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A Guide to Montreal, Quebec

Kena from Quebec

A insider's guide to Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

When tourists visit Montreal, they generally stick to the south end of the city: the Old Port, the very hip Plateau area, the eclectic Ste-Catherine Street and the Mont-Royal. These are excellent places to see, but a visit to Montreal is not complete without a glimpse of the non-touristy Montreal, the one where people actually live, shop, work, and go to school. And here are a few charming neighborhoods that fit the bill.

Cote-des-Neiges

This area, located around the metro station of the same name on the blue line, is well known for its Oratoire St-Joseph, a gorgeous 20th century basilica which is an important pilgrimage place for sick or handicapped people. It's also home to Universite de Montreal, one of the two French-speaking universities of the city and a good place for architecture enthusiasts, as well as the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery, where you can enjoy the non-touristy half of Mont-Royal.

But most of all, Cote-des-Neiges is known for its incredible cultural diversity. People from all over the world cohabit peacefully here, and it's the very best place for authentic food from all over the world. A stroll down this "Snowy Slope", preferably late in the afternoon on any weekday, will let you enjoy the fun and cheap eateries, the trendy boutiques, the many cafes, and one of the best people-watching spots in Montreal.

If you're craving a coffee, avoid the mega-chains and go to the Brulerie St-Denis. It's a local chain of coffee shops with friendly sit-down service and excellent home-roasted coffee, as well as light meals and highly decadent desserts. You can linger there for hours, which makes them popular with students of the neighboring university.

There must be something like five or six good Vietnamese restaurants on Cote-des-Neiges alone. My favorite is in the basement on the corner of St-Kevin Street: they have fast service, an inexpensive menu, and a great family-style atmosphere. I can't remember how many times I stopped there for a hot Pho soup on my way back from grad school, a couple of years ago.

Locals buy their groceries at the fancy Exofruits, which as their name implies offers fruits and vegetables, but also a large selection of European goods. The best French bread can be found at Au Pain Dor, which also sells nice sandwiches at lunch time.

The trendy Zone sells all kinds of household objects with a modern twist: lots of high-end kitchen and tableware, a large selection of lamps, bathroom accessories, some small furniture, and a bunch of decorating stuff. It's a bit expensive, but if you like well-designed stuff or are looking for original gifts, it's the place to go.

Quartier International and Cite du Multimedia

McGill Street, from the Square Victoria subway station down to De La Commune Street, is possibly the best-kept secret of the Old Montreal. It's mainly a business district, with skyscrapers inhabited by finance people in the upper part, and a large concentration of software and multimedia companies in the lower part. But it's also a fantastic place to experience the different "layers" of Montreal history: you'll find architecture from the French regime next to brand-new glass-and-steel condo towers, with anything from brick warehouses sporting vintage advertisements to neo-roman columns in between.

You might want to pay a visit to the small Centre d'Histoire de Montral, a very nice museum about the city's history housed in an old fire station. The nearby Pointe-a-Calliere archaeology museum is one of the most reputed museums in the city, although I find it a bit too serious for my taste.

The best time to visit this area is on a week-day, preferably in the morning or around lunchtime when there's a lot of activity. Avoid week-ends, when it's totally dead.

From there, you can easily walk East on the very nice St-Paul Street, where you'll find several art galleries and which will lead you to the more touristy part of the Old Port.

The Pointe-a-Calliere museum houses a fantastic little bistro on its top level, which serves season-style food (i.e. whatever looked nice at the market that morning) at decent prices (about $20 for the table d'hote), and offers one of the best views of the area. But watch out: it's only open at lunchtime.

If you want to splurge (about $25 - $30 before wine, taxes and service at lunchtime, more in the evening), I'd recommend Boris Bistro, my personal favorite, or Cube, which also has a very good reputation.

On a nice day, you could do like the locals and buy a meal to go at Cartet (also recommended for breakfast) or Beniamino, and have a picnic by the Lachine canal, at the very end of McGill Street.

Quartier Latin

The area around the Berri-Uqam station, known as the Quartier Latin, is hardly an undiscovered neighborhood. But I still wanted to point out a couple of my favorite places which should delight Slow Travelers.

The Grande Bibliotheque - the result of a merger between the National Library and the Montreal Public Libraries - just opened its doors in June 2005 and it's been an unexpected success since then. They've barely been able to keep up with the hordes of Montrealers rushing in to register. Even if you're not a member, you can enjoy its many exhibitions and artworks, consult its huge selection of magazines and newspapers, or just take a walk around and revel in the atmosphere. Guided visits are offered in English or French.

Camellia Sinensis is a small tea shop with one of the best atmosphere per square foot ratios in the city. Don't expect scones and cream here, the owners went for a dark Russian boudoir vibe, and they only serve one thing: tea. Green, black or white, you'll find it here, and the staff will gladly explain the nuances between the dozens of varieties offered. Expect slow, unrushed service and comfy sofas. You can also buy your favorite variety at the shop next door.

Petite Patrie/Little Italy

Don't leave Montreal without visiting the Jean-Talon farmer's market, and the area around it known as Little Italy or Petite Patrie. That's where you'll be able to buy the very best food in Montreal. The easiest thing is to just go there and follow your stomach, but I can especially recommend the Fromagerie Hamel for their excellent selection of Quebec raw-milk cheeses and Le March des Saveurs du Quebec where you're sure to find a local delicacy for your favorite chef.

I'd also add a special mention for Epicerie Milano (6862 St-Laurent), which is not in the market itself, but it's worth walking a couple of block for their incredible selection of Italian food - you'll think you've been tele-transported to Milan.

Feeling hungry yet?

Resources

www.saint-joseph.org: Oratoire St-Joseph

www.umontreal.ca: Universite de Montreal (University of Montreal)

www.cimetierenddn.org: Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery

www.brulerie.com: Brulerie St-Denis

www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/chm/engl/chma.htm: Centre d'Histoire de Montral

www.pacmusee.qc.ca: Pointe-a-Calliere archaeology museum

www.borisbistro.com: Boris Bistro

www.restaurantcube.com: Cube

www.bnquebec.ca: Grande Bibliotheque

www.camellia-sinensis.com: Camellia Sinensis

www.marchespublics-mtl.com: Jean-Talon farmer's market

Get more information from the Wikitravel Montreal Travel Guide.

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