I HAD TO REMIND MYSELF I WAS NOT IN EUROPE AS I VEERED OFF THE PAVED SIDEWALK ONTO A COBBLE-STONED SIDE STREET IN MONTRÉAL’S HISTORIC DISTRICT. The gas lamps were glowing with pure Parisian panache against a backdrop of gothic architecture that towered above lively town squares with a Venetian vengeance as locals walked around touting bags of French pastries and exchanging “bonjours” with one another. I could have easily stepped onto a French movie set for all I knew, but it wasn’t until I turned the corner and saw an actual movie being filmed that I realized I was not the only one who was admiring this Canadian city’s European appeal.
More than 600 films are shot in Montréal each year, where directors like Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Martin Scorsese use the city’s diverse neighborhoods and glamorous store- fronts as the backdrops for movies set in Europe and beyond. But Montréal ’s cinematic beauty isn’t limited to film producers or movie directors, and this little slice of Europe offers a luxurious escape for travelers looking to experience the charm of Europe without leaving the Americas.
Montréal is one of Canada’s oldest and most stylish cities, where many buildings date back to the 1600s and coffee is considered a form of art. There are more restaurants per capita in Montréal than any other city in the entire country, many of them earning a spot in the Top 10 on Canada’s “100 Best” list—although visitor’s should also try the region’s famous poutine dish at Orange Julep and the city’s most beloved bagel at St-Viateur Bagel Shop while in town—and the shopping ranges from avant-garde boutiques with exclusive access for those “in the know” to underground malls that allow winter visitors to shop the entire city length without so much as stepping outside in the elements.
During summer, Montréal is abuzz with the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal while Montréal en Lumière shines a bright light on the city each spring, but the city’s multi-faceted personality and always bustling social calendar makes each trip unique and unexpected, regardless of the season.
Selecting a hotel in Montréal starts with selecting the right neighborhood, where Old Montréal’s historic streets boast easy access to most of the city’s top sightsee- ing spots and Downtown’s museums and skyscraper hotels are located in the heart of the action for many of the city’s top festivals and events.
Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth offers 950 recently renovated guestrooms that seamlessly blend elegance, comfort, and connectivity for guests looking to make the most of their time in this downtown location. This luxury hotel is the first choice for many celebrities and politicians in town, and has become famous for its iconic suite No. 1742, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously held their legendary “Bed-in for Peace” protest. The suite is still available for booking today, and it is able accommodate up to two people.
The Ritz-Carlton Montréal in Old Montréal has been the gold standard for luxury in the city since it opened in 1912. This stunning property recently underwent a $200 million renovation, where guests can now experience fine dining at Maison Boulud after spending the day of facials and massages at the Spa St. James or relaxing over the hotel’s legendary Afternoon Tea at Palm Court. The hotel also boasts an onsite hammam, a saltwater rooftop pool, and is the only Dom Perignon Bar in North America.
The newest addition to Montréal’s luxury lineup of hotels comes with a sparkling past. Hotel Birks recently opened, in the same building that renowned Canadian jeweler Henry Birks opened his first storefront in 1894. The ground floor is still brimming with glittering jewels as the luxury store continues to welcome guests, but the true gems are found higher up within the 132 guestrooms and suites of this opulent hotel. The hotel features a luxury spa and restaurant, but even Room Service by Henri is a cut above what any other hotel is able to offer, with Parisian omelets for breakfast and Bavette de Boeuf for dinner.
Despite the city’s French roots, the cuisine in Montréal has become as multicultural as the city has over the years, where even the Montréal Canadiens (the city’s beloved hockey team) can be found loading up on fresh sushi and Japanese fusion dishes from Chef Antonio Park’s super chic Park Restaurant before games as opposed to former city staples like poutine and smoked meat. An onsite smokehouse, trout pond, and vegetable garden helped earn restaurant Joe Beef the number 2 slot on Canada’s 100 Best list for 2019, where there is often a two-month wait to score a reservation at this 30-seat establishment.
Following by one point on the list is one of Montréal’s most high-end restaurants, Toqué!, where local ingredients star on plates of duck magret with turnip leaf purée, chanterelle mushrooms, snow peas, leeks and madeira sauce. The coffee culture in Montréal revolves around third wave roasters and Euro-coffee bars, where passion guides the process. Crew Collective’s co-working space sits inside the former headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada, but the café is open to the public allows guests the chance to order a flawlessly crafted espresso beneath 50-foot vaulted ceilings from a former bank teller’s window.
Many of Montréal’s most exclusive haunts are hidden in plain sight, for those that know where to look. There are more than 30 authentic speakeasies throughout the city, ranging from an enchanted forest in a downtown basement to a tiki bar that can only be found by searching for a small neon pineapple deep in Montréal’s China- town. A small graffiti duck on the ground in Old Montréal lets visitors know they are on the right track for discovering The Cold Room, where a long stair- well down behind a back alley leads to a 19th-century cold room door that transports guests into one of the hottest speakeasies in the city.
Montréal’s year-round line-up of cultural events, concerts, festivals, and performances ensure there is always something new and exciting for visitors to enjoy while in town. During the day, Montréal’s markets are bright with fresh produce and local goods but the city still shines as the sun goes down since Montréal is home to the largest urban lighting installation in the world, Cité Mémoire. The installation was designed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon in collaboration with Michel Marc Bouchard, and can be found throughout Old Montréal and the Old Port, where the Montréal en Histoires phone app points visitor’s in the right direction to find installations like alleyways that suddenly become a stream flowing down towards the St. Lawrence, making viewers feel they are taking a stroll through water as they walk through the light.
The Notre-Dame Basilica dates back to 1672, but the beautiful light show, Aura, that takes place inside is purely modern. The show lasts 20 minutes and bathes the entire interior of the basilica in an interactive light show set to moving music that highlights the basilica’s intricate design features while using the space as a canvas for artful interpretations of what the basilica means to the city.
The streets and main alleyways of Montréal are ideal for shopping, where the artisans, glass blowers, and local fashion designers of the bohemian chic Rue Saint Paul beautifully contrast Sainte-Catherine Street’s burgeoning upscale fashion scene. After a day of shopping, visitors can treat themselves to a luxurious treatment or soak onboard Bota Bota, one of the city’s top spas that is located on an old ferryboat docked off the Old Port and overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
For more information, visit www.mtl.org/en