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Vacation Montreal

Tourist Guide

The Cultural Metropolis
European Ambience in a Contemporary Setting

The ornate altar and high, vaulted ceilings of Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal
Notre-Dame Basilica


For a taste of France, hoof it down to Old Montréal for a horse-drawn carriage ride and stop your clop at Resto-Café Apropos, on the corner of Notre Dame and St. Claude, for croissants or a complete breakfast. You might also consider an afternoon or evening performance at the Centaur Theatre, Montréal's largest English-language theatre company. Located in the historic Old Stock Exchange Building, the Centaur features Canadian and international drama with English translations of the famed Québécois playwright, Michel Tremblay, as well as plays by Edward Albee, David Mamet and many others. Also keep in mind that in the spring, Cirque du Soleil often launches its new shows here in Montréal's Old Port.

The Pointe-a-Calliere museum explores the archaeological history of Montreal

Just around the corner from the Centaur Theatre on Notre-Dame St. is Montréal's famous Notre Dame Basilica. Before you enter, take a moment on the square, Place d'Armes, to see the city's historic French-British dichotomy cast in stone. The basilica once stood for the Catholic, sectarian, French community, while across the square, past the statue of Maisonneuve in the center, the Bank of Montréal represented the Protestant English-speakers, and once the city's dominant economic force. But times have changed; today's French-Canadian business leaders control the show.

Back to the basilica, whose interior is known for its blue hues. Opened in 1829 as a much starker stone edifice, it was remodeled in the latter 1800s with wood to soften it. Blue lighting cools the altar, while stained glass windows along the nave portray both religious scenes (above) and local history (below, by special dispensation from the Vatican). These days the organ's 7,000 pipes play at masses and weddings for Québec's famous, including Céline Dion and Mario Lemieux. During the week the space frequently doubles as a concert venue, and Tuesday through Saturday evenings you can witness an impressive light show that is projected directly onto the basilica.

Rue Notre-Dame continues on to Place Jacques Cartier and slopes toward the St. Lawrence, which is filled day and night with visitors and locals, acrobats and camera-toting tourists looking for that perfect backdrop, of which there are many. If the line's not too long, stop for crèpes at Le Jardin Nelson, a café with an air of that other New France, New Orleans. Just east on Rue Saint-Paul is the silver-domed Marché Bonsecours, a long, elaborate former public market that now houses boutiques selling upscale works by Québec artists and craftspeople, from umbrellas to clothing to handmade paper.

Next door is the barrel-vaulted Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours (1655). Over the years, it's become known as the sailors' chapel, where merchant marines would be blessed or eulogized; note the model ships suspended from the high ceiling. During a 1998 restoration, workers uncovered a series of atmospheric ceiling murals of the life of Mary under the whitewash.

Aix Cuisine du Terroir restaurant features regional specialties unique to Montreal
Aix Cuisine du Terroir

Heading back along Avenue de la Commune, you'll come to the museum Pointe-à-Callière and a unique opportunity to explore the city's archaeological history. On the site of the city's first house, you can walk underground on the original ramparts and foundations. There's also a multimedia show of the city's history.

Tonight, treat yourself to dinner amid the soft lighting of the Aix Cuisine du Terroir, located in the Hotel Place d'Armes. This restaurant features regional specialties, cutting edge designs and treats such as foie gras terrine and house-smoked salmon. Need a nightcap? Wander back to Place Jacques Cartier for a street performance or two and slip into Java U, which serves slick drinks by night and coffee by day.

On your way back to the hotel, take St. Paul St. West and stop in at Olive et Gourmando, a breakfast and lunch place/bakery/gourmet shop. Even if you order nothing else (the sandwiches are particularly innovative), the Valhrona chocolate brioche is perhaps our favorite snack in town; so dense with chocolate yet perfectly light, tender and served generously enough to be shared.

Continue to Day 3


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* Images: Notre-Dame Basilica: © Tourisme Montréal, Stéphan Poulin; Pointe-à-Callière Photo: Roderick Chen

(Updated: 06/07/11 NW)

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