I left Montreal in 2006 to move to Ontario, where I now call home. I returned from time to time for brief day trips with family visiting from Texas, taking them to Old Montreal or La Ronde with the kids, but never, in over 16 years, did I spend any time rediscovering the Metropolitan area. Boy, has it changed!
When my husband surprised me with a weekend birthday trip, I was thrilled with the idea of reconnecting with my roots and started planning immediately.
I contacted Montreal Tourism to ask for recommendations on what couples can do in Montreal in a short time. Emili Bellefleur was a pleasure to chat with and recommended quite a few things, some of which are part of the MTL PASSEPORT, a fantastic package that allows you to visit five main attractions and get deals and discounts on others for one low price. Needless to say, I jumped on that.
But if you are on a low or no budget, there is still plenty to see and do in the City of a Hundred Steeples. It’s a romantic getaway of its own and the perfect setting to cozy up for a cold winter night’s walk.
We checked in at the Courtyards by Marriot Downtown with enough time left to explore the area. Near the famous Place Des Arts, the hotel was ideally located for us to walk almost everywhere we wanted, offering majestic views of the downtown area and enough high-end amenities to make us feel like royalty.
First off, dinner. Growing up in Montreal, I have fond memories of one of the city’s oldest traditional Italian venues, and that’s DaGiovanni! I can still hear the commercial in my head.
I was sad to find the restaurant in a new, smaller space and found that the contemporary décor and atmosphere did not tap into the distant memories of my childhood. Still, as soon as I took a bite of their world-famous meatballs, I found myself back in 1980, reminiscing about loud family dinners at the favourite busy eatery. The food was just as I remembered, and that’s a great thing! You don’t want to mess with perfection.
Leaving the place in a carb coma, we ventured onto Ste-Catherine Street for some much-needed exercise and fresh air. I was pleased to find the road closed to traffic and open to pedestrians only, from Bleury to St-Urbain. I was even more delighted to see a massive skating rink twice the size of the Rockefeller Center rink in New York City at the new Esplanade Tranquille public space in Quartier des Spectacles. Colourfully lit with scattered fire pits to warm you up, my only regret is that we didn’t have time to rent skates and get on that ice for a romantic stroll hand in hand. But we had places to be.
We hopped in an Uber and headed to our next destination, the Comedy Nest.
Located in the Forum de Montreal, where the Montreal Canadiens won many Stanley Cups, the Comedy Nest is Montreal’s #1 Comedy Club. The place has close ties with the Cornwall Comedy Festivaland co-owner, David Acers, made sure we felt right at home. The line-up included Acers himself, Jacob Balshin, Lucy Gervais, and Trevor Thompson, MC’d by Lawrence Corber and headlined by Joe Vu. After being picked on, my husband for being quite visibly all-American, and me for being from Cornwall, we returned to the hotel laughing all the way, bellies hurting.
But it was early, and we weren’t ready to call it quits, so we jumped in the Hot Tub to reenergize ourselves and get our second wind. Then we changed and ubered to La Salsathèque to dance the night away. Montreal is world famous for its nightlife. We could have gone to any number of venues, such asSir Winston Churchill Pub on Crescent, Bistro à Jojo on St-Denis, or even see a drag show at Cabaret Mado, but the mood was hot and exotic, so this Latin landmark won the bid.
We slept in. Sundays are made for relaxing, and our Couple’s Massage, booked at O’Folie, would make sure to set the mood to super chill, but first, what better way to start the day than with a Van Houtte Coffee and a Montreal Bagel!
In Old Montreal,O’Folie is a quaint and classy spa that offers numerous services. The owner, Ofelia, prides herself in providing clients with an experience like no other and is honoured to be helping Ukrainians in the process. Our Massage Therapists, Vladislav and Usikov, landed in Canada just over a month ago and were hired and trained at the Ukrainian-Canadian Academy by Svetlana Khoma. The setting was perfect for a couple’s massage. The ambiance led to total relaxation, so much so that my husband started snoring midway through.
One cool thing about O’Folie is that clients can rent the entire place for any occasion. It is particularly well suited for bachelorette parties or bridal events. Groups can bring their own food and drinks, hire a caterer or let O’Folie take care of everything. All services are unbelievably affordable. Choose from hair, makeup, massage therapy, manicure, pedicure, sauna, tanning, waxing, facials, microblading, or even cold sculpting. This non-invasive procedure uses cold temperatures to destroy fat cells, resulting in a slimmer, more contoured appearance in as little as one session. Had I had more time, I definitely would have tried it.
Relaxed and ready to take on the city, we made our way to the Old Port and stopped at many of the small galleries that call Old Montreal home along the way. One such gallery is Le HangArt on rue Notre-Dame West. Featuring the latest pieces from local artists, Le HangArt offers a variety of modern, urban and collectable items. Artwork is available for purchase on-site or online at www.lehangart.gallery.
Overlooking everything from the skating rink below to the majestic Mont-Royal and the City’s Skyline, the Grande Roue de Montreal(Montreal Observation Wheel) is the ultimate romantic activity and where we headed next. I can see why so many grooms-to-be choose this venue to propose. At sunset, it makes for stunning photos.
A short walk away is the Marché Bonsecours, where artists and artisans have a home. We enjoyed watching painters fill canvases with colours and seeing their stories come to life.
Hungry like the wolf, we made our way to Rue St-Paul, then ended up at La Baraque du Vieux St-Vincent. We shared a smoked meat platter, and it didn’t disappoint. When in Montreal, you have to have smoked meat!
With all this walking, our legs needed a rest, so back to the hotel we went. I took advantage of the Eucalyptus Sauna this time while hubby worked out at the top-floor state-of-the-art gym.
The day ended with a walk through the fantastic Van Gogh – distortion show at OASIS immersion, a permanent, all-immersive 2,200 m2 space located on the ground floor of the Palais des congrès de Montréal. This was quite the show of lights and colours! It was like visiting a museum on steroids. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and will be looking forward to future exhibits.
Light snow was falling, and the weather was a bit chilly, which made this the perfect day to visit the Underground City. A bit lost at first, we quickly found our bearings and landed at the Eaton Center Food Court for a quick bite before a long walk. Like most couples, we sometimes have differing views on where to eat, but we settled on Vanellis, a chain serving excellent paninis and a surprisingly great poutine.
Zigzagging through the tunnels, we made our way to the Peel Subway Station and walked outside the rest of the way to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Unfortunately, I made the rookie mistake of assuming the place was open, and we found ourselves in front of locked doors. We didn’t let that ruin our day, quickly turned around and decided to hop on to Plaza St-Hubert.
Located between Jean-Talon and Bellechasse streets, Plaza St-Hubert offers a unique shopping experience, with over 400 stores and restaurants covered with a glass canopy and protecting shoppers from inclement weather. It is one of the city’s leading commercial areas and a prime destination for brides, grooms, wedding parties and graduates, with 25 bridal and prom stores on the strip.
Corner St-Hubert and Bélanger, we found Sabor Latino and stopped in for some good ol’ South American delights. We ordered Pupusas and Carne de Res, and everything was fresh and tasty. Muy sabroso! They gave my favourite Pupuseria, La Carreta, closed that day, a tight run for their money.
What Montreal trip would be complete without a visit to the Casino de Montréal? The largest casino in Canada earned its name with us as we spent a few hours gambling, moving from slot to slot on a few floors, and never even got to see its card tables, four restaurants and three bars! How’s that for big?
Back in our room, with the majestic view of downtown, we ended the day relaxing in bed, simply enjoying each other’s company, exhausted but happy and reconnected, ready for the week ahead, with a ton of memories made forever. Thank you, Montreal.
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