We’re all suffering from cabin fever. Better that than COVID-19 fever, I guess. And I know we all want to get back on the road as soon as possible. That said, most people remain skeptical about going abroad because no vaccine has been developed to protect us from COVID-19 and its (expected) fall sequel.
So, no Europe. No Asia. No South America. No Africa. No large-scale international travel of any kind for the foreseeable future.
Domestic travel and car trips are back in vogue for Canadians, at least for the short term, according to travel experts. Car karaoke will top the charts this summer.
Oh, if only there was a Canadian city where we international travellers could drive to on one tank of gas to enjoy the sophistication of Europe, the exotic flavours of Asia, the rhythms of Latin America and the modern conveniences of North America all in one spot.
Bienvenue à Montréal!
Above: From atop Mont-Royal Montréal spreads out in all directions.
Canada’s Francophone beauty is a one-stop shop for those craving international travel. It’s Old World charm, diverse neighbourhoods filled with colourful characters who sport accents from around the world and its haughty European joie de vivre spirit can’t be matched anywhere else in North America.
Missing Paris? Walk on the narrow cobbled streets of Vieux-Montréal and breath in the scents of freshly-baked baguettes.
London? The former English and Scottish neighbourhoods of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Côte-des-Neiges, Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, Westmount and Outremont and their Victorian and English Tudor-style architecture will have you singing Rule Britannia.
Rome? Montréal’s Little Italy has some of the best Italian restaurants this side of the Vatican.
Craving Asia? Montréal’s Chinatown and its large Vietnamese population will have your taste buds thinking they’ve been transplanted to Beijing or Hanoi.
Add to that international mix the city’s growing South American and Middle Eastern populations and suddenly Montréal becomes a Disneyland for travellers with every continent and culture represented.
The biggest problem when you arrive in Montréal its where to begin?
Above: City's Chinatown is an Asian hideaway and Vieux-Montréal has lots of European charm.
Well, it’s always best to start where Montréal started — Vieux-Montréal, the city’s oldest part that dates back to the 17th century. Its cobblestone streets, lovely plazas, street-side cafés and field stone buildings have a charm that even European cities envy.
The narrow streets of Vieux-Montréal are filled with lots of historic landmarks, the largest being Notre-Dame Basilica — the one that didn’t burn down. The soaring Gothic-Revival church is a replica of Paris’ more famous cathedral and every bit as impressive.
Notre-Dame casts a giant shadow over Place d’Armes, the handsome square opposite that’s ringed by many of Canada’s most notable financial institutions.
Not far away is Pointe-à-Callière, a museum that sits under the city’s old street and features archeological ruins from Montréal’s earliest days.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in Vieux-Montréal, there’s plenty of charming and unique properties housed in period buildings to choose from. My favourites are the Hôtel Nelligan (106 Rue St. Paul / www.hotelnelligan.com) and Hôtel William Grey (421 Rue St. Vincent / www.hotelwilliamgray.com). When you enter these stylish properties, it’s like taking a step back in time.
Above: Montréal's culinary scene is the best this side of Paris.
Because you’re in a car, the city’s iconic districts are all close by — Montréal is an island, after all.
A drive north from Vieux-Montréal on Blvd. St. Laurant (a.k.a. The Main) will bring you to the city’s famed Jewish Quarter where such Canadian luminaries as author Mordecai Richler and singer/poet Leonard Cohen grew up. The much-loved Cohen, who promoted Montréal in many of his songs, is eulogized in a massive mural that occupies a downtown skyscraper. The Main is also where you’ll find one of Canada’s most famous restaurants, Schwartz’s Deli, which has been serving up smoked meat sandwiches since 1928.
From Blvd St. Laurent you can drive over Mont-Royal, the city’s iconic volcanic mountain, and get jaw-dropping panoramic views from its highest point (233m).
Back in the downtown area, you might want to drop by The Montréal Museum of Fine Art, one of the world’s best, which showcases extraordinary exhibitions from around the globe annually.
If you want to see the world this summer, Montréal is where you’ll want to park yourself. •
• For more on Montréal, go to https://www.mtl.org