October 16, 2012

Montréal Mon Chéri

By Roderick Eime in Montréal

On first look, you might think the Canadian island city of Montréal is too far from the sea to be a real cruise destination, but with its neighbour of Québec, the two fair cities linked to the Atlantic Ocean by the Saint Lawrence Seaway, offer cruisers a wonderful insight into both modern and historic Canada.

Officially founded in 1642 but with archaeological records dating back to the time of Christ, there is plenty of history in Montréal and you can explore it in any of the superb museums within easy stroll of the cruise terminal. The Centre d’histoire de Montréal in place D’Youville will introduce you to the rich and eventful history of Montréal society, while just down the way at Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History digs deeper, literally, into the past with an archaeological dig beneath the museum itself.

Art and design lovers will have plenty to swoon over at any of the galleries like the Museum of Fine Arts, arguably the most prestigious museum in the city. I took one of the free guided tours with volunteer guide, Patrick, and was glad I did. Not normally a fan of the sometimes pompous art tours, Patrick helped me understand the subtleties of Canadian fine art without feeling like a dill.

Also along the wharf is an array of activities ranging from harbour cruises, bicycle hire, horse-drawn carriages and more museums, especially the Centre des sciences de Montréal, where both permanent and temporary exhibits are on offer and handy alternative for inclement weather, although during my stay it was hard to imagine with such glorious weather during my short stay.

If you’re going to take a tour, there’s lots of interesting stuff beyond the port precinct including foodie tours that visit the bustling local market and famous bakeries, patisseries and outlets like Fairmount Bagel and Chez Schwartz’s smoked meats. Colourful fruits, berries and vegetables make the stalls a photographic delight.

Montréal is often referred to as “Canada's Cultural Capital” and is anything but your average urban metropolis. It thrives on quirkiness, creativity and innovation while retaining a deep respect for the past exemplified by the common use of old French as day-to-day language.

Montréal’s cruise season is May to October and is dominated by the HAL vessel, MAASDAM, but also sees popular late (Fall) season visits in 2013 by Silver Whisper, Seven Seas Navigator, Oceania Regatta, Seabourn Sojourn, AIDAbella and Crystal Symphony. Small ship operator, Blount, also plies the minor waterways with their 100-pax vessels Grand Caribe and Grand Mariner.

For those starting or finishing a cruise in Montreal, it is my strong recommendation to allow a few days in the city for extra sightseeing and cultural enrichment. Stay at one of the swank new design hotels like LHotel or Chez Swann. You’ll be glad you did.

Montreal quickies:
  • Montréal has roughly the same population as Brisbane and is Canada’s second largest after Toronto 
  • Montréal’s subway was opened in 1966, has 68 stations and as uses the same mechanicals as Paris 
  • Much of downtown Montréal is underground with 12ha and 32km of tunnels and walkways in the RÉSO
  • Montréal was the site of the 1967 World Expo and 1976 Olympic Games 
  • Montréal’s international airport (YUL) handles 13 million pax annually

More info: www.tourisme-montreal.org

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