City Life: Bilingual balancing act
Canada's second city, Montreal, is the North American meeting point of French and English heritage, a culture-rich hubbub, and one of the world's original winter wonderlands.
There's no better place to practise your Franglish than the city that coined the phrase 'bonjourallo' to accommodate greeting Francophiles and Anglophiles alike. While the official battle is between its twin heritages, visitors quickly realise what a multi-cultural foodie haven this city actually is. Dine on authentic Spanish, Portugese, Italian, French, Greek, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese, Chinese… the international menu goes on and on. You'll thank your lucky stars and booted feet that the city is notably walkable too - there's got to be some way to shed the pounds gained in all the local microbreweries, cafes, and restaurants. Although some small areas of Montreal sit on the wrong side of the 'urban regeneration' fence, look a little closer and you'll find a city riddled with history, character, and blithe resistance to the often freezing temperatures.
There's a Hertz branch at the airport (www.hertz.com), but cars are not necessary for navigating Montreal's compact centre and the old-town's streets are easily traffic-clogged.
British Airways and Air Canada have daily direct flights from Heathrow to Montreal's Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport, about 13 miles south of the city. You can take the Metro (underground rail) to downtown, and there's a regular scheduled shuttlebus. Direct flights from NYC go from all three major airports (JFK, Newark and La Guardia) to Montreal in a speedy hour and a half or less.
VIA Rail Canada (https://reservia.viarail.ca) offers swift and simple connections to Quebec City, Ottawa, and Toronto. There is a direct train service to New York, which, on the upside, offers some leafy, lake-y views of the Adirondacks, but even the most passionate landscape painter might have reservations about staring out of windows for eight and a half hours…
+1 for Canada; 514 for Montreal.
Sign Language and Other Tales of Montreal Wildlife, is Gazette-columnist Josh Freed's laser-guided comical take on the quirks of life in the city. Beautiful Losers by Montreal's favourite musical miserablist, Leonard Cohen, proves to be strange but compelling novel.
Do go / Don't Go
The Canadian winter's a punishingly chilly period, but it can be sunny, snowy, crisp, clear and beautiful too. So, do visit, just be prepared for the extreme temperatures Montreal has to offer. Autumn is short-lived but the changing colours of the maple trees are beautiful in this part of the world. Summer in July and August is warm and packed with festivals and the whole city takes advantage of the few months of heat. Spring is possibly the least desirable time to visit as the March-to-May months generally bring mushy snow and damp shoes.
Quebecois cuisine has its roots in the city's history as a fur-trading outpost, so a lot of local specialities are notable for their high fat content - essential padding for those long winter months. As in New York, bagels are a staple, but they're smaller and chewier than their NYC counterparts. You'll find heaps of handmade Montreal bagels at St Viateur (www.stviateurbagel.com) available 24 hours a day. Also keep your foodie eyes peeled for tourtiéres (meat pies traditionally eaten at Christmas), cretons (pork spread on breakfast toast - nicer than it sounds), brisket and smoked meats.
Cars can be readily flagged down in the street and cost a pittance compared to cab fares in cities such as London. A cab from the airport to downtown Montreal is roughly CA$30.
As in the United States, the standard tip-rate is around 15-20 per cent, and cab drivers, hotel porters, doormen, waiting staff and bartenders will expect their palms crossed.
Canadian dollar (CAD).
Serious winter gear if visiting any time between October and May - it can get bone-shiveringly cold - but bust out the summer frocks for the fleeting season called summer when all of Montreal rejoices in some long-awaited warmth.
Montreal's renowned Musee des Beaux Arts (www.mbam.qc.ca) on Sherbrooke Street is a sumptuous museum in glitzy downtown location. If you're into fur trading and canoes, the nearby McCord museum (www.mccord-museum.qc.ca) has been amassing a vast collection of historic Canadian artefacts for almost a century. More cutting-edge tastes are catered to at the Musee de l'Art Contemporain (www.macm.org/en), which houses an ever-growing collection of provocative Quebecois and international modern art. Our favourite way to idle a day is a visit to the Canadian Centre for Architecture (www.cca.qc.ca).
Possibly due to its couture-conscious French heritage, Montreal rivals Paris in the fashion stakes. Boutique U&I (www.boutiqueuandi.com) on the St Laurent strip has been clothing the discerning hommes and femmes of Quebec for more than 10 years. M0851 (www.m0851.com) now has outlets in style cities such as Paris, NYC and Antwerp, but the store on St Laurent was the world's first. You'll find clothing and furniture in addition to its signature line in soft, beautiful and buttery leather accessories. Nearby, Lola & Emily (www.lolaandemily.com) is a haven for Mrs Smiths, a seriously cute boutique set up to resemble a stylish friend's apartement. On a grander scale, Holt Renfrew (www.holtrenfrew.com) is Montreal's answer to Bloomingdales or Harvey Nicks. The Jean-Talon Market on Little Italy's Casgrain Avenue is a must for foodies, perfect for spending the day grazing authentic Quebecois produce.
Head to the highest point in Mont Royal park- designed by famous public-park guru Frederic Law Olmstead, (aka 'Mr Central Park') - and enjoy the sight of the city spread before you like an urban counterpane.
Tap into your inner hippy during Montreal's warmer months and spend a Sunday afternoon in the park listening to the crowds of tam-tam drummers - pack a picnic and feel the love in the air (http://tamtamsmontreal.net).
January-February For three weekends, Île Sainte-Hélène in the middle of the St Lawrence river becomes a winter wonderland, for the Fête des Neiges (www.fetedesneiges.com) with ice-skating paths, tube slides (compacted snow slides) and an assortment of snow-based events. February-March The Montreal High Lights Festival (www.montrealhighlights.com) is a city-wide celebration of gastronomy, cinema, art and general partying that lasts over a week. April-May Five days of talks, readings and general bookish chit-chat mark the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival (www.bluemetropolis.org). May The Montreal Outdoor Festival (www.espaces.qc.ca/plein_air) in Parc Jean-Drapeau offers the opportunity to try out water sports and other outdoorsy activities. June The Montreal Grand Prix is the highlight of the city's sporting calendar. June-July The Montreal International Jazz Festival (www.montrealjazzfest.com) sees hundreds of musicians flock to the city for a fortnight's jazz extravaganza. July The Just for Laughs Festival (www.hahaha.com) is one of the biggest events on the global comedy circuit. August-September The World Film Festival (www.ffm-montreal.org) fills 10 days with cinematic celebration.