Despite living in Wisconsin for 23 years, I had never spent time in a Canadian city. My husband went to law school in Vermont, so he was quite familiar with crossing the boarder. Since we had a long weekend for the 4th of July this year, we decided to head north. (I realize that traveling to Canada on America’s birthday seems rather unpatriotic, but we have to utilize those vacation days!) I found a great flight special from Atlanta to Montreal for $300.00 on Skyscanner, but, alas, we hesitated to iron out any kinks with our work schedules, and the cost of the ticket doubled in price. Discouraged, but not defeated, we found $332.00 tickets up to Burlington, Vermont on Delta and decided to take the scenic route to Canada.
Unfortunately, because our flight was delayed, we didn’t get to spend too much time in Burlington, but what I did see I was quite impressed by. Burlington is an adorable college town on the water with great food, shopping and night life. Had we stayed in Burlington for the entire weekend, we probably would have been perfectly satisfied, but instead we drove to Montreal.
Apparently, there are a ton of festivals that take place in Montreal and Quebec City in early July, because hotel rooms in the desirable areas of town were quite pricey. We ended up using Hotwire to book our hotel room in Montreal and received a room at Hotel Zero 1, an ultra modern hotel in the perfect location. The rooms were decorated with chic décor, although they were a bit small. Nonetheless, I was a fan of this hotel due to the free muffins and coffee in the lobby, FREE parking (rare in a large city), and of course, location, location, location!
Our hotel room overlooked Montreal’s Chinatown. If you walk straight through Chinatown and continue straight for a few blocks you run into Vieux-Montreal, or Old Montreal. Had someone dropped me off blindfolded in the middle of Old Montreal, I would have sworn that I was somewhere in Europe.
Our first order of business upon our arrival was seeking out and sampling the popular Canadian dish, poutine. If you haven’t graced your taste-buds with this dish, you must make it a priority. Poutine is basically french fries soaked in gravy with loads of white cheddar cheese curds melted on top.
It’s delectable and I would eat it on a daily basis if I could find decent poutine in Atlanta. Lucky for us, poutine is plentiful in Old Montreal and you can easily find dozens of variations of “classic” poutine with all sorts of creative toppings. My husband and I found two seats on a sunny terrace, ordered cocktails and indulged. We spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering around the streets of Old Montreal shopping, eating and drinking.
In the evening we decided to venture into Downtown Montreal. I had come across an article which detailed the historic Birk’s Jewelry Store. What I gather is that Birk’s is basically the Canadian equivalent of Tiffany & Co. in the United States. The article happened to mention that you could enjoy cocktails, a meal or coffee in the historic jewelry store. This option immediately appealed to me. If we were going to eat dinner, why not eat while surrounded by diamonds?!
The store itself was stately and decorated with marble and chandeliers. The food was “light fare”, which was fine with us since we had been eating all day, but it was perfectly prepared and delicious.
After dinner we decided to explore Montreal’s nightlife – and there was plenty to do! The Montreal Jazz festival was in full force. After walking through the festival we headed over to McGill University to wander around campus and catch some Shakespeare in the Park. Next we headed to McLean’s Pub, an Irish bar serving what appeared to be amazing fried food. We eventually ended up at Brutopia, one of the local watering holes which Frommers recommended. We had a great time at Brutopia and enjoyed their selection of beers and the live music.
The next morning we awoke bright and early and drove to Quebec City. Again, we used Hotwire to get a great deal on our hotel room, although we weren’t quite as lucky in Quebec City as we were in Montreal. Hotwire set us up with a room at Hotel Pur. Hotel Pur was extremely modern, but it was not as upscale as Zero 1 (and I found that the hotel lacked in its attention to detail). Regardless, the location was pretty decent – about a 10-15 minute walk to the historic district. What I hadn’t mentioned thus far, is that Montreal and Quebec City are both very expensive cities. Hotel rooms, drinks and food all cost much more in Quebec City than they would in Atlanta. Montreal’s prices were far more reasonable, but I would compare the cost of Quebec City to that of NYC or even Paris.
If you’re a foodie, Quebec City is a destination that you don’t want to miss. Prior to arriving, I had researched my restaurants and had reservations for several meals planned in advance. After freshening up at the hotel, we headed into the Historic District for our lunch reservation at famed Laurie Raphael Québec. In Quebec City, many of the fine dining establishments offer a special during lunchtime which allows you to have a three course meal for the normal price of a dinner entrée. This is a great way to eat at the city’s finest restaurants without breaking the bank, but you will typically need advance reservations at the more popular establishments.
After lunch we headed to the famous La Chateau Frontenac. Frontenac is a humongous, historic hotel situated high over the city. We had contemplated splurging and staying at the Frontenac, but ultimately decided against it since we had an anniversary trip planned in several weeks. So we settled for wandering through the Frontenac’s impressive lobby and having a few glasses of champagne in the hotel bar.
We spent the remainder of the day and early evening wandering through the charming streets in the historic district. For dinner we chose a street-side terrace where we tried foie gras for the first time (which we tragically did not enjoy…) before heading to Bistro Papes-George. If you visit Quebec City, I would highly recommend a stop at Papes-George for a bottle of wine (or two). Frommers describes Papes George as a wine bar, and although they had a decent selection of wines and cheeses, calling this establishment a wine bar is not descriptive of the bar/restaurant’s vibe. Papes-George is housed in a 350 year old building which gives you the feel that you are drinking in a basement, even though the bar is at street level. Most of the customers seemed to be beer (or shot) drinkers, but we loved that the bar had the talented Stef Show playing live acoustic music nightly.
The next day we awoke feeling slightly dehydrated and in need of some revitalization, so I decided to make us reservations at Izba Day Spa. My husband and I indulged in a couples massage and then spent an hour or two in the spa’s hot tubs, cold water plunge pools and saunas. Izba is a lovely, small Russian-styled spa. Our spa day cost about $150.00, which seemed to be very reasonable for Quebec City.
By late afternoon we began to feel like ourselves again. We spent the afternoon hopping from terrace to terrace enjoying the lovely weather, scenery and delicious libations. Since we had spent several days eating amazing French bistro food, we found ourselves craving Italian (our favorite) and dined at Restaurante Il Teatro . Luckily, I had made this reservation weeks in advance since the Quebec City Music festival was in full force during our visit. The festival brings in popular headliners for several days of concerts with stages placed throughout the city. One of these stages happened to be directly next to the restaurant’s terrace. We had the most amazing dinner ambiance ever – the Quebec City Music festival to our right and a view of the illuminated historic city wall straight ahead. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.
Don’t have time to jet to Paris for the weekend? Head to Montreal and Quebec City instead – you’ll be surprised by the similarities!
Have you been to Montreal or Quebec City? Were you as pleasantly surprised as I was?