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Montréal, Quebec, Canada: Holding On To French Roots
Montréal is the most populous city in Quebec, a province of Canada. Quebec has the distinction of being the only province to have a largely French-speaking population with French as the official language. Next to Paris, Montréal is the second-largest French-speaking city in the entire world. Still, English is readily spoken, but travelling to Montréal will feel a bit like a getaway to France, with street signs in French and most conversations taking place in that language. Located just an hour’s drive from the U.S. border, it’s a perfect getaway when wanting to feel a world away from it all.
Á la Française
Montréal holds on to its French roots in other ways, as well. Rather than traditional chain hotels on every block, many affordable overnight accommodations are in historic homes that serve as bed and breakfasts and inns. The bed and breakfasts range in architectural styles, from Victorian mansions to upscale studio living. Never fear, though, because Montréal is a blend of old meeting new and affordable hotels boasting cutting edge technology can be found in every borough, like Hotel William Gray overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Montréal is divided into boroughs and neighbourhoods, each with its own distinctive taste and style. Interested in history? Then, Old Montréal, or Vieux-Montréal, is the best bet. Here, horse drawn buggies on cobblestone streets takes one on a getaway back in time. Montréal has long been the jewel in Quebec’s crown and today has over 50 National Historic Sites, more than any other city in Canada.
When it comes to culture, though, Montréal does not discriminate. In addition to French and English, Montréal has other boroughs welcoming diversity, each with its own set of signature hotels, museums, and restaurants. Chinatown, or La Quartier Chinois, has a host of authentic food markets, tea stores, and herbal shops and caters to tourists with a large pedestrian walkway. The Latin Quarter, or Quartier Latin, has more of a focus on fun and frivolity and is located near the Gay Village, popular with gays and lesbians. The Latin Quarter is known for theatre and art opportunities and has a huge selection of outdoor and boutique cafés. The Cinémathèque québécoise and Bibliotheque Nationale are cultural delights with dozens of movie, book, and media events. Montréal’s International District, or Quartier international (de Montreal), is a perfect blend of that old and new vibe and has an eclectic mix of dazzling skyscrapers and historic treasures, like the Palais Exhibition Centre.
If you’re looking for flash and excitement, head downtown to Centre-Ville. Centre-Ville is located in the largest borough of Montréal, Ville-Marie, and is situated right along the St. Lawrence River. Any hotel stay will give stunning views and the city design is one of the main reasons Montréal was labelled a UNESCO City of Design. This area is a beacon for those loving cultural and social events, especially different festivals. The largest jazz festival in the world, the Montréal International Jazz Festival, is held here each year in June and July and the largest comedy festival in the world, Just for Laughs, is held in July. Centre-Ville is also home to shopping malls, dozens of museums, and several universities, such as McGill University, Canada’s oldest and ranked as one of the top universities in the world. Downtown Montréal is also the gateway to Underground City, with over 30 kilometres of underground arcades and malls designed for walking, shopping, and eating.
Oh Lá Lá
Another popular Lawrence, besides the Saint Lawrence River, is Saint Lawrence Boulevard, or Boulevard Saint-Laurent. It’s popularly known as “The Main” because it serves as the main street of Montréal. The city’s most trendy shopping, eating, and viewing spots are located along its length, which runs over 11 kilometres across several boroughs. The city of Montréal is full of amazing sights, such as Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, one of the grandest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the world. Shoppers will want to check out Marché Bonsecours, or Bonsecours Market, which has many boutiques featuring Quebec-made creations of jewellery, furniture, and accessories, as well as open-air restaurants and revolving exhibits.
A Nod to Grandfather
No visit to Montréal would be complete without a nod to the mountain in the background. Montréal is actually named for Mont (Mount) Royal. This small mountain is located just west of downtown Montréal and is easily seen from various spots around the city. Mount Royal Park, or Parc du Mont-Royal, is one of the largest greenspaces in the city and was designed by famous architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Hiking to the top will allow sights of Mount Royal Cross, first placed on top in 1643. Today, this sight is an LED delight. Mount Royal also has a ski slope, cross country trails, hiking trails, and a sculpture garden. St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal, Canada’s largest church, is located on its slopes. If viewing churches, basilicas, and shrines is a hobby, Montréal will be a treat. It’s known as the “city of 100 steeples” and a visit here caused famed author Mark Twain to once remark that “you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window”.