While the thought of Canada may immediately conjure images of Justin Bieber, Maple Syrup or Justin Bieber covered in Maple Syrup, one of it’s most varied and interesting locales has more than enough going on to keep your mind off of the sticky stuff.
To celebrate 375 years since it was founded, we flew out to Montreal to find that the largest city in the province of Quebec is Canada’s hyperactive hub of fun, food and French tongue.
A short trip from the airport soon sees you plunged headfirst into the city’s high-tech, fast-paced, heavily commercial spin. Things move quickly and history is greatly celebrated in partnership with the new and popular.
The Le Centre Sheraton Montreal offers the perfect pit stop; at the heart of Downtown, the hotel boasts excellent city views and the heated indoor pool is the ideal spot for swimming away your hangover before enjoying one of the excellent breakfasts available from the on-site restaurants.
Rooms are spacious and the featured fitness centre is open 24/7 should you absolutely need to use a cross trainer at 3am.
Preparing your plastic/bank manager for your visit is advised. Montreal got shops!
Centre Eaton Montreal is a hive of activity well worth exploring. Built up from subterranean levels, it’s a shopping experience that requires persistence, and sustenance. Luckily, after weighing yourself down with Canadian casuals from the likes of Bedo, Old Navy and Calecons Vos Gouts, you can fortify with any of the delish smoothies on the menu at Jugo Juice, or power on with a bag of Jalapeño Jack popcorn from Kernals.
The lavish Golden Square Mile is home to Gucci, Tiffany’s and Escada, and worth a visit to see the beautiful residential mansions alone. Showcasing an eclectic architectural mix of neoclassical, Romanesque and Art Nouveau, this is 3D real estate porn that you wont need to find a filter for.
Foodies/greedy people, you should probably sit down. If you have room, Montreal is more than willing to fill you up.
Adjacent to the Lachine Canal, the Atwater Market is a palace of art-deco styling; packed with robust meat stands for the carnivorous and dotted with explosions of fresh, colourful produce that your Instagram will heart you for.
For locals, the words ‘Schwartz’s Deli’ are sacred. In the mucho-trendy Le Plateau Mont-Royal, the place is full when we visit and we’re assured that this is tout à fait normal. Comfortably crammed with enthusiastic diners, Schwartz’s offers plated jubilation in the form of the best smoked-meat sandwich you’ll ever experience. Ever. Ever ever. Traditionally enjoyed with a side of pickles and a can of black cherry soda, we’re moving in as soon as they’ll take our money.
Think you’ve had bagels? You haven’t. After a visit to the iconic 24-hour St-Viateur Bagel, where the warming smell of baked Nirvana threatens to shatter all of your carb rules, you can officially say that Canadians know their dough. It may be hard to go back to Brick Lane for your fix after this.
“The nationwide Pride celebration will be the first of its kind and leave anyone who attends sore, but satisfied.”
Ah, poutine. Enjoyed at any time of the day, this staple of local cuisine is a favourite for lunch, dinner and even as a post-club indulgence – quite a different experience to propping yourself up while ordering a Mountain Burger at Chicken Cottage. Cheese-lovers, rejoice and get ready to eye-roll; these French fries topped with mounds of moreish curds and crisp meats make this a favourite that’s destined to make you groan.
The Village, home to the area’s first recorded gay venue in 1869, remains the throbbing heart of Montreal’s LGBT+ community. Running through a long strip from St Catherine Street East right up to the Ville-Marie Borough, tradition usually sees thousands of pink balls strung up overhead throughout the the warmer months, though the 2017 decoration showboats a giant rainbow motif for the upcoming Pride celebrations in August.
Seriously, book your tickets and plan your fictional work-avoidance food-poisoning. The ten-day, nationwide celebration will be the first of its kind, coinciding with the city’s 375th year anniversary and including a full-on schedule of parties, performances and sports events that will undoubtedly leave anyone who attends sore, but satisfied.
Highlights from the neon-heavy stretch include the trance-heavy, topless smörgåsbord at Le Stud and Complexe Sky for its in-demand roof terrace, while Cabaret Modo is a popular choice for satisfying all your drag/cabaret needs. Many bars have outdoor seating on the street and come summer, The Village explodes with day drinkers that go on way into the night.
By no means confined to The Village, LGBT+ venues distinctly broaden in taste in the up-and-coming Mile End – like Shoreditch with less Members Only jackets and more equestrian-themed antique eyewear. Notre Dame Des Quilles is an unassuming neighbourhood bar designed to be tagged on Facebook, whether you’re enjoying the surprisingly homely menu or crashing around the free bowling lanes. Alexandraplatz also boasts a fantastic outdoor space studded with attractive craft beer drinkers and has a wine list that may just hold you hostage until you’re drunk enough to attempt seduction via the irresistible twang of your school French lessons.
And if you’re still in the mood for sightseeing after shopping, eating and whatever Le Stud has to offer, the Jacques Cartier Bridge is a spectacle well worth taking in. Recently lit up as part of a $40,000,000 project to celebrate the city, the 2,800 light fixture is an epic sight up close, or from the viewing points high atop the many skyscrapers.
Despite it’s reputation for cold weather, the city is big on outdoor fun; golf, rollerblading and cycling are all a huge part of everyday living. The city parks are perfect for lazy days or taking a break from all the concrete.
So whether visiting for Pride or to take in the general bustle, there’s one thing to remember; everything tastes good and everyone sounds sexy; what’s not to love?
The first Canada Pride Montreal takes place from 10-20 August, fiertemontrealpride.com. We stayed at Le Centre Sheraton Montreal, sheratoncentremontreal.com. For more info on Montreal, accommodation and things to do visit mtl.org.
Words: Ryan Child