October 6, 2010 by Jools Stone
This was my entry in a blogging competition, which won me a trip to Montreal in February 2011.
Twitch Way to Montreal?
OK, here’s the deal. I want to go to Montreal and you can help me twitch hike my way there. You know about twitchiker right? He’s the guy who’s blagged and couchsurfed his way around half the world relying solely on the kindness of stwangers on twitter.
Keeping it Montreal
My little project runs along similar lines. I’ve asked the lovely tweeple of Canada to ply me with juicy sweetmeats on Montreal’s hidden gems. And boy did those little chickadees deliver the goods! If I win, they’ll have spirited me away from my Edinburgh sofa to the amazing cultural melting pot just across the Atlantic that is Montreal.
Blog Travels Competition
When I heard the weblog travels competition was offering a trip to Montreal I just couldn’t resist chancing my arm and writing about a city thousands of miles away in a continent I’ve never visited. And they say I’m not a proper adventure armchair traveller! So, here’s my potted poutine guide to the city’s must-dos from your man absolutely nowhere near the scene. If I win, the ice-cold Labatts are on me. Deal? Deal. Now on with the show!
1. Wrap up Warm!
OK, so my first tip may have been a little facetious: ‘It’s cold in winter’ Terence Carter told me. But what else to expect from the two-man GranTourismo toboggan team? They’ve been there, snapped that and written the guidebook – and then some. So mark their words and pack those thermals folks.
2. Cheer on the Habs
Ice hockey is Canada’s national sport. According to Jerry Evans of Inspired Train ‘the Habs (AKA Les Montreal Canadiens) are a religion, they did really well last season.’ So get the puck down to a Habs game and see the sticks and blood fly at close quarters.
3. Practice your French
Montreal is Canada’s most European city with a strong heritage of French language and culture. It can seem a little aloof if you can’t parlez Francais though, so brush up before you go and make an effort when you get there. (But it’s not as rad as Quebec apparently.)
4. Dig a Museum
Montreal has more than its fair share of history and culture. Marsha of Single Occupancy Blog recommends the archaeological dig at Pointe a Calliere Museum. Just one of many great museums to shelter in on those chilly afternoons.
5. Bang a Drum with some Hippies
Every summer Sunday you can do something genuinely offbeat and bang out a rhythm at the Mont Royal Drum Circle, or just laze around and hang with hundreds of hippies, picnicking and nodding along to the reggae sounds, as suggested by Ayngelina of Bacon is Magic.
6. Watch some Sparks fly
Montreal has the world’s largest fireworks competition. 8 teams compete with 30 minutes of spectacular pyrotechnics while the judges ooh and ahh from La Ronde. Join them or watch open-mouthed from the equally well-placed Jacques Cartier Bridge.
7. Spot the Slebs at the Top Table
The laid-back and much loved Le Club Chasse restaurant is a popular hangout of many celebrities. Twilight stars Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart were caught canoodling over the guinea hen with pork compote recently.
8. Chew on a Beavertail
Look at this little beauty, nuff said!
9. Get Cash back on your Shopping
Here’s a city that knows how to reward its visiting shoppers. You can get up to 20% tax rebate on your duty-free purchases when you leave the city, so spend, spend, spend! A pair of jeans in Gap might set you back around $50 Canadian dollars before the rebate.
10. Explore the Underground City
Montreal’s underground shopping mall is quite a draw. Harsh winters mean that they’ve built a massive complex of shops, bars and restaurants in which you can comfortably empty your wallet without surfacing above ground. The city has the largest subterranean city area in the world, stretching for some 20 miles.
11. Venture into another type of Underground
For the more outre, there are fetish and vampire clubs. You can even take a Hells Angels tour of the city apparently. But be careful, the underworld here is very much alive and well – or not as the case may be.
12. Stay out all Night in the name of Culture
The High Lights Festival thumbs its nose at winter each February with a smorgasbord of performing arts, fine wining and dining, the celebration of light and Le Nuit Blanches, all night festivities with free public transport laid on.
13. Bike about for Free
It’s easy to get about in Montreal thanks to the pioneering Bixi scheme, which gives you up to half an hour of free biking or 24 hours for $5. Its trailblazing success has led to its adoption in Paris and London. And if you want your own set of custom spokes check out the folks at Bikurious, a gay-friendly bike shop.
14. Go Jogging for Jesus
Start the day with an invigorating ascent up to the stunning St Joseph’s Oratory for great views over the city, as recommended by ex-pat Geordie Anne Kostalas on her blog Dear England, Love Canada.
15. Jet about those Rapids
Splash yourself awake with a Jet Boat Tour along the St Lawrence river and Lachine Rapids. The hour-long trip – in the sweetest pea-green boat you’ve ever seen – will brush away the cobwebs as you spray your way past the city sights.
16. Have some Laughs
I still harbour fond childhood memories of watching televised highlights of Just for Laughs, one of the world’s biggest comedy festivals, held each July. It even has its own museum now.
17. Prowl about for Poutine
Go hopping for Montreal’s most famous dish. From McDonald’s and homey little diners at one end to fancy joints serving up high-end lobster poutine at the other. Get the inside scoop on the best places at the Montreal Poutine blog.
18. Eat some Canned Duck
Say bye-bye to arteries and sample some crazy, fat, traditional Quebecoise food at Le Pied du Couchon. Run by Martin Picard, it’s one of the city’s finest eateries and home of duck in a can. Try their cabane a sucre too. Thanks to Here be Dragons for that heart-stopping tip.
19. Walk the Ports ‘n’ All
Take a wander through the Old Port district with a self-guided walking tour stepping back through five generations of Montreal life. There’s skating, exhibitions and outdoor shows year round too.
20. Stop to smell the Flowers
Take some time out to enjoy the Botanical Gardens with some 30 themed gardens, including a Japanese Garden and tea room. Go in September or October and enjoy the beautiful lantern festival there.
21. See the Light at Notre Dame
Who needs Paris when you’ve got Notre Dame here too? It’s an amazing gothic confection of a building, inside and out. And as if that weren’t enough, an impressive multimedia, sound and light extravaganza brings the place to life several evenings a week.
22. Have some Serious Coffee and Bagels
Head to Cafe Olimpico for amazing coffee and Fairmount bagels, a true Montreal tradition where you might even spot members of The Arcade Fire brooding over an Iced Latte while they contemplate their next mournful outpouring.
23. Savour a slice of Little Italy
Italians make up the city’s largest ethnic group and you can savour a taste of the old country yourself in this delicious district of churches, frescos, shops, food markets and restaurants that’ll make you say Mamma Mia. A favourite haunt of Charlotte from British Travel PR specialists ZFL.
24. Go Boho in Mile-End
Strut your funky hipster stuff down to Mile-End, a hip, young suburb packed with buzzy coffee and bagel shops, record shops, bookshops, furniture stores and boutiques. In recent years it’s acquired legendary status as the epicentre of the Canadian Indie Music ouevre. It sure looks way cooler than London’s Mile End! Get something tasty down yer gullet at La Montee de Lait and sample some of their fine wines.
25. Have a Bachelor Party
Montreal’s a big mecca for bachelor parties, popular with revellers popping up from the Big Apple, with clubs, casinos and strippers galore… if you like that sort of thing.
26. Take a Train ride to Gaspe about
Once you’re done with the city, why stop your adventure there? Montreal is nestled sweetly among some of the most beautiful rail routes in North America. Take the overnight train to the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula and shuttle past the St Lawrence River, through the Matapédia Valley and then around to Chaleur Bay, officially one of the most beautiful bays in the world.
27. Stock up on local delicacies
Try the smoked meat at Schwartz’s, lobster rolls at the Lobster Shack, and the Marche des Saveurs shop, which stocks all the best local goodies for foodies.
And finally, before you visit don’t forget to…
28. Check out all of the above mentioned Blogs and People
Without them this post would be nothing but a bunch of ill-conceived maple syrup puns.
Special thanks to: @Banff_Squirrel @lintably @Ayngelina @inspiredtrain @CharlottewZFL @nomadicchick @viewfromalake @nctaylor
Gotta a tip of your own? Share it below.
I received so many fantastic additional tips on Le Bonne Province in the comments below that I’ve decided to cheekily revise the post a little, taking me up to a grand total of 45 tips. I’ve bolded the new entries below to make it easier to share them with you all.