After returning from my grand journey in Southeast Asia and getting back into the grind of work and daily life this past month, I decided it was time to satisfy my travel craving once more. Mr. Chuckles had only a long weekend to spare for vacation time, so we opted to take a local mini break to Montréal.
Train to old Montréal
Montréal, Quebec is an easy 5 hour drive or train ride from Toronto. Given my corporate discount, we went with VIA Rail. Porter also flies from Toronto to Montréal, but if you account for travel to the airport and check in times, the marginal duration of time saved from flying is probably not worth the additional expense.
For accommodation, we stayed at Hotel Nelligan, a quaint boutique hotel located in the middle of old Montréal. We splurged on the petit suite (junior suite) and had a decent stay there. The only issue I had was some disorganization when checking out; somehow they recorded us as having taken multiple items from the mini bar when we in fact didn’t touch a thing in there. 🤔
Old Montréal was a suitable place to stay as first time visitors to the city. Definitely very touristy but a beautiful area with cobblestone streets, historic architecture, and lots of boutique shops and cafes.
The foodie tour
Most of my trips lately have been food based, and this weekend was no different. We basically designed our itinerary around seeking out Montréal’s classic dishes.
Day 1: Poutine
Our first full day started with poutine at La Banquise. The portions here are hefty so we shared a large plate of La Classique.
In order to justify eating that mountain of fries and cheese curds, we climbed a mountain and burned off some of those calories. Mont Royal is a volcanic hill/small mountain located west of downtown, which takes about 20 to 30 minutes to hike. Alternatively, you can take a car or bus to the summit that features a viewing point overlooking the city.
The mountain is crowned by a large illuminated cross that was placed in 1924 by the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, now owned by the city. It replaced the original cross that was placed in 1643 by the founder of Montréal in fulfillment of a vow he made to the Virgin Mary when he prayed for her to stop a disastrous flood.
In terms of other outdoor activities, I had considered visiting the Montréal Botanical Garden and renting some bikes to ride along the trails by the St. Lawrence River, but unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. It was gloomy and cold for most of the weekend, leaving me chilled to the bone! 💀 So much for spring.
In the evening, we had dinner at Restaurant Toqué, located just 10 minutes from our hotel. This place was recently rated the third best restaurant in Canada, following Alo in Toronto. We had the tasting menu consisting of 5 main courses and 2 desserts. I would still place Alo far ahead but it was a good meal.
Day 2: Bagels
We started our second day at St-Viateur for classic Montréal bagels. We’ve found these bagels at our local grocer in Toronto but wanted to try them fresh from the source. Unfortunately it turned out a bit disappointing, as they were not served toasted or with any toppings (we purchased a single serve portion of Philly cream cheese from their fridge). We much preferred our fresh bagel experiences in New York City.
We were still hungry so caught an Uber directly from St-Viateur to Patrice Patissier for some French pastries. This was a more satisfying culinary experience, especially for my sweet tooth.
In the afternoon we stopped at Notre-Dame Basilica. The interior of this church is a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture. Lovely colours and very ornate.
Interestingly, several of the stained glass windows do not depict biblical scenes, but rather images portraying the religious history of Montréal. We also learned that there is currently an art installation called Aura that is being displayed in the basilica in the evenings. Regrettably we discovered this too late, as we visited on a Sunday afternoon but the exhibit only runs from Monday to Saturday.
Our evening was spent at restaurant Au Pied de Cochon, translating to ‘foot of the pig’. Of course we had to get their signature dish: stuffed pied de cochon (PDC) with foie gras. Meat sweats and food coma followed.
Day 3: Smoked meat
Our hotel was around the corner from Scandinave so I decided to book myself in for a morning at the spa on our last day before heading home. This place features Scandinavian style thermal baths. It was really nice to get all relaxed and freshened up before embarking on a long trip home, so I may try out this approach for future travels.
Following a great deep tissue massage and multiple cycles in the baths and sauna, I joined Mr. Chuckles for our final food hunt. We ended up at Schwartz’s Delicatessen which is basically a Montréal institution. We had passed by it the other day and saw a huge line in front; fortunately the crowd was smaller when we arrived and moved quickly.
I enjoyed the signature smoked meat sandwich with a side of pickle, yummy.
Overall, a weekend well spent indulging in the three food groups of Montréal, with a bit of sight-seeing thrown in too.