A travel post on Montreal was long overdue on the blog considering it’s a city I’ve visited many times on family trips, work trips or as you’ve recently come to know, impromptu winter adventures. Without a doubt though, our recent trip there was notably the most special. So I thought I’d share six “Montreal Musts” while imprints of a memorable and charming Montreal are still fresh in mind.
1. Hiking at Plateau Mont Royal
You don’t have to be an outdoorsy person to appreciate the beauty and grandeur of Mont Royal, but if you are a nature-walk enthusiast…then this activity will be your haven.
Hiking upwards with rustling leaves beneath our feet and the afternoon sun peeking trough the towering trees above us felt like we were getting some exercise in a retreat-like atmosphere. The trails we followed lead us toward Beaver Lake and its idyllic park, then to the summit at Mont Royal Chalet where we took in the view of the city skyline.
We were hoping to see a scenic burst of Fall colours, but it seems the first week of October is just a bit too early. It wasn’t peak foliage just yet, but we were still lucky enough to witness the early transitions of it.
2. Strolling through Plateau neighbourhoods
Ten years ago when I first visited Montreal with family, the thing that stood out to me the most were the houses: they all had exterior staircases. That struck me as odd when taking into consideration the brutal winters; picturing people schlepping heavy grocery bags up icy stairs seemed treacherous. But in the Fall, those staircases seemed less dangerous and much more…romantic. Orange and golden leaves followed the spiral wrought iron and spilled onto the street beneath your feet, almost inviting you to go outside and seeing what other magic you can find.
Our Airbnb was in a quiet neighbourhood in the Plateau, and since most of the places we wanted to check out were more or less walking distance, we chose to stroll through pockets of little neighbourhoods to get to where we needed to go, appreciating the mix of Victorian and Art Deco architecture, and chubby squirrels running their errands.
3. Jardin Botanique
We spontaneously decided to go to the Jardin Botanique on an overcast Sunday afternoon when we had nothing else planned for the day and weren’t sure how the weather would hold up. Earlier in the day when it was rainy, we went to the Planetarium and watched a cool feature on the Aurora Borealis (yeah, we’re a little nerdy). Since the rain seemed to have halted and the Jardin Botanique was practically next door, we decided to check it out.
The two things that delightfully surprised me the most about the Jardin Botanique (aside from how gorgeous it is) was how big and how quiet it was. As Torontonians we’re used to huge crowds of people attending anything and everything, so this was a nice (i.e. preferred) setting for us. When wondering why it was so quiet on a Sunday, we figured that early October might not exactly be peak time for garden strolls (or tourists), the way it would be in May or June. Peak time or not, we considered ourselves victoriously lucky for having the whole garden to ourselves.
Some flowers, plants and herbs reached the end of their time but others, like daisies and dahlias, apples, tomatoes, pumpkins and eggplants were still blooming around us.
The crowd-free experience at the garden was short lived once dusk came and the Gardens of Light began twinkling and attracting child-like wonder from other fellow shutterbugs. The evening cooled significantly but to our pleasant surprise, aromatic jasmine tea and moon cakes were available to keep warm and take in the magical Asian festival.
4. Vieux Montréal
Strolling though Old Montreal is a staple, especially for a rustic-loving, old soul such as myself. Although pretty sleepy during the weekday, this old part of town certainly regains its charm and bustling tourist crowd on weekends.
But if you prefer a more quiet experience, Le Petit Dép, is a fun little eclectic café / dépanneur (i.e. general store) in Old Montreal to grab a coffee and croissant, and people-watch from the other side of the bright green windows if expensive art galleries and souvenir shops aren’t your thing.
5. Sunset dinner at Les Enfants Terribles
It’s no surprise that the itinerary of our trips is very food-centric. We always have a list of “must eat here” eateries thanks to recommendations from friends, Instagram or YouTube channels. Aside from the classics (Shwartz, La Banquise, Chez Claudette, L’Avenue, St-Viateur, etc.), one of those recommendations was Les Enfants Terribles. My colleague insisted that we dine at the “Place Ville Marie” location, which is on 44th floor of a financial district high-rise. After seeing good reviews, I booked a reservation for a time slot that’s generally average for October sunsets, and crossed my fingers it wouldn’t rain that day.
It rained that day. Grey dominated the skies the entire day, even after we were seated. But just like that, midway through sipping our wine and blending in with the after-5pm crowd, bursts of oranges, pinks and yellows fired up the sky.
There’s an outdoor terrace that allows you to capture the panoramic view of the city from such a unique vantage point. Even if we didn’t have our sunset, this restaurant was worth it: great wine, delicious food, and the service was fantastic. But of course, if you can get a sunset with your dinner, even better.
6. Farmer’s Market
On the topic of food, strolling through the colourful grids of farmer’s markets with the bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables on display (as well as local cheeses, jams, honeys and baked breads) is a stimulating and delicious Montreal experience. There’s also something especially cozy about going to farmer’s markets in Autumn.
There are a handful of great public markets to check out in Montreal, but our favourite was Marché Jean Talon. We headed there on a Tuesday morning, which happened to be the last day of our trip. We purposely chose a weekday to avoid the busy weekend crowds, and it was the perfect plan. We were able to enjoy a coffee and fresh bagel sandwich seated in the sun while people-watching locals pick up their seasonal ingredients for the week.
This visit hit me with another surprising comparison to Toronto and its iconic St-Lawrence Market. As much as I love the charming and historical St-Lawrence Market, I found Jean Talon to be much cleaner, brighter, more conveniently laid out and just…better produce. Even the price of their locally-grown, organic produce were less expensive than what we’ve come across in our own city. It could be that we were there in peak harvest time and reaped the benefits of the season and the outdoor section (I imagine these outdoor stalls would be closed in the Winter). Regardless, Jean Talon was the quintessential farmer’s market experience we hoped for and could envision ourselves hanging out here if we lived in Montreal.
Of course, the little flower and lavender soap shops made me smile the most as I inhaled the fresh lavender aromas with delight. Oh, and the bread section. That also brought a lot of delight to my olfactory senses.
The perfect way to wrap up the trip was grabbing some fresh pain au chocolat from Boulangerie Guillaume to snack in our Uber ride to the airport.
Another sunset visited us on this trip, but this time to bid us farewell as we sat on the tarmac for our evening flight back home. Of all the times I’ve flown in and out of Montreal, this flight hit me with the most meaningful perspective. We were on a Porter flight, and I had a ring on my finger. Our bellies were full, and hearts even fuller. Montréal, on sera de retour.