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No North American City

Offers Its Style & Ambiance

By Ray Chatelin

Photos By Toshi


No city in North America offers the style, character, or ambiance that you find in Montreal. And no city generates as many questions about its accessibility.


Montreal is a place in which history is taken seriously and where today the city's most picturesque parts date from its origins. Montreal was first discovered by the Europeans when Jacques Cartier arrived in 1535 and the first settlement was established by Samuel Champlain in 1611, making the city one of the oldest in the western hemisphere.


It’s where churches from the 17th and 18th Centuries and restaurants housed in buildings built in the early 1700s are commonplace. Mark Twain once said you couldn't throw a brick without hitting a church in Montreal. He was right. There are 450 on the island of Montreal, more than in Rome. Notre Dame Basilica, just off the old quarter on Place d'Armes is the most spectacular with its Rose stained glass windows and gold ornamentations.


With two-thirds of the nearly two million population in the greater Montreal region speaking French, the city is French not just in spirit but in everything it does.


For here is a culture not to be found anywhere else in North America. Latin in temperament, boldly proud, the French have carved a small North American island from a vast prairie of English speaking Canadians and Americans. It's an inheritance of history that French Canada hangs on to with fierce pride.


Frankly, there isn't a city on the continent - sorry, New York and San Francisco - more taken by its own unique character. Both cosmopolitan and yet intensely French, it's a place that's extremely fashion conscious, has an old town that dates from the late 1600s, and is a city that’s determined to enjoy life.


So here, you find incredible restaurants, a rich cultural collection of theatre in several languages, a great symphony orchestra, opera, ballet, jazz, chamber music, a major world film festival, and a series of quarters - neighborhoods with their own charm.


Start with a sampling of exciting new trends and tasty traditions in Old Montréal before trying an exotic treat on the bustling streets of Chinatown. From there, you'll discover the smorgasbord of shops and eateries along Saint- Laurent Boulevard and enjoy a few local favorites like poutine, bagels and smoked meat.


The official language is French, though in Montreal English will get you anything you want. Wherever you go, you'll be spoken to first in French, all signs, by law, are in French, and there's only one daily English-language newspaper, the Montreal Gazette.


But that's no real problem. Once you reply in English, that's the language you'll be dealt in. Montrealers today speak a total of 35 different languages, reflecting the diverse heritage of peoples who have immigrated to the area.


The metropolitan region is the second largest in Canada, behind Toronto and ahead of Vancouver. Just 300 air miles (480 kilometers) from New York, its climate is as volatile as its politics which, to English-speaking Canada, is often unfathomable.


In winter, temperatures can drop to -27 F (-33 C), matching what you'd get in mid-winter Minnesota - and rising to 97 F (36 C) in mid-summer, which is about equal to downtown Manhattan.


Some 50 different airlines serve the city with inter-North America flights into and from Montreal-Trudeau Airport, the city’s primary arrival point. Montreal is also linked by Amtrak from New York. Three major expressway lead into the city from the U.S. - Route 91 to Boston, Route 87 to New York, and Route 89 to Vermont.


Getting around is easy although it often feels as though you've been deposited in the middle of a foreign country with French being spoken everywhere. All of the streets are laid out in grid fashion, much like in New York.


It's tough to get lost. The major thoroughfares such as Sherbrooke, Rene Levesque, Maisonneuve, and St. Catherine go east and west and are parallel to the St. Lawrence River, while the small, intimate side-streets with their restaurants and boutiques are north and south and are perpendicular to the river.


The subway system is one of the best in North America with four lines - all of which interconnect - and 68 different stops. Le Metro, as it's called in French, runs from about 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily. You can easily spot them, their large square signs with a white arrow on a blue background pointing downwards to the entrance.


The metro stations are also mini art galleries with the city having one of the gorgeous systems in the world. A visit to the metro is highly recommended and should be on your must-see list.


The downtown area is laced with underground shopping corridors, 30 km (20 miles) worth. It's possible - sometimes necessary in the winter - to spend the entire day walking the "underground city" that is linked to major above-ground stores. Toronto has the same concept, but without the French style.


Downtown is where you find the great boutiques, museums, and department stores. Sherbrooke is Montreal's Fifth Ave with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Holt Renfrew (an exclusive department store), the Museum of Fine Arts, and rows of art galleries, and restaurants that not only line Sherbrooke but radiate out into the side streets.


Crescent, MacKay and Bishop Streets are where you'll find the trendiest bars, nightclubs, restaurants and the Hotel de la Montagne (Hotel at the Mountain) with its super-deluxe category baroque-styled facilities.


But it's the old town that's the most fascinating. There's only two other cities in North America with anything like it - Quebec City and New Orleans. This is where the world’s second largest French city had its start. The old stone buildings have been renovated since the early 1960s into a variety of more contemporary uses such as restaurants and small shops and clubs, galleries, and private residences.


Montreal is unique in that it offers deluxe and expensive category hotels in both North American and Continental style, although the downtown area is also awash with more modest inns and hotels. The finest hotels include The Ritz Carlton, W Hotel, Le Centre Sheraton, Sofitel, Four Seasons, La Meridien, Ramada Renaissance, and the Queen Elizabeth – all of which fall into the kind of international standard familiar around the world. But there's another style, uniquely French that adds to the overall atmosphere.


La Citadelle, and Hotel de la Montaigne are two European style hotels, with 181 and 132 rooms respectively, that offer personalized service in more human dimensions than the larger, though exceptionally well appointed, international hotels. The Hotel Shangri-La is an exquisitely decorated hotel in the downtown area that is often overlooked, but that provides exceptional service.


Montreal is a place unique to North America and a place that will take you to Europe without ever leaving the continent. For more information check out the website at http://www.tourisme-montreal.org .




originaly posted by habfanman, SSC

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Moai, il voulait probablement parlait de l'île qui fait 1,8 millions je crois. Je ne suis pas d'accord que Montréal est "French" comme il dit. Même si elle a bien sûr un héritage et une langue en commun, il oublie de mentionner qu'il s'agit d'une culture singulière et très différente de la France.

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... and the first settlement was established by Samuel Champlain in 1611, making the city one of the oldest in the western hemisphere.


Hé ben! Moi qui pensait que Montréal avait été fondée en 1642 par Paul de Maisonneuve... va falloir que je relise mes notes d'histoire du secondaire! :)

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Hé ben! Moi qui pensait que Montréal avait été fondée en 1642 par Paul de Maisonneuve... va falloir que je relise mes notes d'histoire du secondaire! :)


Non non, pas besoin de réviser : Montréal a bel et bien été fondée en 1642 par de Maisonneuve.

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Ouararon : peut-être que pour un États-Unien (il faudrait connaître son âge) ces rues-là lui ont offert tout ce qu'il y a de plus trendy !! Il n'a certainement pas été invité par Tourisme-Montréal. Si toutefois c'étais le cas, ou alors ils n'ont pas nécéssairement bien fait le boulot ou alors on lui a montré ce qu'il voulait bien voir.

Les hôtels cités sont parfois discutables. J'aurais préféré lire les noms de quelques hôtels-boutiques.

Ce n'est pas un article très rigoureux (beaucoup d'inexactitudes et de drôles d'impressions) mais en effet c'est toujours agréable de lire des commentaires agréables à propos de notre ville. C'est bon à prendre.

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Je préfère des fois lire des textes un peu hasardeux que certains autres textes qui "fittent" trop bien le moule de ce qu'il faut voir et faire en ville.

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