Healthy Getaway Destination: Montréal
- Written By:Christina Valhouli
If you’re craving a European getaway minus the high cost of the flight and jet lag, it’s hard to beat Montreal. Canada’s cultural capital and second largest city makes you feel as if you’ve been transported to Paris, with its cobblestoned streets, thriving food scene and commitment to the arts, and of course the French language.
Montreal’s unique geography as an island city offers plenty of opportunities to connect with nature while also taking in all its cultural offerings. Linking nature with urban living was the driving concept behind architect Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 apartment complex. Built for the 1967 World Expo, Habitat 67 resembles a giant cement Lego crossed with a pueblo. The building was Safdie’s college thesis, and he envisioned it as a place where residents can connect with each other- and the outdoors. The way to do this was with communal terraces and plenty of windows to let natural light in. Thanks to the cantilevered cube design of the residences, no two windows face each other. Habitat 67 is located right along the St Lawrence River, where you may even spot a few brave surfers in the chilly waters. The guided tour includes a peek inside an unoccupied residential apartment.
From Habitat 67, it’s about a 20 minute walk to the Biosphere, which was the American contribution to the 1967 Expo. The Biosphere, an impossible to miss dome shaped building, explores the environment, climate change and sustainability. The museum is located inside park Jean-Drapeau, which is also home to public art installations as well as the Feux Follets, a celebration of Chinese lanterns that runs through the end of October.
Art is everywhere in Montreal, from murals to movies, and the best way to take it in is to walk- so leave the heels at home (they don’t mix with cobblestoned streets). At night be sure to look up to catch a glimpse of short films projected on various city buildings, presented by Cité Mémoire. The films tell the story of Montreal’s rich history, depicting the feminist Éva Circé-Côté to Jackie Robinson, who played for the Montreal Royals. Check the website for projection times and locations.
Culture is also a big part of the ethos at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth Hotel. The hotel is where John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously held their bed-in for peace 50 years ago. The lobby has a photography exhibit dedicated to the sit-in and their suite can also be booked. Standard guest rooms are sleek and colorful, with bold artwork and rose scented Le Labo bath amenities. The breakfast buffet makes it easy to fuel up on healthy food for a big day, with a spread that includes house smoked salmon, mackerel, cheese and yogurt. Pick up snacks and small gifts at the lobby level Marché Artisans. The lobby level market sells artisanal food made in Canada, including maple syrups, ciders and jams.
If you haven’t clocked your daily quota of steps just by walking around Montreal, head to Mont Royal – the city’s largest park and the inspiration for the city’s moniker. The 470 acre park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed Central Park in New York, and the summit offers gorgeous views of the city. Even if you don’t summit, there are plenty of paths for hiking or biking through old growth forest. If you come in the winter, you can hit the trails on cross-country skis or snowshoes.
No matter what season it is, follow in the footsteps of Montreal residents by booking time at a Nordic spa. The traditional spa experience includes a circuit of hot and cold baths, steaming and soaking, which is perfect for relaxing as well as sweating out any toxins. There are plenty of spas to choose from in Montreal but one of the most picturesque is Bota Bota, located on a boat right along the St. Lawrence River.
Once you’ve clocked your daily steps, it’s time to sample two of Montreal’s most famous foods: poutine, and bagels. For the uninitiated, poutine is fries topped with cheese curds and gravy and an optional smoked meat can be added to it. Poutine can be found everywhere, including food trucks along the Old Port. What makes a Montreal bagel different to a New York one is that it is boiled in honey water. One of the most iconic places to sample a Montreal bagel is St-Viateur. You’ll spot it by the long line snaking around the block. If you want to keep things lighter, vegan poutine is available at LOV, a stylish and airy restaurant.
The brunch menu at Restaurant Joséphine is compact but offers plenty of seafood served in unusual ways, such as trout sausage and eggs Benedict served with Nordic shrimp. For a completely unique dining experience, book a table at chef Jérôme Ferrer's Europea. Settle in for a leisurely and theatrical presentation of a multi-course tasting menu, where you’ll slip on a pair of VR goggles to watch a film about an oyster fisherman before eating your oyster, and cotton candy dessert is presented with a dance party vibe (you’ll be given headphones to listen to dance music).
Montreal is a shopper’s paradise, whether you just want to browse for inspiration or bring something unique home. The Mile End neighborhood has a high concentration of stylish shops, such as the whimsical Dragon Flowers and mo851, a Montreal based leather goods company. Be sure to leave a little room in your suitcase for Canadian maple syrup.