A Walk on the Old Side of Montreal

vieux montreal stVieux-Montréal the Paris of North America? Maybe yes, maybe no. There’s a French answer for you. Does it come off a little bit touristy? A bit. Does it still have a lot of charm? Enough to make you think you’re almost in Paris for a while. But the best thing about Vieux-Montreal is that you can forget about cars or taxis and just leg it everywhere you want to go.

Hopefully, your first impression of Vieux-Montreal won’t be based on Place Jacques-Cartier. In the summer months, the tour buses release their captives at the base of the hill and they crawl around the sidewalk cafes amidst the street performers and flower sellers. The scene is a little bit too frantic for me. I like the quieter streets and alleys where you can linger at an art gallery or admire the restored 18th and 19th century buildings that have become the commercial underpinning of the neighborhood. The area is bounded on the north by Rue St.-Antoine and on the south by Vieux-Port (Old Port). To the west is Rue McGill and to the east is Rue Berri, and in between there is quite a bit to see. The quarter is filled with shops, boutique hotels, studios, art galleries, cafes, bars, offices and apartments. A safe place to walk, day or night, this quarter is just the auberge du vieux montrealright size for a weekend exploration.

For a hotel, I liked Auberge du Vieux-Port
located on Rue de la Commune, overlooking the Vieux-Port park and the Saint Lawrence River. The original stone and timber architecture has been preserved in most of the 27 rooms, and there is a very pleasant communal room for breakfast, gourmet restaurant and a romantic rooftop bar.

I was happy enough wandering up and down Rue Saint-Paul, Rue Notre-Dame, Rue Saint-Pierre, Rue McGill, Rue Saint-Sulpice, but the tour of Notre-Dame Basilica is worth the time, plus there are boat tours on the riverfront, and museums as well. The old Bonsecours Market has been turned into a contemporary design shopping concourse that will be loved by shoppers and hated by those who despise conspicuous consumption (you know who you are). In the market you can find Quebecois, Canadian and First Peoples (their term for native Canadians) artwork along with all the usual suspects of an urban mall.

When it comes to food, the choices in Vieux-Montreal are amazing. There are plenty of French vieux montreal niterestaurants, of course, such as Aix Cuisine du Terroir and Toque! to name two of the most chi chi options. But you can have Italian at Otto, Mediterranean with great jazz at Modavie, Polish-East European at Stash. We liked the big tree shaded alfresco French dining at Boris Bistro and even the tourist focused Chez Suzette was a great place to grab an inexpensive crepe.

So if you are looking for someplace near by that feels far away (okay, it’s not Paris), and you would prefer to relax in one neighborhood instead of constantly jumping on the metro or taking a cab, Vieux-Montreal may be just the ticket for a truly pleasant weekend.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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