Montreal luxe offerings primed for fete-fueled influx

The dining area at Bar George, one of the many highlights at the 90-room Le Mount Stephen in Montreal.

From an architectural standpoint, the city of Montreal officially limits building heights to 233 meters (764 feet) above sea level so that no structure is higher than the top of the city's Mount Royal. From a celebratory standpoint, however, Canada's second-largest city jumps far higher than that.

With Canada celebrating its 150th anniversary, Montreal is doubling down by commemorating its own 375th anniversary.

In all, the city will throw more than 700 events this year to fete its history. With such celebrations in mind, Montreal is expected to boost its visitor numbers by more than 5% this year, to a record 10.7 million.

Fortunately, the city's upper-scale hotel inventory appears to be sufficiently updated to accommodate the throng. Typifying Montreal's old-new ethos is Le Mount Stephen, which opened in the city's Golden Square Mile in May and was redeveloped out of what was originally the 19th century home of George Stephen, the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Front and center is the fully restored public area that includes a restaurant and lounge called Bar George, a ton of gorgeous wood paneling and stained glass and even a clock carved out of a mahogany tree. Adjoining the old structure at the rear is a modern, tasteful 90-room structure complete with four two-story Sky Lofts.

Old Montreal's Hotel William Gray, which opened last summer, also goes the old-new route, with its 127 rooms and 180-seat bistro being rebuilt by local hospitality veterans and brothers Tony and Costa Antonopoulos out of two 18th century buildings.

Last year also marked the opening of the 142-room Renaissance Montreal Downtown, which was rebuilt out of a 1950s-era post office facility and includes a 12th-floor lounge as well as an adjoining plunge pool. The hotel plays up its heritage by featuring hand-painted graffiti from local artists in its hallways as well as a 5-foot-high logo of the Canadiens hockey team in the lobby.

Finally, there's the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth, which reopened most of its 950 rooms this summer and is nearing the completion of its $140 million renovation. Noteworthy for hosting John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 "bed in" (the suite they occupied has been updated to give more of an immersive, virtual-reality-type experience, with period-piece furnishings and audio-video documentation of the event), the property includes a Fairmont Gold section marketed as its own 100-room "boutique hotel" complete with a separate lounge area.

Aside from its festivals and accommodations, Montreal has evolved into a bit of a foodie paradise. Aside from the obligatory trip to Schwartz's for smoked meat sandwiches, the outdoor patio at Old Montreal's Boris Bistro provided a great, businessman's lunch-type experience. Our best meal may have been at Ma Poule Mouilee, the unassuming counter-service restaurant in the Plateau that specializes in Portuguese roast chicken and outstanding poutine.

Additionally, Montreal's museums are well curated. Both the Montreal Science Centre and Montreal Archaeology and History Complex are a must for anyone with kids in tow. And the Museum of Contemporary Art had myriad exhibits that offered everything from a retrospective on the architectural impact of Expo 67, the 1967 World's Fair, to thought-provoking installments offering commentary on everything from prayer to human destruction of the environment.

Still, our visit may have been most typified by our stumble into a weekend parade called L'Amitie Nuestroamericana, which included more than 1,000 dancers and troupes from 65 countries. It's enough to make one curious about what Montreal will do for its 376th anniversary.


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