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Top 10 alternative Montreal attractions


The best of Montreal's thriving urban culture, from city surfing to fringe festivals and a roller derby


o guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 September 2010 10.21 BST


1. Surf the St Lawrence


Surfing is not something you'd typically associate with a city that's a couple of hundred miles from the sea, but the St Lawrence River has a standing wave that's ripe for action. It's known as the Habitat wave because it is right near the distinctive, Lego-like apartment complex, Habitat 67, and you can learn to master it with lessons from Imagine Surfboards (imaginesurfboards.com), which claims to be the world's largest river-surfing school. A one-day course costs C$99. More experienced surfers can hire their own boards.


2. Cheer on the roller girls


Ice hockey is the number one sport in Montreal, but for something a little different, try the Roller Derby. The girls's team has gathered quite a following, with 800 people attending each game and tickets selling out fast. If this inspires you, hire some rollerblades from Ça Roule (caroulemontreal.com) and go for a spin around the Formula One Track. Or for purchases, check out the new skate shop, Neon Skates (twitter.com/neonskatesMTL), at the back of well-loved, second-hand store Local 23 (23 Rue Bernard Ouest).


3. Catch a gig


Yes, Arcade Fire are based in Montreal, but they aren't the only ones. The city is renowned for its indie/alternative scene, with Casa de Popolo, La Sala Rosa and Divan Orange being good places to catch new talent. There are plenty of music events year-round, including Osheaga Festival (Aug), Pop Montreal (Sept) and M for Montreal (Nov). If you're brave, try Igloofest (Jan), which sees participants dressing up in retro ski suits and dancing around outdoor ice bars in bracing temperatures of -10C and below.


4. Feel the beat of the Tam Tams


Every Sunday, a crowd of drummers gathers at the foot of Parc Mont Royal for a lively, improvised session. It attracts musicians of all ages, plus picnickers or those who fancy dancing. If you'd rather be a participant than a spectator, Kosa Music (kosamusic.com) can help you brush up your skills via percussion workshops and private lessons.


5. Look beyond the poutine


There is more to Montreal food than the famous poutine, the city's beloved fast-food dish of chips, gravy and cheese curd. This year has seen a boom in new restaurants, including Kitchen Galerie Poisson (399 Notre-Dame Ouest) with its unpretentious and affordable oyster bar, and Brasserie T (1425 Rue Jeanne Mance), an offshoot of the city's most critically acclaimed restaurant Toqué, but without the waiting lists. In the warmer months, you can also try a lobster roll from Muvbox, a pop-up restaurant in the Old Port.


6. Go vintage


Has Montreal got more vintage clothes shops (aka friperie) than any other city? It can seem like it at times. You can find a good concentration of them by wandering up Boulevard St Laurent to Mile End. Friperie Saint Laurent (3976) is a classic, with a good collection of bags, T-shirts and leather jackets, while modern boutiques Preloved (4832 St Laurent) and General 54 (54 St Viateur Ouest) stock fresh designs from recycled fabrics.


7. Hop over to Ho-Ma


Now that the Plateau neighbourhood's hipness has, well, plateaued and hipster hangout Mile End up and came long ago, what is the next neighbourhood to watch out for? Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in the city's east is hotly tipped and has even got a silly nickname to prove it: Ho-Ma. Maisonneuve was once a separate town (and a successful industrial one at that), then it fell into bankruptcy and, 100 years on, it remains one of the poorest neighbourhoods in town. Following an influx of students, artists and immigrants, its fortunes are tipped to change once again. It's early days yet, but talked-about hotspots include Restaurant Cabotins (restaurantcabotins.wordpress.com) and Sata Sushi (satasushi.com).


8. Get on your bike for coffee and a haircut


Montreal is a wonderful city for cycling, and as a tourist you can easily devise your own city tour on a Bixi public bike (the bikes that London has just imported for its city cycle scheme; bixi.com/home, C$5/£3 a day). Look out for the city's most unusual, hybrid bike stores as you go. Have a coffee at Café Vélo Québec (1251 Rachel Est), then pop into its adjoining shop for a range of route maps and accessories. In Mile End, Brakeless (5390 Avenue du Parc) stocks streetwear and occasionally throws happening barbecues. There's also the superbly named Bikurious (1757 Rue Amherst), a gay bike shop that does an interesting sideline in "lesbian haircuts".


9. Attend a fringe festival


If you miss one festival in Montreal, rest assured you'll catch another one (or three) the following week. The big hitters, such as the Jazz Festival (June/July) and the Just For Laughs comedy festival (July), have thrown up fringe events and gigs throughout the year. The city's official St Ambroise Fringe Festival (June) is a performing arts showcase that chooses its participants by lottery. Cafe noticeboards are a good way to find out about the more alternative festivals and obscure tie-in events.


10. Book a quirky bed


Auberge Alternative


Situated in a converted 1875 warehouse, Auberge Alternative describes itself as a "boutique hostel". "Bohemian" may be a better word, but it's certainly been designed with care. Dorms and private rooms come with salvaged furniture, handmade beds and a partially organic breakfast. There is also an annual artist-in-residence programme, a small workshop is available on request and, in true Montreal style, instruments are welcome. Alternatively, try cinema-themed B&B Absolument Montréal, whose decor includes old movie posters and reclaimed cinema seats. Your options for the night include the Bollywood room or Cinecittà, a homage to Italian cinema.


Auberge Alternative: auberge-alternative.qc.ca. Dorms £15, private room £46.

Absolument Montreal: absolumentmontreal.com. Doubles from £67.



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C'est quand même amusant de penser que des noms comme le Plateau, le Mile-End ou maintenant Ho-Ma deviennent connus ailleurs...


Bien sûr, pas très connus, pas connus par tout le monde, mais tout de même un peu connu, par une certaine faune néo-granole altermondialo-p'tit joint branché...


Je l'aime bien, au fond, cette faune-là (Heureusement, parce que je serais malheureux à l'UQAM !)


:rotfl: Yeah! En effet!

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