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City Slicker: Winter in Montreal

 

They're used to long, hard winters in Montreal. In fact, the locals even celebrate the season with a special festival. It's just one reason to visit now, says Sarah Barrell

 

Sunday, 15 February 2009

 

 

Get your skates on: Montreal's Old Port is given over to ice skating during the long, hard winter months

 

Quays of the Old Port of Montréal, Paul Labelle Photographes

 

Get your skates on: Montreal's Old Port is given over to ice skating during the long, hard winter months

 

 

Why visit?

 

Montrealers, having made it to midwinter, congratulate themselves with the High Lights Festival (montrealenlumiere.com) an 11-day arts and culture event that this year celebrates its 10th anniversary with a gala line-up.

 

The city is famed for high-profile summer festivals – such as the Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs – but sub-zero temperatures and banks of snow don't bring life, cultural or otherwise, to a halt, unlike in the UK. From Thursday until 1 March exhibitions, shows, street parades, and concerts take place across the city, including an "all-nighter" on 28 February when cultural venues stay open for 24 hours.

 

If the thought of such blistering winter weather gives you cold feet, take comfort in Montreal's "underground city" a comprehensive 20-mile labyrinth of well-heated tunnels, malls and subway stations. And there are some truly great restaurants; a diverse and ever-changing ethnic population shapes Montreal's vibrant dining scene. The gourmet element of this month's festival will see more than 30 top chefs flown in from Paris and paired up with local restaurateurs to provide warming eats and winter treats.

 

Don't miss ...

 

Mont Royal (lemontroyal.qc.ca), the mountain around which the city is centred, doubles as an outdoor playground, come sun or snow. In the winter its lakes become skating rinks, its slopes toboggan runs and its wooded summit offers sparkling white panoramic views.

 

Notre Dame Basilica (basiliquenddm.org). In a city founded by the church, visitors are not short of historic places of worship to visit, but Montreal's most impressive holy site is this vast masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture which looms over the lovely cobbled streets of Old Montreal; just one of the stellar sights of the pretty old town.

 

The Museum of Archaeology and History (pacmusee.qc.ca). In the old town, on the site where Montreal was founded by the French in 1642, it traces the city's past with hi-tech exhibits and excavations.

 

The Musée Beaux Arts (mbam.qc.ca), with its encyclopaedic collection of North American and international fine arts. Expansion work has begun on a new pavilion dedicated to French colonial art, and to convert the beautiful Romanesque Revival church next door into a concert hall.

 

Atwater Market, a fabulous 1930s covered market (marchespublics-mtl.com), selling local farmers' produce, meats and baked goods, just a stone's throw from the new foodie hub of Little Burgundy (see below).

 

What's new

 

Little Burgundy

 

Little Burgundy, whose colourful terraced houses were once home to Irish dockworkers, has been undergoing gentrification for some years now. Converted warehouses and new-builds have become the norm in this neighbourhood on the Lachine Canal. But alongside the shops that give its hub, rue Notre-Dame, the nickname Antique Alley, new design boutiques, delis and restaurants are popping up. Try McKiernan (001 514 759 6677; joebeef.ca), the latest offering from Montreal chef and restaurant impresario Fred Morin. This teeny, playfully rustic wine bar and luncheonette is a great place to come for cosy evening drinks bolstered by small but hearty bites.

 

DNA

 

A flash new dining spot called DNA has opened in Old Montreal headed by Derek Dammann, the original head chef at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant in London. This innovative west-coast Canadian serves up his own handmade charcuterie, cheeses and refined rustic Italian cuisine; experimental but very tasty and lots of fun. Can't get a table? Kill time in the buzzy lounge bar. The decor may be a tad too retro 1980s but, like the food, the creative cocktails are most definitely 'du jour'.

 

Details: DNA, 355, rue Marguerite D'Youville (001 514 287 3362; dnarestaurant.com).

 

Angus Shops

 

Montreal's Angus Shops were opened by the Canadian Pacific Railways in 1902 to serve its locomotives, and by the Second World War some 12,000 people worked the yards, with residential neighbourhoods growing up around the site. It closed in the 1970s and was something of a wasteland until recent redevelopment brought new housing, shops, smart offices and, now, an architecturally stunning gym, Studio Locomotion, slotted into the original shell of this vast building. Come here for yoga, pilates or a state-of-the-art workout and don't miss the little exhibitions by local artists and photographs of the rail yard buildings through the ages.

 

Details: Studio Locomotion, 2600 William-Tremblay 133 (studiolocomotion.com).

 

Jenx & Cie

 

Run by an expat Scot, this shop in the hipster enclave of Mile End sells stylish T-shirts printed with icons and expressions unique to Montreal, such as the neon Five Roses Flour sign that tops the Ogilvie flour mill in the Old Port, or an abstract of the Cubist-looking housing complex designed by architect Moshe Safdie, for the 1967 Expo. My favourite is a shirt that reads "tabarnac", an incomparable Montreal expletive derived from the religious word "tabernacle".

 

Details: Jenx & Cie, 51 Rue Bernard Ouest (montrealite-tshirts.com).

 

Quartier des Spectacles

 

This downtown district, where most of Montreal's festivals take place, is being regenerated to the tune of C$120m (£67m). Some may bemoan the loss of certain red-light destinations, but by 2012 lights of all colours will shine under a project to illuminate the façades of some 30 arts venues. A new Westin hotel (westinmontreal.com) is due to open in May in an old newspaper press building.

 

Details: quartierdesspectacles.com.

 

Insider's secret: François Perre

 

François Perre is a television news director for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

 

"Atwater might be the Montreal market icon but, for me, the Jean-Talon Market is the best place in town for food shopping. And it's so much more than that. Deer burger, fresh calamari, foie gras or maple syrup cakes – the endless food stalls are the perfect place for a quick bite. This place is also my favourite Sunday destination; a hot spot for Montrealers seeking an easy lunch and a chance to bump into friends."

 

Compact facts

 

How to get there

 

Sarah Barrell travelled to Montreal with British Airways (0844 493 0758; ba.com), which offers return flights from £388. Lofts du Vieux Ports (001 514 876 0081; loftsduvieux port.com), a new annex of the lovely old Auberge du Vieux in old Montreal, offers lofts ranging in size from studios to two bedrooms, all with kitchens and dining areas, from C$195 (£109) per night.

 

Further information

 

Montreal tourism (tourismemontreal.org).

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/americas/city-slicker-winter-in-montreal-1622138.html

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