In 2017 the Canadian city of Montreal will celebrate 375 years since foundation.
Old Montreal, built alongside the St Lawrence River, is characterised by cobblestone streets and stone buildings that would not look out of place in one of the old port cities of Brittany in France.
Montreal has a resurgent culinary scene. Trucks — such as Grumman 78, vending tacos, and La Caravane de Seb’s, serving dishes including lobster rolls and poutine — roll as part of an increasingly vibrant street food scene.
If you’re a sports fan, take a walk to the Centre Bell, the downtown home of the Montreal Canadiens, who play their hockey in the NHL. Alternatively, for live broadcasts and beer, spend an evening in one of the city’s sports bars.
I chatted with Danny Pavlopoulos, a Montreal resident, and one of the co-founders of Spade & Palacio Tours, to get insider tips.
Why do you think people should visit Montreal?
I think it’s a very liveable city. It’s the access to culture, specifically in the summertime — free culture that’s outdoors and smacks you in the face. You get that just by walking the streets.
It’s the vibe. People enjoy life, they’re laid back. People definitely work to live here as opposed to living to work — that’s evident by visiting the different neighbourhoods around our city.
What is your favourite place in Montreal and why?
I love the mountain, Mount Royal Park, our biggest green space and the heart of the city.
It’s a beautiful park that was designed by a landscape gardener who was ahead of his time. It’s my place where I forget that I’m in the city.
I can go for a walk, a jog or snow shoe. I can take the dog out for a walk. I know the mountain so well that I have my own paths and areas, where I know no-one else will be. It’s my retreat, but right in the middle of Montreal.
If you were going to take a guest to dine, where would you go and why?
I’ve been going often to a restaurant called Orange Rouge (106 de la Gauchetière West; tel. +1 514 861 1116), which is in Chinatown. It’s a bunch of young guys who’ve taken a modern twist on Asian food.
They’ve got kickass cocktails, amazing food and it’s sort of a discovery each time I go in there. It’s under-rated and has a cool vibe. I feel cosy and comfortable each time I’m there.
I really like the chrysanthemum leaf salad. It’s very different, almost a little tart. I don’t know a lot of other places in the city that are using chrysanthemum leaves, so that sticks out. The salad isn’t colourful. It’s plain Jane — just the herbs, the leaves and a vinaigrette — but delicious.
If you were going to take a guest out for a drink, where would you head?
I’m a member of brewpub call Dieu du Ciel (29 Laurier West; tel. +1 514 490 9555). Its name translates as ‘god of the heavens’ or ‘god of the sky’. For me, they brew some of the best beers in the country.
Their Péché Mortel, which means ‘the deadly sin’, is a coffee stout, at 9.5 per cent alcohol, and has caffeine in, so it brings you up while it brings you down. It’s a must try for anyone who goes in there.
We sit at the counter and know everyone who works there. It’s become an institution and almost inaccessible, because there are so many visitors who go there. But we’ve got our corner spot and just go and hang out there, and drink the Péché Mortel.
What is your favourite legend or quirky bit of history associated with Montreal?
When Mark Twain visited many years ago, he mentioned something along the lines that the number of churches in the city really surprised him.
He said something along the lines of that, basically, he couldn’t throw a stone or a brick without breaking a church window.
They dot the city’s landscape. Each of our neighbourhoods has an iconic church. Those are the symbols of our neighbourhoods, regardless of whether we use them for religious practice or not. We now also use them as concert halls, gyms and restaurants.
You can’t go around without seeing hundreds of churches.
If people can stay for an extra day or two, where do you suggest they do and see?
The Laurentians, north of here, is lake country where we go play.
In winter you’ll see a lot of skiing and snowboarding. In summer it’s where a lot of my friends’ parents have cottages.
We’ve got a cottage on the lake, enjoy a fire at night and go skinny dipping in the middle of the night. We’ll tell stories under the sky and eat great food.
Other than that, the Eastern Townships, closer to the American border, for food, for wine, for cider. You’ve got all the apples and great breweries.
Other than that, you can’t come to Montreal without going to Quebec City. It’s a beautiful, cute little town and looks like Disney World — it’s picture perfect. It’s a great two day getaway and you really do feel like you’re in Europe while you’re there.
The Destination Canada website is a good source of information about the province and country as a whole.
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.
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