Insider’s Guide to Montreal

Contributed by Sarah Schneider

The Tig Archives 09 / 01 / 2015

Oh, mon dieu. How lucky to have two of my most adored things in one singular Tig post? 1. The city of Montreal, which always charms my socks off with its incredible eats (hi, most perfect bagels of all time), culture, and Quebequois je ne sais quoi. 2. Our tour guide dujour: the inimitable Sarah Rafferty. The Yale School of Drama grad, mama of two, aquavit making champ, and cherished friend who lets me cry on her shoulder, and transforms 8 mile hikes into giggle filled spiritual awakenings (trust me on this) – also happens to be my Suits sister wife. Now in preproduction of the back half of season five of Suits, plus working tirelessly on her #smartluxury collaboration with Mezzi (swoon alert: Sarah’s signature bag), this multitasking gem still managed to take the time to write our Insider’s Guide to Montreal. In it, she includes a few of my personal favs (here’s looking at you Olive & Gourmando, L’Express & Le Bremner), and takes us places I’ve always wanted to explore. Thanks, Sarah – you are simply zee best! #YSMT

Eat

Olive & Gourmando – If possible, book your accommodations within easy walking distance of this lovely eatery. You’ll want to pop in throughout your stay and sample both the breakfast and lunch menus. Upon entering we were greeted with an astonishing display of home baked goodies – my three year old immediately pointed out the “delicious tartelicious” while my seven year old oogled the tower of various croissants. The smoked trout pressed sandwich and the house made ricotta with honey, lemon zest and maldon salt are not to be missed. And, by the way, my soy flat white was down right revelatory.

Le Bremner – If it’s a gorgeous night you may want to ask for a table on the über cool patio. And just say yes or ‘oui’ to whatever the cocktail-du-jour may be. You can’t go wrong. They make all their sodas and syrups in-house and the mixologist is gifted. My kids ate fried quail (yes, we called it chicken) with spicy dipping sauce, while I murdered a whole fish with sautéed scapes. The staff were simply so cool and knowledgable about every offering that I felt free to say, “Just bring me whatever you like or think I should try.” It was all fabulous.

After dinner you can stroll to the Place Jaques Cartier to take in the street performers and the bustling European vibe. We also had to participate in the requisite tourist activity, souvenir shopping. This is a great spot to buy a hockey jersey celebrating your favorite Montreal Canadiens, a dream catcher of any size, or the item every visitor needs: ‘Busy Beaver Zone’ signage.

L’Express – No visit to Montreal would be complete without a quintessential bistro experience. We ventured up to L’Express so my husband could go to his happy place and have fois gras for breakfast. I felt immediately transported by the decor and a table laid with Dijon and and a large jar of cornichons. This is the place to sit and relish your Croque Monsieur at 1pm or even 1am no less.

Afterward take a stroll around the über hip and tourist-free Plateau neighborhood. Or, head over to the beautiful Parc Mont-Royal to feed the ducks and hike the “montagne” that gives Montreal it’s name.

P.S. – If you do plan to feed the birds, consider picking up bagels at St-Viateur Bagels. Locals told me that they rival my favorite hometown bagels at New York’s H&H. I can’t weigh in on that one with out bias. I’ll always be a New Yorker at heart.

Stay

Le Place D’Armes Hotel – Hop over to the Le Place D’Armes Hotel and head to the rooftop patio for a drink with a breathtaking view. We stayed in this lovely hotel for two nights and I can’t say enough about the exceptional service. The staff provided us with the best food and activity recommendations and were magically able to procure dinner reservations and even a stroller for us with no advanced notice. Merci Beaucoup. Also, don’t forget to take in some live music and visit the jaw dropping Basilique Notre Dame.

Shop

Espace Pepin – After filling up at Olive and Gormando (see above), pop into some of the lovely boutiques nearby. Directly across the street is Espace Pepin, with a great collection for the whole family. I discovered cute jumpsuits and jewelry, my husband found swim trunks and my seven year old picked up a new favorite skirt. I was excited to be introduced to a new (to me) children’s line out of Amsterdam, Scotch & Soda. We’ll be hunting down more of their unique styles as the years roll by. The staff at Espace Pepin were so friendly and relaxed; they even and had a good laugh when my three year old decided to try on a fancy neglige and parade through the store (and amongst the discerning clientele) to show daddy.

Lunch A Porter – Also a few steps away is Lunch A Porter. They carry all manner of eco-friendly lunch gear. The collection of bento boxes is so beautifully curated; I briefly had grand and overly ambitious visions of rolling my own homemade vegetarian sushi during the morning pre-carpool rush. We were particularly taken with the boxes shaped like miniature houses and some that were made from beautiful lacquered kimono cloth.

After you are finished browsing, it’s a short walk to the water front. You can let the kids loose in the park that runs along the beautiful St. Lawrence River or tuck into Musee D’Archeologie or the Montreal Science Center.

Frolic

Marche Jean Talon – One of my favorite activities when I visit a new city is to get lost in a local market. Especially when you don’t speak the language, your senses take over – sight, smell, taste. Some of my most vivid and favorite travel memories are Tokyo’s Tsukiji, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, Helsinki’s Hakaniemi, and Beijing’s Panjiayuan Flea Market. I can now add Montreal’s Marche Jean Talon to the list. In the heart of Little Italy, many of the city’s chefs source their ingredients at this farmers market. It is made up of three long rows of merchants selling produce, flowers, baked goods and all sorts of treats. On the periphery are many specialty stores and cafés. If you are eager to sample local specialities and practice your French (though I quickly realized that I must have skipped the money and numbers units in French 101), I highly recommend a visit. And it’s super fun for kids, especially if they dig maple sugar candy.

Biodome – If you are traveling with kids, spend an hour or two at the Biodome located inside the 1976 Olympic Stadium. (Cue visions of that iconic Wheaties Box with Caitlyn Jenner triumphantly winning gold.) On the former site of the track and field events, you can now stroll through replicas of four different eco-systems. My kids loved the sloth, and the penguins, but were especially taken with an enormous porcupine in the Laurentian Forest area. Next time we’re in Montreal, we plan to visit the insectarium, planetarium and botanical gardens, which are all located nearby.

Images via: Canadatry, Lapiqueassiette

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