Montreal and Quebec
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Top tips for a twin-centre city break
Just three hours apart
by train, the two main cities of Quebec Province share a common heritage. Founded by the French, taken by the British,
and today populated by people from all corners of the globe, Montreal and Quebec are vibrant – but
very different - cities and make a great combination for Silver Travellers.
Both are popular cruise
ship stopovers but you’ll only scratch the surface in a day-visit. Fly
into Montreal however and you can take the train to Quebec, and perhaps carry
on by scenic train or hire car to explore the glorious Quebec
French explorer Jacques
Cartier navigated the Saint Lawrence in the 16th century and in 1608,
his countryman Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City as a fur trading post,
some 35 years before Montreal was begun by Monsieur Maisonneuve.
Here are a few tips for making the most of Montreal:
- Stay in Vieux Montreal so most major
attractions are within easy walking distance.
I enjoyed the Place d'Armes Hotel,
three adjoining historic properties with a great rooftop bar. Don’t be put off by the sober exterior of
Notre Dame Cathedral opposite – the colourful interior is a real ‘Wow!’ moment.
And look up. Montreal has some
wonderful architecture, all mixed in together. Imposing public buildings and traditional churches tucked in amongst
gleaming skyscrapers and even the occasional 17th century French
property like Chateau Ramezay, once the Governor’s residence, now an
atmospheric museum. There’s even an
authentic Art Nouveau Parisian Metro entrance in Victoria Square.
- Don't worry about your French accent. Montrealers have an accent - and vocabulary -
all their own. And most people here are
bilingual. Retail and restaurant staff
will greet you with ‘Bonjour-Hi’ and then carry on in whichever language you
- Take the metro to the 1976 Olympic Park and then
enjoy a 2-minute ride up the world’s tallest inclined structure, the Tower Observatory,
for panoramic views. Don’t miss the
Biodome, a combination of eco systems housed in the former Olympic velodrome. I also
loved the nearby Botanic Gardens with meticulously labelled show beds as well
as lawns, lakes and an arboretum.
- City people meet friends and even do
business over brunch, so make like a Montrealer and try out some of the informal
eateries such as Cartet, a cafe and deli amongst the restaurants of McGill
Street. The wafer thin pancakes with
blueberries and maple syrup were so good!
- Don't expect too much from the waterfront
area – I’ve seen prettier. But in the
summer months, the river shore is a buzzing place to be with cafes, small shops
and public gardens. Montrealers are big on biking so maybe hire a
bike from Ca Roule or book on a themed cycling tour.
From Montreal, it’s
just three hours by Via Rail to Quebec City.
Catch a train around 9am and you can be sitting down to lunch in very
different environment. Don’t want to
miss anything in Quebec?
Here are some
ideas for a short break in the city:
- The only walled city in North America north
of Mexico, Quebec City is rightly included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Unlike Montreal, it has kept many more
buildings from the early French era, but you’ll need to head down to the river
bank rather than stay in the upper town at station level. I’d advise walking down to Place Royale and
the Petit Champlain district then taking the funicular back up.
- As with Montreal, aim to stay in the Old Town
with its European style maze of streets, reminiscent of traditional France. I loved the character rooms and warm welcome
at Le Manoir d’Auteuil couldn’t
resist walking inside turreted Chateau de Frontenac on the cliff top. One of the world’s most photographed hotels, it has more than 600 rooms, built to
tempt the first passengers on Canada’s coast-to-coast railway.
- Battlefields Park is the evocative name for
the Plains of Abraham, named after a local Scottish farmer, and scene of the
French defeat by General Wolfe in 1759. It’s easy to discount one of the world’s largest urban parks when
there’s serious sightseeing to be done, but this is the place to walk, relax
and enjoy river views from the belvedere, as well as enjoy the varied music of
the Summer Festival.
- Top up your history with a guided tour of the
British Citadel on the highest point of Battlefields Park. The Changing of the Guard – bearskins and
all – takes place every morning throughout summer.
- Parliament initially seems like just another
grand building with a pretty park, but there’s much more on offer. Tours of the historic chambers are free and
you can dine at Le Parliamentaire restaurant inside. Many of the fresh vegetables are grown in
the beds out front, where some areas are even designated for public
picking. Imagine that happening at
Westminster! Take time as well to
discover the statues of famous people of many nationalities decorating the
facade and dotted round the park.
- For a complete chill
out, try the Monastere des Augustines
which opens this summer. The Augustinian
Sisters laid the foundation for Quebec’s healthcare system and the nunnery once
housed 350 Sisters. Today just a dozen elderly
ladies remain in their own wing, the rest of the vast building transformed into
a well-being hotel and public museum.
Book one of the simple, but freshly-painted cells, or a more
contemporary room with private facilities. Guests are invited to leave their mobile phones at reception, take
breakfast in silence, and eat healthy choices for their evening meal in a detox
for body and soul. Alcohol is, however,
offered with dinner – apparently the Sisters all enjoyed a tipple!
- If you’re not yet ready to catch the train or plane back to Montreal, head north along the Saint Lawrence to Charlevoix for wide open spaces and outdoor activites, but that’s another story.
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