Welcome to Montreal, credit: iStock
French speaking Montreal has everything: an amazing eating out scene, a scenic waterfront, stunning stone buildings, magnificent cathedrals, cobblestone streets and charming cafes.
It’s also a destination that knows how to let its hair down– particularly this year as Quebec’s largest city celebrates its 375th anniversary. And, at less than seven hours flying time from the UK, Montreal is closer than you think. TNT shows you the way to go…
Marvel at The Notre Dame
The neo-gothic Notre Dame basilica - where the late, great Luciano Pavarotti recorded his celebrated Christmas concert - is a masterpiece in itself. However to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the city’s founding, its grand interior will be the site of a multi billion dollar laser show which will light up the columns, stained glass windows, statues and crazily ornate ceiling of the basilica for a whole year.
Amble around Old Montreal
Most tourists make the Old Montreal neighbourhood their first port of call and for good reason. The scenic waterfront, stunning stone buildings, magnificent cathedrals and churches(Mark Twain famously called Montreal “a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window”) and cobblestone streets of Montreal’s Old Town could keep you contented for days.
For the TNT team, much of Montreal’s appeal lies in losing yourself in the Bohemian enclaves of Little Italy, The Village and Plateau Mont-Royal. The latter, home to Montreal’s media and creative folk, captures the imagination like no other neighbourhood. So much so that it was even the star of its own show - Les Bobos - which looked at the life and loves of the Plateau's hip residents and ran from 2012-2013. It’s fun to browse the vibrant boutiques along Boulevard St Laurent, before retiring for a cafe au lait in one of the Plateau’s quirky pavement cafes. (Unlike other Canadian metropolises, Montreal has yet to be Starbucks-ified).
When you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Montreal, go to the city’s green lungs - aka Mont Royal Park. This leafy expanse was designed by Frederick Law Omsted, the architect behind New York’s Central Park, and holds a special place in the hearts of Montrealers . (Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of calling Montreal’s ‘mountain’, a hill as Oscar Wilde once did in the 1880s). You can reach Mont Royal Park by taxi, public transport or by BIXI - the super affordable public solar powered bicycle system, that served as the blueprint for London’s Santander Cycles (nee Boris bikes).
The Eastern Townships are only an hour's drive from Montreal down the Autoroute 10, but the contrast between Quebec’s cosmopolitan capital and the sleepy ‘Cantons d l’Est’ (as the Eastern Townships are known by its French inhabitants), couldn’t be greater. The Townships’ sparkling blue lakes, quaint villages and rolling hills are reminiscent of New England (indeed the area was initially inhabited by New Englanders who moved north after the American Revolutionary War in the late 1700s) - and provide the perfect backdrop for some serious R and R.
Food glorious food
Make no mistake: Montreal has a love affair with food. The star of this gourmet getaway, is smoked meat sandwiches. Montreal’s best known bastion of brisket is Schwartz’s smoked meat emporium (owned by the Queen of the power ballad, Celine Dion) but be prepared to queue: expect to see a line snaking out of the door regardless of which hour you visit.
Need a break from brisket? Fill your boots with a Montreal bagel, which tend to be smaller and sweeter than their Big Apple counterparts. (There’s a fierce, yet friendly, rivalry between Montrealers and New Yorkers, as to which city serves up the best bagel). Two of the best places to try the Montreal bagel are Fairmont Bagel (www.fairmountbagel.com/) and St Viateur Bagel (www.stviateurbagel.com/) - look out for the newspaper articles from around the world, on the walls.
Another Montreal must try is poutine - French fries drowned in gravy and cheese curds that are surprisingly satisfying. You’ll find poutine on menus all over Montreal.
Get lost in the underground city
There’s no bad time to visit Montreal: spring sees maple saps rising, summer is all about blossoms and autumn is harvest time while in winter, there’s snowmen. Sure it can be now numbingly cold as temperatures plummet (often as low as -20), but this is when ingenious inventions such as Montreal’s Underground City - 20 miles of subterranean pedestrian tunnels packed full of shops, schools, offices, restaurants and concert halls - come into their own. Discover more at www.montrealundergroundcity.com
Got a couple of extra days to kill? Escape to Quebec City. The 400 year old UNESCO World Heritage site - a quick and easy, if unattractive, three hour drive up the road from Montreal - is remnant of an older, miraculously unspoilt world. Case in point? Despite being the capital of Quebec (and the only North American fortified city whose walls still exist), the pretty city’s half a million inhabitants still refer to Quebec City as a ‘village’.
Get your nightlife on
Montreal is a place of parades, festivals and year round raucous concerts and shows, including those by home grown companies such as Cirque du Soleil (www.cirquedusoleil.com). A fan of jazz? Aim to coincide your visit with the world famous, fantastic Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (www.montrealjazzfest.com) which, this year, is taking place from 28 June-8 July. Alternatively if you want to catch the next Arcade Fire, check out Casa del Popolo (www.casadelpopolo.com) and Sala Rossa (www.lasaladelrosso.it) in Mile End, or Divan Orange (www.divanorange.org) on the Plateau where, for just a few dollars, you can hear indie acts any day of the week.
View the post here: http://digitaledition.tntmagazine.com/magical-montreal
Television host and comedian, Ian Wright, stars in the brand new Travel Channel series of Tough Boats which sees him search for polar bears and find rich fishing grounds in the Arctic Circle. Fortunately for us, Ian took time out from his tough Arctic journey to share his travel highs and lows with Just About Travel readers
What do you like to do on holiday?
I’m always working and I’m rushing around 24/7 with no time to stop, so when I do get to have a holiday, I love doing nothing! Just chilling out and relaxing. That said, I’m not an overly ‘beach person’ - I can’t just lie on the beach all the time, I have to be doing something!
I think the best thing about being on holiday is being able to try the local cuisine: I love food and trying different foods of the country I’m in, whether it be a beautiful Ravioli in Italy or fish that’s fresh out of the sea in Norway. Finding these amazing foods and hidden restaurants and in the evening seeking out the local bars where they’ve got a bit of music flowing, is fantastic.
Where did you last go?
It was Havana, Cuba. My wife and I were lucky enough to spend two months there and it really is the ideal destination to visit. The seafront in Havana is the best I have been to.
Do you know where you’re going this year?
We’re planning on heading to Sri Lanka. I’ve been there before and it’s an excellent destination as it’s got everything. The food is fantastic - you won't have a bad meal. In the south, you’ll find beautiful beaches and wildlife sanctuaries. It’s like being on the African Plains, elephants everywhere! Plus it hasn’t got the madness of India, it’s a bit more chilled.
Of all the places you’ve been to, which was your favourite and why?
I adore anything that is above the Arctic Circle. So, my trip to the Arctic on Tough Boats was so phenomenal. To be onboard a ship that could break through the ice and sail around the most northerly inhabited island in the world, 700 miles from The North Pole was just extraordinary. What’s so great about being so far above the Arctic circle is that it’s so beautiful and unusual. It is the most fantastic place in the world.
Which destination do you wish to travel to, but haven’t yet been?
I’ve travelled to so many places, but I haven’t yet been able to visit anywhere in Central America so Belize, Honduras and Panama are all on the bucket list. I’d also love to go to Northern Siberia, that would be my idea of travel heaven. Another destination that’s on my must visit list is Northern Canada.
In your own country, what would you recommend tourists see that isn’t in the travel guides?
There are so many places in England that you can and should go and see. It is an absolutely extraordinary country. Every single county, you only have to go 50 miles in any direction and the beauty of the landscape changes. Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool are not that far away from each other but yet all have different things to offer! England really is an amazing place to be. I have a special spot for Suffolk though as that’s where I was brought up - the coastline is incredible.
How do you plan your holiday?
I don’t do much planning. We’ll have a little look on the internet, but it’s mainly a case of get that ticket and go and explore when you’re there. That’s the whole point of travelling - not knowing too much and just getting out there. You’ll find it all yourself.
How often do you go away?
Sometimes I’ll get to go away twice and other times it might be 10 times. It all depends how much work is coming in. My wife and I always try to go to Norway at least once a year but, we're big on weekend breaks too. A couple of hours on a plane and you could be in Venice or Barcelona... it doesn’t really get much better than that.
Who do you travel with?
My ideal travelling companion is my wife. We both love travelling so it's the perfect combination!
Where do you see tourism in your country, in 10 years?
I think tourism in England will go from strength to strength. There’s so many places to visit and see. There’s so many variations it’s untrue! You can go down to St. Ives in Cornwall, you’ve got London which is the best city in the world, it’s got everything you want there. There is no destination you can go wrong with in England.
Tough Boats continues in The Arctic on Wednesday 15 February on Travel Channel, 9pm.
Torontois back on the travel map, partly due to Prince Harry (everyone'sfavourite royal has been spending a lot of time in Toronto where his girlfriend, actress Meghan Markle – best known for her role as Rachel Zane in US legal drama Suits - is based). And partly because the city’s calendar is creaking with exciting events and festivals in 2017, as Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary of confederation....
Here’s 10 reasons why you should consider Toronto- with its beautiful waterfront and mix of cultures, concert halls and clubs- for a city break says Kaye Holland
Ascending the CN Tower
Visiting Toronto and not scaling the 553m CN Tower is akin to visiting Paris and passing up the Eiffel Tower or heading to New York and leaving out the Statue of Liberty… you get the gist. Sure entry, at around $30 a pop, is expensive but experiencing the CN Tower is the one thing you just have to do while in Toronto. If lady luck is on your side and the skies are clear, expect to look down over Toronto, Lake Ontario and beyond.
Mad about museums? You’re in the right town.. Toronto boasts some of the world’s greatest galleries and museums but if you only have time for one, make for The Royal Ontario Museum whose collections cover natural science, art exhibits and ancient civilisation. Volunteers from the Royal Ontario Museumoffer one to two hour historical and architectural walking tours on Wednesday and Sunday evenings between May and September.
The fantastic food scene
Toronto is truly a foodie’s paradise. Every year, 55,000 people leave their native lands to call Canada’s largest city home and that steady stream of fresh faces means you can get stuck into every cuisine imagine from Chinese to Thai, Korean and yes, Canadian comfort food. What’s more, you don’t have to spend a small fortune to eat well at places like St Lawrence Market - ranked by National Geographic as the world’s best food market.
Shop up a storm
Good retail therapy is another one of Toronto’s many attractions. Shopping in areas such as Kensington Market (www.kensington-market.ca), aka Toronto at its most multicultural, is a blast owing to the multitude of kitsch boutiques, staffed by hip, young things. In the market for music and vintage shops? Check out Queen West and West Queen West, while if you just want to pick up all your favourite American brands for a fraction of the price you’d pay back home, head to the enormousEaton Centre (www.cfshops.com) - a veritable temple to consumerism.
Toronto is heaven for ice hockey lovers and if you’re a fan of the speedy sport, chances are you’ll want to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs (www.nhl.com/mapleleafs) - who have won the prestigious Stanley Cup no fewer than 13 times - play over a National Hockey League game over at the Air Canada Centre.
Even if you aren’t Toronto Maple Leafs devotee, do head to the Hockey of Fame (www.hhof.com) for an insight into the game that defines Canada . Much more than a sports museum, the Hall of Fame offers something for everyone: the finest collection of hockey artefacts, state-of-the-art games, themed exhibits dedicated to the game’s greatest players, teams and achievements, larger-than-life statues; a replica NHL dressing room; and an unrivalled selection of hockey-related merchandise and memorabilia.
Toronto’s jewel like islands – there are nearly two dozen islands covering 240 hectares – is where locals head when they want to relax, especially during the summer. Islands like Algonquin Island and Ward’s Island are only a short 15 minute ferry ride away from downtown Toronto, but feel like another world and are the perfect place for those who want to experience the great outdoors - or simply escape the hustle and bustle of the big smoke for a bit.
Make for mighty Niagara Falls
It would be criminal to venture to Ontario - the Canadian province of which Toronto is a part - without making time to admire the sheer grace and power of one of Canada’s most magnificent waterfalls. Yes there plenty of taller waterfalls in the world (Niagara is ranked at 50th) but make no mistake: the volume of the Falls invariably wows first time and veteran visitors alike. One caveat: get used to hearing Niagara Falls referred to as Viagra Falls (somewhat bizarre the Falls are a popular honeymoon destination).
Walk this way
Never heard of the Toronto PATH? Allow TNT to enlighten you….it’s a 28km network of underground connections between buildings in Toronto’s downtown that acts as a weather-proof way to get around. (If you’re in town during Toronto’s scorching summer or freezing winter, then trust TNT when we say that you’ll be spending a lot of time in Toronto’s subterranean corridors keeping cool/warm respectively.) The underground walkway- which connects downtown sights, skyscrapers, subway stations and shops - is however confusing to navigate so expect to get lost (a rite of passage for visitors and residents alike) at least once.
Discovering the Distillery Historic District
Recognised as a National Historic Site, the Distillery Historic District is arguably one of Toronto’s most picturesque sites owing to its cobblestone laneways and Victorian era buildings. It was Toronto’s first distillery–which produced almost half of Ontario’s total spirit production in 1871–and is now home to high-end boutiques, buzzy restaurants and art galleries. It’s easy to while away a morning or afternoon, strolling the lanes and courtyards and getting a feel forToronto’s history and heritage.
Look to Lake Ontario
Lovely Lake Ontario often gets overlooked by Torontonians which is a shame, because the lake - whose name derives from Skanadario, an Iroquois word meaning ‘sparkling water’ - is surprisingly beautiful. It’s also impressively large being the 14th largest lake in the world.
However for all of the aforementioned, Toronto’s true charms – its tolerance and the characters you meet daily – are subtler and best experienced in its street life.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are all wild about
Canada. Here’s why…
Canada is having a moment. Don’t believe us? Just ask travel specialists Lonely Planet who hailed Canada as the best country to visit in 2017.
“We are honoured to have been selected as Lonely Planet’s Destination of the Year for 2017,” said the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism. “Of course, this recognition doesn’t mean our work is done; it should encourage us to keep this momentum building. Our tourism partners from coast to coast to coast are working hard to provide travellers with unique and unforgettable experiences. There is something for everyone here.”
David Goldstein, Destination Canada’s President and CEO, added: “This is exciting! We can’t think of a better time to invite the next generation of travellers to discover Canada.”
Lonely Planet aren’t the only ones to have been charmed by Canada. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with their two adorable children - step forward, Prince George, 3, and Princess Charlotte, 1 - recently toured Canada at the invitation of Justin Trudeau, the country’s energetic new leader.
The famous foursome touched down in Victoria, British Columbia, before boarding a float plane bound for the the bustling city of Vancouver where they received a royal welcome at the Poole Plaza, named after the late businessman Jack Poole, who was a key player behind the success of the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Vancouver.
Cities aside, William and Kate also enjoyed a day out in the Great Bear Rainforest - aka the world's largest temperate rainforest - participated in aboriginal ceremonies in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, and met residents of the small community of Carcross, Yukon.
Prince Harry is another royal who seems to have been seduced by Canada - which next year will celebrate its 150th anniversary. Everyone’s favourite royal met with Prime Minister Trudeau in May 2016 to kick off the countdown to next year’s Invictus Games in Toronto.
Prince Harry is clearly enamoured with all things Canadian: it’s recently emerged that he’s been dating Canadian actress Meghan Markle - best known for her role as Rachel Zane in US legal drama Suits - for six months.
The Prince, 32, was supposed to be in Toronto all this week but scrapped hissecret trip after details of their alleged relationship emerged.
Here at Sybarite HQ, we’re not surprised to learn that Harry is taken with Toronto. Canada’s largest and most cosmopolitan city packs quite the punch owing to its beautiful waterfront and mix of cultures, concert halls and clubs. Spend even the smallest amount of time in Toronto and you’ll quickly discover the delights of this tolerant town - a city worth stopping in, rather than just rushing through.
Make no mistake, Toronto has a deep bag of attractions to entice tourists but ascending the 553m CN Tower (www.cntower.ca) - where astounding views of the city come as standard - is the one thing you absolutely HAVE to do while in town. Afterwards enjoy a meal in award winning revolving restaurant, 360.
The Royal Ontario Museum (www.rom.on.ca/en) - whose collections take in natural science, art exhibits and ancient civilisation - also comes highly recommended. Volunteers from the Royal Ontario Museum offer one to two hour historical and architectural walking tours on Wednesday and Sunday evenings.
Shopping more your bag? Check out Kensington Market, aka Toronto at its most multicultural. For music and vintage shops, seek out Queen West and West Queen West while for bijoux boutiques, check out chichi Bloor-Yorkville.
If sports are more your scene, watch the Stanley Cup winning Toronto Maple Leafs play over at the Air Canada Centre in the National Hockey League. Fans of the super fast sport can enjoy more hockey nostalgia at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Alternatively nab tickets to watch the Toronto Blue Jays play baseball or the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League - both at the Rogers Centre - before retiring to your hotel.
Speaking of which, Toronto is home to a handful of historic hotels including the Fairmont Royal York, which has hosted the A list likes of Tina Turner and Henry Kissinger no less.
When the hustle and bustle of Toronto gets too much, escape to one of the city’s jewel like islands. Gorgeous islands like Algonquin Island and Ward’s Island are only a short 15 minute ferry ride away from downtown Toronto but feel like another world and are the perfect place for those who want to hike, cycle or simply enjoy some peace and quiet.
Elsewhere Lake Ontario often gets overlooked by Torontonians which is a shame, because the lake (whose name means ‘sparkling water’) is surprisingly beautiful. However if you choose just one adventure, make it Niagara Falls. True there are taller waterfalls in the world (Niagara ranks pretty far down the list at 50th) but trust The Sybarite when we say that the sheer volume of water won’t fail to blow you away.
All told, isn’t it about time you treated yourself to a royal trip to Canada?