Aidez-moi à Montréal
February 10, 2019 4:59 PM   Subscribe

I think? I am going to visit Montreal for a few days in mid-March. I will be alone, not going for work, just to bum around and get away from my kinda stressful day-to-day. I am looking for recommendations for 1) hotel 2) spas 3) eateries and 4) sites/things to do. Specific needs/wants within.

1) Hotel: I am astounded at how cheap hotels in Montreal are. I'm seeking the coziest, most luxurious, fluffy-bathrobe-ist, most appropriate for a working mother who is getting away from her child and spouse to be alone, sleep in, and take long hot baths for a few days.

2) Spas: I love spa culture and we have none of it where I live. I don't really need a massage or anything (though I wouldn't kick one of out of bed) but I'm looking for a European-style spa where I can spend several leisurely hours alternating between saunas and plunges and comfy chaises buried in 800 fluffy towels that someone else will launder. I hear Montreal is good for this, so please tell me more.

3) Eateries: I'm vegetarian/occasionally pescatarian. I love a good ambiance. Again: cozy, quiet, no TVs (I hate TVs in restaurants like absolute burning).

4) Sites/things to do: I have absolutely no idea what there is to do in Montreal, lay it on me.

Bonus question: How does one comport themselves as an English-speaker with a smattering of French? Like, when I am in France I go into every situation under the assumption that I need to at least start in French and let the other person tell me to please stop butchering their language, let's do this in English. Same in Francophone Canada? I would like people to not hate me.
posted by soren_lorensen to Travel & Transportation around Montreal, QC (22 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Not much for hotels or spas, but...

1. Given a choice between "downtown" or "old city" where many of the hotels are, I find most of the things I actually do in Montreal are more centered around the Plateau, so I'd focus there.

2. No idea here.

3. For food... Not a vegetarian, but often traveling to Montreal with one. Vegetarian scene is pretty good in Montreal. Lola Rosa has two locations, and is phenomenal modern food. ChuChai is really good vegetarian Thai. Robin des Bois is good vegetarian variations on Canadian classics, and Yuan is surprisingly nice vegan Chinese. Le Chien Fumant isn't strictly vegetarian, but has plenty of good options on the menu and is my go-to place to have a fun, good meal outside of the tourist areas. L'avenue for breakfast, they've also go some great options. I've heard great things about L'escalier for pub food, but haven't been.

4. Botanical Gardens are really nice. McCord Museum and Museum of Fine Arts are great. I usually find they've got some great musical and theater (en Anglais, even!) when I'm visiting. And if you like beer, Montreal has a *great* brewery scene.

Language: English is totally, totally no problem. They are 100% used to it there (further north, not so much). Indeed, they can detect an English speaker a million miles away. Heck, I have a Parisian coworker who has trouble speaking French in Quebec because they detect a non-Quebec accent and switch to English.
posted by kaszeta at 5:19 PM on February 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 2) Not the most luxurious spa, but Bota-Bota is fun because is in the middle of the St. Lawrence river. Especially cool in winter. Others will be able to recommend a more high-end place, but Bota-Bota has experience value, it's super nice to be outside in the hot tub in Winter.
3) I can recommend Montreal bakeries and cheese mongers (and we have raw cheeses here). For bakeries, I like Guillaume and Hof Kelsten a lot -- but there are many. There are a couple of good fromageries at the Atwater market. Montreal is a bit obsessed with meat so it's not super easy to find excellent vegetarian fare IMO. Montreal Eater is nicely edited, maybe check their (admittedly meat-centric, sorry) hot restos list, you might find something interesting there. Also: try the bagels in the Mile-End. This list is reliable too, if a bit outdated.
4) Snow-shoeing at the mountain? Fine Arts Museum, the SAT might have something at the Dome, the music scene is fun, I think the MAC might be closed though.
Bonus) Yes, that is a perfect strategy.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 5:33 PM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You want Scandinave.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:34 PM on February 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

Dr Bored for Science and I did a vacation to Montreal with my family in December 2017, and were very happy staying at the Sofitel Golden Mile. It's about two blocks from the Fine Arts Museum, which was very useful for us.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 5:42 PM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Stay: Katuma on St. Dennis. It's a boutique hotel. You can get one with a hot tub.
Eat: Ethiopian restaurant next door. Get reservations when you arrive.
Sites: Old Montreal...St. Catharine, St. Dennis... there are museums and shops and all kinds of stuff... everything will be within walking distance.
Lastly, the exchange rate isn't quite what it used to be; however, it still favors the dollar. Find a dollar store... Not only do they have better stuff in them, but since you are in Canada... it is a $0.75 store...

Language: Welcome to Montreal. If you aren't French speaking there will be folks that won't talk to you. They are rare and far and few between - but they are insufferable when you find them. If you can say it in French, for some that is a bonus, for others - they'd prefer you to not butcher the language... If they will swap, it will be instantaneous. YMMV with who you find. Three is no easy win here. In general though, Montreal is a dual language city. Signs are twice as long. The people are used to English only tourists and students. You'll love it.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:05 PM on February 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

for 1) I stayed at Hotel William Gray this past November and it was very, very nice. It's a boutique hotel with a spa in the old city that's partly in an 18th-century maison. I've stayed in a few places in MTL and it was definitely the coziest and luxe-ist.
posted by zingiberene at 7:06 PM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Same in Francophone Canada? I would like people to not hate me.

In the parts of Montreal that tourists frequent, people in shops and restaurants will often greet you with "Bonjour Hello!" which is an indication that you should continue in whatever language you prefer. If you're initiating a conversation, feel free to start in French if you want, but you'll likely encounter very few service workers in who aren't bilingual enough to conduct a transaction in either language, and most of them will switch to English immediately upon hearing your accent.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:34 PM on February 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

^^ yes this. Start in French and they will switch to English. Don’t be offended when they do - it’s just easier for everyone.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:20 PM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Pointe-à-Callière Museum in Montréal has the most amazing subterranean archaeological exhibit, which is also an active dig, directly underneath the museum going into the foundations of Old Montreal below street level. In past years, at least, there was also the "spectacle multimédia" there, a sort of narrated filmstrip with some other multimedia elements presented on a stage, which presents the somewhat unique Québécois take on North American history.

It's also just a fabulous little museum with many excellent rotating exhibits.
posted by XMLicious at 8:47 PM on February 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

So far I've just had daytrips in QC; longer in bilingual NB and francophone ON. When I walked into places of business, historic sites and museums I said "hello" and in most cases was able to proceed in English. At one NB francophone market I inferred that the cashier thought I was fluent in French(I'm able to use polite phrases, understand signs and order from a menu) until I said "Je suis de Los Angeles". At one QC museum I had a "bonjour" "hello" standoff until the woman at the entrance realized that I wasn't Canadian.
posted by brujita at 9:13 PM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

@Nanukthedog I can second the recommendation for Katuma, that's my fallback hotel when my normal one (Chateau L'argoat) is booked, and it's funky but nice.
posted by kaszeta at 7:14 AM on February 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding the Plateau neighborhood!

Re language, granted I went to Montreal partially to practice my French, but I did not find that people switched to English by default when I was there. I would start in French and everyone would respect that I'm speaking to them in French, and we'd carry on in French unless I really and truly got stuck. But everyone else is right that, if you don't speak French and aren't trying to have a conversation in French, you can definitely get by just fine in English. It's a major tourist destination and definitely a bi/multilingual city. I think starting in French is fine, but if you can't, I doubt it would cause offense.

Nthing Pointe A Calliere. I'm a history and archaeology nerd and it's one of my favorite museums anywhere, ever, period.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 9:26 AM on February 11, 2019

We also stayed in Kutuma, as mentioned above; I thought it was very nice and the location was great. I did not think it was head and shoulders above other nice places I have stayed in the world, but definitely quite nice, esp for the location and money.

The bagels! The bagels are not overrated but you must get them from where they make them rather than, like, branded cafes. (There's a bunch of St Viateur cafes, don't go to those). Upon a local recommendation we went to Fairmount, got bagels from the oven (sesame were the freshest) and ate them with salmon spread right on the street outside. This was not a mistake.

I liked L'Express for French bistro food (very close to Kutuma). Seemed to me like the kind of place that one would be happy eating alone, though it may depend on time of day and how busy it is.

We enjoyed the Montreal Fine Arts museum.
posted by vunder at 10:09 AM on February 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love L’Express, but it has very limited vegetarian options.

Aux Vivres is a great option in the same neighbourhood. Montreal is a bit of a vegetarian/vegan paradise these days.
posted by third word on a random page at 11:48 AM on February 11, 2019

The Intercontinental has a lovely salt water swimming pool and an absinthe bar!
posted by tangosnail at 12:45 PM on February 11, 2019

Best answer: For spas, Scandinave is very nice and I would recommend it if it's really too cold to be outside for the 30 seconds it takes to jump into the hot tubs (it is all indoors), but if the weather is not super cold, I'd recommend Bota Bota.

And I agree for most of the veg. recommendations, it all depends on what neighbourhood you'll be in (I'm vegetarian): Aux Vivres (casual, good food), ChuChai (tasty fake meats), Yuan (it's a "buffet-style" where you make your selections and they bring you as much as you can eat, as many times as you want - the sushi is really good too), Île Flottante (not strictly a veg place, but they have a full vegetarian tasting menu option, upscale, fantastic food, you will need a reservation though), LOV (hip, upscale-ish, great interesting choices - 3 locations, reservations suggested).
posted by Laura in Canada at 7:41 AM on February 12, 2019

One other thing, Montreal is a big city, there are many things "to do", but it of course depends on your interests. I can't help on hotels, but for spa/ restaurant/ general info, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by Laura in Canada at 8:09 AM on February 12, 2019

It's been awhile but I've stayed at Hotel Nelligan in Old Montreal a few times and always enjoyed its low-key elegance (and fluffy bathrobes).

In the Plateau neighborhood, friends stayed last year in one of "le Qube" quasi-hotels, and while their particular room was small (they vary), it was well appointed and the common areas were fab. They have three buildings in the neighborhood. The Plateau is a great neighborhood for walking and has convenient subway access for getting around the city.
posted by baseballpajamas at 9:52 AM on February 12, 2019

Best answer: My by-far-favourite Nordic spa is Le Finlandais, which is -- alas -- a pain to get to without a car. (Possible, but a pain.) Another option is Strom. Do make sure that baths access is not time-limited, as sometimes they are. I absolutely recommend one where the hot tub is outside.

Bagels: I prefer Fairmount to St Viateur, but both are good. Sesame is almost always fresher than anything else (which is good, it's the best).

If you go to the MMFA don't miss the Kent Monkman (Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle) art in a room in the passage between the two buildings -- there are 3 large paintings and also a video which is absolutely worth seeing.

It really depends on what KINDS of things you want to do. I can't imagine you will go anywhere that you'll have significant issues with English.
posted by jeather at 11:09 AM on February 12, 2019

We go to Montreal at least once a year and keep track of the things we do. After our visit last summer we did a video and I created a map of places we like. If you can forgive the self-link, here is the post with that video and map.

Also, a longer narrative from the 2014 visit.

Have fun! We love that city!
posted by terrapin at 8:33 AM on February 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Indeed, they can detect an English speaker a million miles away.

I respectfully disagree with kaszeta -- with whom I have traveled to Montreal in the past-- on this. I do NOT speak French, but am very good at French pronunciation. I learned after my first visit to Montreal (actually first trip to Paris in 2000) to not do this or risk being spoken to in French and wasting the person's time -- and looking silly.

I *ALWAYS* greet in French because it is respectful and expected, but I will say something closer to bone-jure so the response comes in English.

Residents of Montreal -- especially in service industry -- are so nice, and most of the time easily switch to English. And I am grateful!
posted by terrapin at 11:31 AM on February 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So I'm sitting here in LOV and it's time to make my Montreal report for future Green searchers.

I stayed downtown (I got a deal), but next time I will opt for the Old City. There's not much I personally want to do downtown.

I went to two spas (it's been a stressful three months, don't judge). Bota Bota really felt like a once in a lifetime experience. I went in the evening and watched the sun set over the city (or, if I was in the hot tub, watching the last rays hit Habitat 67). Super great. However, I visited Scandinave the next evening and understand why that would be the preferred spa of someone for whom the skyline is less of a draw. Smaller and more chill than Bota Bota. A+++ on both of them, would loll like a beached whale again.

Pointe A Calliere was definitely a great museum. It reminded me of the undercroft at Yorkminster.

I went to Fairmount Bagels and I'm a big fan. I ate one warm out of the oven, dipping it in a packet of cream cheese.

Restaurant-wise, big ups to Marché de la Villete in Vieux Port for brunch and Pullman at Park and Sherbrooke as a wine bar. I ate a dish of apple fritters paired with a Moscato and I was basically floating.

Oh and Délices Érable et Cie for being the maple syrup themed Williams Sonoma of my dreams.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:18 PM on March 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

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