Now Reading
7 amazing must do’s in Montreal, Canada – where the blaze of fall is like no other

7 amazing must do’s in Montreal, Canada – where the blaze of fall is like no other

Here's one for your travel bucket list: fall foliage in Montreal

One year ago, gay actor-director extraordinaire Xavier Dolan shot Adele’s Hello video just outside his native Montreal.

The world watched transfixed as our still-heartbroken heroine, wrapped in faux-fur, emoted amid rolling hills, epic maples and twirling leaves.

The clip was a love letter to Canadian autumn. And yet, almost paradoxically, it was filmed in black and white. Don’t get me started.

montreal_autumn_skyline
An autumn scene from the Mount, photographed by Paul Fleming

Similarly, standing atop Montreal’s imposing Mount Royal in fall, exploring the picturesque Parc du Mont-Royal thereon, is your chance to channel your inner-Adele in rich, explosive technicolor.

montreal_leaves
Autumn foliage in Montreal photographed by Garry Norris

Yes, the surrounding countryside provides the perfect playground for foliage followers. But the city – home to 1.65 million, the largest in the Quebec province and the second-largest French-speaking city worldwide after Paris – is the natural start to such an adventure.

montreal_sunset
Vieux-Montréal photographed by Paul Fleming

And while the impossibly ornate maple trees lining the parks and cobblestone streets are unmissable, there’s so much that’s uniquely beautiful and unforgettable about Montreal to enjoy all year round. Here, we count down five such examples…

montreal_skyline_pic
Vieux-Port de Montréal shot by M Smiljanic

1 The split skyline

Swathes of it are ultramodern – in fact, Downtown feels like NYC – but curiously, the city has approved no building above 200m. (Bar the 51-storey office block 1000 de La Gauchetière at 205m).

Old and new in #Montreal #mtlmoments #travel #canada @montreal #quebec

A photo posted by Jamie Tabberer (@jamietabberer) on

As such, while the mini skyscrapers impress, but they don’t overpower the abundance of charming, 18th/19th century British and French architecture. In fact, the two sit side-by-side in perfect harmony.

The city’s most attractive buildings are undoubtedly City Hall, built 1878, the Notre Dame-Basilica, built 1830, and the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral, built 1894 [above].

montreal_habitat_67

2 The incredible Habitat 67

From old to modern to something decidedly in between, this building block-like structure is undoubtedly my favourite piece of architecture ever. Pictures just don’t do it justice. (As my below Instagram effort proves)

It’s not a tourist attraction per se – it’s a residential tower block that’s kind of toppled over; people actually live here – and yet I was drawn to it.

Wandering through Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie’s 1967 masterpiece (Marina Bay Sands in Singapore a close second) is like entering a giant, 10-storey game of Tetris. I felt like the gay Alice in Wonderland.

 

3 The fantastic abandoned buildings

Even Montreal’s dilapidated pockets have an allure. My favorite forgotten structure was the grandiose Canadian Malting Silos. It’s a transfixing sight straight out of a sci-fi movie, and an icon of the (mostly illegal) urban exploration, or ‘urbex’, scene.

bota_bota
Photo copyright of Bota Bots

Rather than risking arrest, injury or worse, I’d recommend studying it from the comfort of a Jacuzzi in the nearby Bota Bota, spa-sur-l’eau – a 170-foot floating spa [above] permanently docked on the St. Lawrence River.

The Scandinavian-style baths are exquisite, and there’s nothing quite like warming yourself in an outdoor thermal pool as the temperature drops of an evening, with the old factory, the wider city and the Port of Montreal as your backdrop. A trip highlight.

montreal_graffiti
A Monty mural, photographed by André Quenneville

3 The explosive street art

Upping Montreal’s hip factor and a reflection of its dynamic creative scene is the visually resplendent street art. It’s absolutely everywhere.

montreal_chicken

This is thanks in in part to the much-loved graffiti festival Under Pressure, which recently celebrated its 20-year anniversary.

We enjoyed an informative tour of the city’s achingly cool public art scene with tour guide and local gay guy Danny Pavlopoulos, co-founder of Spade and Palacio tours, which offers a mural tour.

Picture: Wiki
Picture: Wiki

4 Everything on display at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts

Tied with the Art Institute of Chicago, this is the most impressive gallery I’ve ever visited. Monet, Picasso and Kandinsky are all represented among its  40,000 works.

mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) Leather Crotch, 1980, Gelatin silver print. Promised gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

Until 22 January 2017, visitors to the museum can experience the sexy Focus: Perfection exhibit, dedicated iconic queer photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

The city during Pride, which next takes place from 10-20 August 2017 (photo by Leblanc, Jean-François)
The city during Pride, which next takes place from 10-20 August 2017 (photo by Leblanc, Jean-François)

5 The Gay Village, generally

The staggering size of Montreal’s Gay Village (a length of 2km) makes it something of an LGBTI utopia. From barbershops to cafes to probably the only queer bicycle repair shop in the world (BikuriousMontreal.com), every window in the district is adorned with rainbow flags. Tourisme Montréal has a blog dedicated its thriving LGBTI scene, which you can access here.

Adding to the community vibe is 32-year-old gay mag Fugues. We wandered into their offices literally off the street (you can’t miss the ’50 Cakes of Gay’ mural by French queer artist Kashink on one of the building’s outside walls – a homage to gay marriage, which Quebec legalized way back in 2004) and they happily gave us bar tips.

For nights out, check out the rooftop terrace of Club Unity, known for its zany themed nights. (Netflix series Stranger Things is the inspiration for its Halloween blowout this Saturday). Also, don’t miss the riotous drag shows at Cabaret Mado. The night of our visit, a Shania Twain impersonator outperformed the famous Canadian herself. For a non-gay drinking option, locals are raving about trendy cocktail bar The Lab.

Doré, concombre libanais, tournesol, plante côtière 📸 @patdesrochers

A photo posted by Les 400 Coups (@les400coupsmtl) on

Where to eat

You have every option when it comes to eating in the city – Montreal has the highest number of restaurants per head in Canada (second only to NYC in North America). After a brisk morning spent exploring, we opted for something classic, warming ourselves at the charming Restaurant Les 400 Coups. It really stood out. It’s a chic bistro complete with sommelier, strongly committed to locally-sourced ingredients. The above dainty dish is walleye with Lebanese cucumber, sunflower as well as coastal plant.

Vieux-Montréal by David Gunther
Vieux-Montréal by David Gunther

Follow your meal with a walk around the impossibly quaint streets of the once-walled Old Montreal [above]. Originally a 17th century French settlement before becoming a fortified town the following century, it has all the romance and style of Paris, with many structures dating back to the 1600s.

It’s a world away from, for example, the hipster haven that is Mile End. Put aside a few hours to browse the many art galleries and upscale boutique stores in the area.

A suite at Hôtel Le Germain (photo from legermainhotels.com)
A suite at Hôtel Le Germain (photo from legermainhotels.com)

Where to stay

Hôtel Le Germain Montreal is an immensely smart, modern four star, effortlessly walking the line between boutique and business. My cool, comfortable room was the sedate, minimalist bachelor pad I’ve never had.

View from my room at Hotel Le Germain #Montreal @Montreal #Quebec #Canada

A photo posted by Jamie Tabberer (@jamietabberer) on

It was on the 14th floor, offering an impressive view of the bustling Avenue du Président-Kennedy that once again, reminded me of NYC.

It’s ideally located in the Downtown business district, and a nine-minute walk from Montreal Central Station. It’s also a short walk from the foot of the Mount, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Furthermore, service was exceptional.

With thanks to Destination Canada, Destination Québec, Tourisme Montréal, and Québec City Tourism.