Montréal Magic: 24 hours in Canada's coolest city
Canada's coolest city is turning 375 this year, writes Thomas Breathnach ... a perfect excuse to visit.
Set the mood
Bonne Anniversaire, Montréal!
This year marks the Canadian city's 375th birthday, and to celebrate, it's in joyful fête mode. My own arrival in MTL came on the cusp of Storm Stella, a glacial blizzard which had blanketed the cobbled old town with an air of film set abandon.
But I wasn't alone. Beneath me, the world's largest underground city was bustling with thousands of commuters and mall-trippers, while surrounding me, the postcard bistros of Rue St-Paul were snugly packed with native gourmands.
Montréal is a city for all seasons, naturellement, and there's nothing quite like this metropole in North America. In the city the fleur-de-lys flies high, and bilingual banter lilts the sidewalks as the air pulses with a certain je ne sais Qué-becois.
Once summer arrives and locals shed their Canada Goose jackets, Montréal's eclectic neighbourhoods make for fantastic urban meandering. At The Mile End, a multicultural mélange of Greek, Portuguese and Jewish communities, I got my people-watching and caffeine fixes at Café Olimpico (cafeolimpico.com), an authentic Italian local where hipsters and Wi-Fi squatters hunker down for chats, delicious grinds and Serie A. Feeling snackish? Grab a honey-baked bagel at St-Viateur Bagel (stviateurbagel.com).
Think of this as pampering with real hydrotherapy. Bota Bota is a riverboat turned luxury spa-sur-l'eau experience, sweetly anchored in the Old Port of Montréal. With twilight setting over the metropole, I availed of the facility's evening water circuit (€25), where I dipped from Nordic saunas and steam rooms to outdoor ice baths and whirlpools.
Afterwards, various calming habitats of beanbag lodges, hammocks and fire-pits allow guest to enjoy city views, soothed by the lulling ripples of the St Lawrence river. Quelle bliss!
See botabota.ca for more info.
Set in a former Banque du Canada building within an ice-hockey puck of the old town, trendy W Montréal was my base in the city. Rooms are spacious, urban havens with dream en suites and slick workstations, all hallmarked by a saucy urban decor of yellows, chrome and gold. Come morning, indulge in a luxury continental at the W's restaurant, Ê.A.T (Être Avec Toi). See wmontrealhotel.com (rooms from €85pps).
Take a trip down Cité Mémoire lane. This Montréal 375 exhibition is a montage of animated street installations marking the city's past. Projections are triggered by footfall, enabling visitors to switch the Old Town's alleyways into an almost historical Cirque du Soleil. It's on hourly after dusk.
There's only so much poutine that can save you from the Montréal winter. The long, frigid season sees the city hibernate big time, so pay a summer visit to really experience la ville en rose.
Get me there
Just as WOW air (wowair.ie) has opened up the northern skies for Irish travellers, it's done the same for Québecers. The airline now flies from Montréal (via Reykjavik) to both Dublin and Cork from €320 return. That doesn't include luggage, alas (add €84 for a carry-on bag, for example), but you can tack on an Icelandic stopover for free if you fancy a twin getaway.
For more info on Montréal and the region, see mtl.org and quebecoriginal.com.