- Mountain-centred metropolis
- City life
- Bilingual balancing act
Canada’s second city, Montreal, is the North American meeting point of French and English heritage, a culture-rich hubbub, and one of the world’s original winter wonderlands.
There’s no better place to practise your Franglish than the city that coined the phrase ‘bonjourallo’ to accommodate greeting Francophiles and Anglophiles alike. While the official battle is between its twin heritages, visitors quickly realise what a multi-cultural foodie haven this city actually is. Dine on authentic Spanish, Portugese, Italian, French, Greek, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese, Chinese… the international menu goes on and on. You’ll thank your lucky stars and booted feet that the city is notably walkable too – there’s got to be some way to shed the pounds gained in all the local microbreweries, cafes, and restaurants. Although some small areas of Montreal sit on the wrong side of the ‘urban regeneration’ fence, look a little closer and you’ll find a city riddled with history, character, and blithe resistance to the often freezing temperatures.
Pardon our French – Montreal’s Catholic upbringing shows itself in one of the most unlikely aspects of city life: swearing. While the Francophones of Paris may lean towards the scatological when frustrated, Montrealers look heavenward. Some choice expletives include ‘tabarnac’ (tabernacle), ‘calisse’ (chalice) and ‘hostie’ (the host).
- Cars can be readily flagged down in the street and cost a pittance compared to cab fares in cities such as London. A cab from the airport to downtown Montreal is roughly CA$30.
- Tipping culture
- As in the United States, the standard tip-rate is around 15–20 per cent, and cab drivers, hotel porters, doormen, waiting staff and bartenders will expect their palms crossed.
- Siesta and fiesta
- In winter it gets dark around 4pm or 5pm, but in summer, the sun sets late and you can keep on hopping through the cafés, terraces, bars, and clubs on offer. It’s a non-stop kind of city with things to do from breakfast straight through to late-night partying.
- Packing tips
- Serious winter gear if visiting any time between October and March – it can get bone-shiveringly cold – but bust out the summer frocks for the fleeting season called summer when all of Montreal rejoices in some long-awaited warmth.
- Recommended reads
- Sign Language and Other Tales of Montreal Wildlife, is Gazette-columnist Josh Freed’s laser-guided comical take on the quirks of life in the city. Beautiful Losers by Montreal’s favourite musical miserablist, Leonard Cohen, proves to be strange but compelling novel.
- Quebecois cuisine has its roots in the city’s history as a fur-trading outpost, so a lot of local specialities are notable for their high fat content – essential padding for those long winter months. As in New York, bagels are a staple, but they’re smaller and chewier than their NYC counterparts. You’ll find heaps of handmade Montreal bagels at St Viateur (www.stviateurbagel.com) available 24 hours a day. Also keep your foodie eyes peeled for tourtiéres (meat pies traditionally eaten at Christmas), cretons (pork spread on breakfast toast – nicer than it sounds), brisket and smoked meats.
- Canadian dollar (CAD).
- Time zone
- GMT -5 (Eastern Standard Time)
- Dialling codes
- +1 for Canada; 514 for Montreal.
- Do go/don't go
- The Canadian winter’s a punishingly chilly period, but it can be sunny, snowy, crisp, clear and beautiful too. So, do visit, just be prepared for the extreme temperatures. Autumn is short-lived but the changing colours of the maple trees make it worth catching. Summer (June to September) is warm and packed with festivals and the whole city takes advantage of the few months of heat. Spring is possibly the least desirable time to visit as the March-to-May months generally bring mushy snow and damp shoes.
Don't go home without...
…Sampling poutine. This Quebecois delicacy consists of French fries and cheese curds topped with generous lashings of gravy. It’s best enjoyed as a late-night post-bar snack, but you can guarantee La Banquise (www.restolabanquise.com), which serves more than 25 varieties of the dish, will be open no matter what time the craving hits.