MONTRÉAL — The images that usually dance in my head when I dream of an island getaway include surfboards gliding over choppy waves, making eye contact with colourful fish and glorious sunsets enjoyed from the deck of a sleek sailing ship.
To get island time, though, I normally have to travel long distances, which, in these days of border and flight restrictions is not always easy or advisable.
So, what’s my alternative?
Bienvenue à l’île de Montréal.
In case you forgot, Canada’s second largest and trendiest city resides on an island that rises out of the water at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers. And, interestingly, l’île de Montréal boasts many of the things that attracts me to islands in sunnier climes. For instance …
Above: Believe it or not, you can actually surf in the St. Lawrence river on waves that rival Hawai'i.
• I can surf in the St. Lawrence on waves that rival those I've seen in Hawai’i;
• I can board a sailing ship and watch the sun dip into the St. Lawrence each evening, just like I did in the South Pacific;
• I can watch schools of colourfull fish swim in crystal-clear water, just like I did on remote islands in Thailand;
• I can even tour an old French colonial city (Old Montréal) just like I did on the islands of Martinique, St. Martin and St. Barthélemy;
• Heck, l’île de Montréal even features a mountain (Mont-Royal) that’s made of volcanic rock, similar to the ones I saw on Caribbean islands like St. Kitts, Dominica and Nevis.
L’île de Montréal truly is a “treasured island” and the perfect escape this summer for Canadians looking for a “pleasure island” where they can have some fun, without leaving the country.
Thanks to Québec’s impressive rollout of the pandemic vaccines, Montréal is well ahead of other Canadian cities and ready to welcome tourists back.
When the tourists do arrive, they’ll have a few new attractions to enjoy, like viewing île de Montréal from the deck of the Ohana, a majestic ship where guests can learn the intricacies of sailing during a three-hour cruise. The Ohana sails three times a day and its sunset cruise is sure to be the most popular this summer.
Above: You can see lots of fish at the Biodôme and gthen take a sunset cruise aboard the Ohana, right.
Tourists can also come face-to-face with lots of fish at the amazing Biodôme, the largest natural science museum complex in Canada, which features a giant aquarium that showcases many different kinds of fish including the ones that inhabit the waters of the mighty St. Lawrence.
The Biodôme, located in the former (1976 Olympic) Velodrome, reopens after undergoing a massive two-year overhaul that has revitalized the family-oriented experience. The “house of life,” as it’s also known, also features 2,500 animals — the penguins and golden tamarin monkeys are the most popular — and more than 800 plant species.
Because the St. Lawrence's current velocities are so strong, the river produces some great waves, especially off the shores of l'île de Montréal, and thus provides the perfect learning ground for would-be surfers.
A number of surfing companies have sprouted up in Montréal, the most famous of which is Kayak Sans Frontieres. The company offers lessons in numerous water sports, including river surfing, and arranges lessons for tourists through local hotels. The activity has become so popular, reservations are needed to be made weeks in advance of your arrival.
You can even do some island hopping in Montréal. After enjoying all l'île de Montréal has to offer, you can take the city’s subway or soon to be light-rail REM system to Parc Jean Drapeau, which is made up of two small islands — île St. Helene and île Notre Dame. Both sit in the middle of the St. Lawrence and were created for the city’s Expo 67 World’s Fair. There’s lots of park space, wetlands, waterfront squares, an amusement park and a lovely riverside promenade to enjoy on these islands.
Being an island, Montréal naturally has plenty of beaches and some are close to downtown. Clock Tower Beach in Old Montréal overlooks the St. Lawrence, while Jean-Doré Beach and Verdun Beach are not far from the city’s downtown core. The Old Port area of Montréal also features a zip-line and the tallest observation wheel in Canada, both of which offer spectacular views of the island.
Paddlers have plenty to do on l'île de Montréal, thanks to the many places you can canoe and kayak — the Lachine Nautical Centre, built on the old canal of the same name, is within walking distance of Old Montréal and has become very popular with tourists and locals, alike.
Above: The island offers plenty of calm waters where paddlers and kayakers can enjoy their sport.
The well-worn cobblestone streets of 17th-century Old Montréal leads to many waterfront attractions and is where you’ll find some of the city’s most important landmarks, like Notre-Dame Basilica and the Pointe-à-Callière museum, which houses Montréal’s archeological ruins.
The waterfront is also home to many iconic Montréal restaurants and a must-stop for foodies of all ages. Here you’ll dine on gourmet meals that rival anything Paris chefs can produce and enjoy renowned Québec dishes like poutine and Montréal smoked meat.
L’île de Montréal certainly appeals to all tastes and that’s why it can be our island of tranquility this summer — a great place to be marooned.
JUST THE FACTS
For information on:
Kayak Sans Frontieres: https://ksf.ca
Montréal Biodôme: https://espacepourlavie.ca/biodome
Tourisme Montréal: https://www.mtl.org/en
Pointe-à-Callière Museum: https://pacmusee.qc.ca/fr/
About the Author
Marc Atchison is a veteran journalist and a seasoned traveller with more than 20 years of travel writing experience. As the former Travel Editor of the Toronto Star, Canada's largest newspaper, and now Editor-in-Chief and Senior Writer for TraveLife magazine (Canada) and travelife.ca, Marc has been to over 100 countries in the world. Japan is one of his favorite destinations and he's been there on numerous occasions.