Plan a trip to captivating Quebec

Travel

June 28, 2024

View of Montreal from Mount Royal

For an international getaway with historic venues, outdoor diversions and a French-Canadian flair, visit Montreal and the neighboring Eastern Townships.

by Michael J. Solender

Montreal, Quebec, stands out in North America for its exceptional diversity, vibrant arts scene and pedestrian-friendly layout. Known as “La Métropole” by locals, Montreal shines as the cultural and culinary hub of French Canada.

This cool-weather city is a hot destination year round with its innovative music scene, alternative theater, elaborate visual and performing arts in jewel-box venues, and an international culinary landscape offering a masala of global flavors.

Tack on a few extra days to your visit and journey east by car to the storybook villages of Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Nine distinct territories comprise this region 60 miles from the city, which calls to outdoor enthusiasts and small-town explorers. Golf, cycling, boating, fishing and seasonal skiing are on tap here, alongside historical architecture, traditional crafts, unique artisanal shops and Nordic spas. There’s a burgeoning farm-to-table dining emphasis afoot, where Quebec’s top chefs work their magic with the region’s bounty.

Here’s our take on enjoying a blend of urban excitement and rural charm in the North Country.

MONTREAL

STAY: Honeyrose Hotel is a four-star property that opened in May 2023. Part of the Marriott Tribute Portfolio of small, independently operated boutique hotels, the Honeyrose blends dashing art deco style, contemporary amenities and comfort in the center of Montreal’s arts and cultural district, the Quartier des Spectacles. Laid-back chic is the vibe, with an abundance of fresh roses blooming in Honeyrose’s public space. The hotel’s Commodore restaurant offers French bistro classics and a serious wine selection. A nightcap at the 5th floor Muze Lounge & Terrasse comes with an overlook of the buzzy cityscape below.

EXPLORE: Montreal is a city of distinct neighborhoods, each with a backstory. Like a beaded necklace, communities are strung together side by side — collectively, they combine to make a grand mosaic.

Any newcomer should begin in Old Montreal to understand the city’s unique origins. Montreal was founded here in the mid-17th century by French settlers as a missionary outpost. The accompanying economic development that came with the fur trade attracted the British, who in 1763 seized control of the growing city along the St. Lawrence River. 

Old Montreal, Honeyrose Hotel, Notre Dame Basilica. Photographs courtesy Tourisme Montréal.

Several city squares in Old Montreal — Place Royale, Place Jacques-Cartier and Place d’Armes — along with the Champ-de-Mars public park, are historic touchstones surrounded by significant architectural wonders like the Marche Bonsecours, the domed public market. At Basilique Notre Dame de Montréal, an evening light show, AURA, is an eye-popping way to experience the stunning neo-Gothic architecture.  

Old Montreal Walking Tour provides a splendid introduction to the history of Old Montreal and the nearby Old Port. The free tours offer orientation and references for further exploration. Cobblestone streets fronted by bistros and specialty shops make the lively area a popular tourist destination. 

Seek out Montreal’s famed Underground City (La Ville Souterraine), the 21-mile subterranean retail, dining and entertainment-laden network of tunnels encompassing the heart of the city. Two favored destinations here are Belgian chocolatier Jeff de Bruges and the beloved year-round skating rink Atrium Le 1000. Watch as aspiring hockey stars and figure skaters young and old hit the ice in delicate harmony.

Old Montreal

While underground, access Montreal’s easy-to-navigate Metro and head to Jean-Talon Market in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood for fresh fruit, specialty cheeses, artisan charcuterie, French pastries and stuffed crepes.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, founded in 1860, is one of North America’s oldest and largest museums. The permanent collection dazzles with nearly 47,000 indigenous and international holdings. From contemporary works by Sam Francis, Jim Dine and Kehinde Wiley to impressionists Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne, Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet, the breadth and depth of MMFA’s collection rivals any global institution.

No visit to Montreal is complete without a visit to the city’s inspirational namesake, Mount Royal, and its Fredrick Law Olmsted-designed Mount Royal Park. At nearly 500 acres, this urban greenspace is a favorite recreational venue for families, city dwellers and visitors alike with cycling, running trails, bird-watching, boating, winter skating and sledding, and skyline views. 

St-Viateur Bagel Shop, Schwartz’s Deli, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Photographs courtesy Tourisme Montréal.

DINE: For visitors to Montreal, the toughest daily decisions are where, when and what to eat among the city’s seemingly endless, globally inspired offerings. 

The least controversial choice revolves around the bagel — not just any bagel, but a Montreal bagel. The distinction is significant, as true Montreal bagels (crunchy on the outside, chewy inside with a hint of sweetness) must be made by hand, given a quick boil in honey-infused water, and baked in a wood-burning oven. St-Viateur Bagel Shop perfected the art in 1957 and is the city’s gold standard. 

Montreal smoked meat is the next undisputed must-have while visiting here, and Schwartz’s Deli is a favorite haunt. Revered for its piled-high sandwiches, Schwartz’s made smoked meat — spiced, marinated, smoked and steamed brisket — a local classic more than 90 years ago. 

Chinatown’s Kim Fung is a tasty and fun introduction to Cantonese and Sichuan specialties, and dim sum is served all day long. 

Old Montreal calls with Pincette, a lobster bar with a nuanced menu, Tunisian influences, and stunning execution and service. Nearby, Maggie Oakes pours a mean cocktail, boasts a deep wine list, and rocks the grill with dry-aged steaks, fresh seafood and seasonal veggies served with a creative touch. 

After dinner, head to the Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill near the campus of McGill University for an intimate session of the city’s best live jazz.

EASTERN TOWNSHIPS

Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac and L’Espace. Photographs courtesy Tourisme Cantons-de-l’Est.

After a few days in the city, continue your trip at a more relaxed pace with a visit to the province’s Eastern Townships, about an hour’s drive from Montreal. 

Bromont is a charming small town of about 8,000 that shines with English architecture and French flair. A grand entrée to the Eastern Townships, Bromont hosts a noted Vieux-Village (old village) with a main street filled with art galleries, boutiques, bistros and shops. There’s a fun and quirky Musee du Chocolat (chocolate museum) with a confectionery, boutique and restaurant (the chocolate waffles are magnifique) to satisfy one’s sweet tooth.

Bromont’s Velodrome and multisports facility draws cyclists, BMX enthusiasts and mountain bikers from across the globe. 

Some of the best golf in Quebec is found in the Eastern Townships. Two courses to consider are the Golf Club Parcours du Vieux-Village (The Old Village Path) and the course at Domaine Chateau-Bromont, with its spectacular mountain views and dense, tree-lined layout.  

This is maple-syrup country, and there is no finer introduction to the traditional production method than at the rustic Cabane du Pic Bois. This multigenerational family-owned and -operated “sugar shack” hand-taps more than 1,000 maple trees in season, boiling the sap in an evaporator and concentrating the precious amber liquid into award-winning syrup. Owner Ande Pollender also makes a prized small-batch maple vinegar. 

There’s a winery, Vignoble du Picbois, where the vineyards yield award-winning wines such as Syrah, sparkling rose and its Cuvee Seduction, an Alsace-style wine made from pinot gris, Geisenheim, Cayuga and muscat. 

Stay at the well-appointed Hotel Chateau Bromont, situated at the base of Mt. Brome, home to one of the largest ski resorts in Quebec. Popular with families, hotel amenities include a full-service spa, thermal pools, fitness center and easy access to nearby Parc des Sommets, with miles of trails for horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking in the warmer months.   

Fans of New York Times-bestselling Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny will thrill at the opportunity to visit a local historical landmark and that’s the inspiration for the fictional monastery in her novels, the Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac. Tours of the monastery, founded in 1912, are available year round, and services (many accompanied by Gregorian chant) are open to the public.

Dining venues include Chardo in Bromont, with an emphasis on seafood and foraged mushrooms, berries and herbs. At L’Espace Old Mill in nearby Stanbridge East, acclaimed organic-farming advocate Jean-Martin Fortier has created a special restaurant and homage to sustainable farming. Each meal here comes with a story, and most of the food is grown within steps of the dining room. 

Getting there: American Airlines offers nonstop service from Charlotte to Montreal-Trudeau International Airport, with a flight time of 2 hours, 25 minutes.  SP

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