the locals, Mike and I were tipped on a bevy of fine-dining restaurants for dinner, and finally settled on Queue de Cheval (translating to … ponytail ???), a roomy, two-story signature steakhouse which is conveniently annexed with a delightfully cozy Victorian-style bar and cigar lounge. After a cocktail in the lounge, we were escorted upstairs where we feasted on a wedge salad of romaine, bleu cheese and bacon, tender bone-in filet, sweetly decadent lobster, creamy spinach and lobster mashed potatoes. Let’s just sum up our meal at Queue de Cheval by giving it a righteously amazing five stars! Time to call for a gurney and roll into bed.
Day Two began with a tour of Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, an impressive study in Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Translated to Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, it is seat of the Roman Catholic Arch Diocese of Montreal. Craving more of Montréal’s French influences, a Provence-style lunch of French onion soup, Catalan shrimp and veal scaloppini in brandy sauce at Le Mas de Oliviers channeled delightful memories of time spent in the south of France. Our afternoon was casually spent browsing the wonderful shops and boutiques lining Montréal’s Rue Ste.-Catherine O.
All aboard for Day Three in Québec … an early morning taxi drop at Montréal’s train station and first class reservations to Québec City. With roots dating to 1608, when French explorer and diplomat Samuel de Champlain founded the colony, this capital city of the province of Québec is one of North America’s oldest European settlements.
Approaching the bluff toward the outer walls of Old Québec, Mike and I quickly realized that this charming French enclave is decidedly reminiscent of many communities we visited throughout the countryside of France. Steep stairways lead from Québec City’s lower terrain where industry and business reside, up toward the walls of Old Québec where cobblestone pathways and narrow streets meander around corners and in varied directions, leading to more boutiques, museums and café lined streets.
In the center of Old Québec, the grandiose gables, turrets and luxurious European façade of Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac bestow a spectacular prominence over the city and and Cap Diamant of the St. Lawrence River far below. Often referred to as the most photographed hotel in the world, this extravagantly luxurious hotel has entertained countless heads of state, famed personalities and millions of visitors from around the world. While Mike and I did not have an opportunity to stay at Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, we surely enjoyed a few happy hour cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while basking in a spectacular panoramic view at the hotel’s 1608 Wine and Cheese Bar. Yum! It was a perfect place to reminisce on our three splendid days in the Canadian province of Quebec. Our only regret was that, given Mike’s propensity for all things Seagram’s V.O. (distilled and bottled in Canada), we found nary a drop of the coveted substance while in Québec … HUH?!?! Thankfully, Crown Royal is also an adult beverage which is “made in Canada”, and his #2 choice was well stocked wherever we went. Whew!