I’ve read many a travel guide, but have never sat down to write one myself. I imagine that it would feel fun for us to look back one day on our very last vacation before we have a kid (or...our second to last if we’re lucky enough to dart away for one more long weekend before February!).
We called it our "baby moon," for the sweet-cheese factor. We considered going someplace warm, but passed due to airfare and what seemed like extremely long drives. Then, Montreal came up. M has long been curious to visit Montreal (because: poutine, etc). I visited once, briefly, back in high school when I was considering McGill's architecture program. But that was short lived and I didn't remember much about it. So, we figured - why not?!
The trip was completely relaxing. We enjoyed a nice long drive together where we crossed things off our list, listened to a book on tape, and chatted to our hearts content. Our trip consisted of sleeping in every morning, eating the most delicious food, a lot of walking and exploring, and a bit of shopping. Stay tuned for photos and recommendations should you be driving through or visiting!
When: October 24th through 28th. An extra-long weekend away.
Distance: from PVD => CT => Montreal: about 7 hours overall. On Thursday morning, we were up early to drive to CT to drop Sunny off with her grandparents. There’s something nurturing about being snuggled into a car together before dawn. Even after more than a year back on the east coast, it still feels new to live close enough to be able to briefly drop by my parents' house.
Stops along the way: Burlington, VT. We drove around the downtown area, ate lunch at Leunig's, a cozy French bistro. Shared a chicken caesar salad, white truffle french fries, and pumpkin soup. Made a pit stop at an Aveda salon where I picked up a volumizing spray (which I recommend for anyone else whose fine hair lays flatter than they'd like. I'm not sure if I love it as much as the OAUI volumizing spray but I don't believe OAUI is safe for pregnancy). Last, we fawned over the cutest snow-bunny onesie from Patagonia and a sweet alphabet painting at a local store, but passed on purchasing (for now, at least).
Listened to: Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut. Do any of you read Vonnegut, or have you previously? I imagine him in his flow of writing, pausing and chuckling to himself while he crosses out one bit and instead, adds a nuanced zinger. I’m not sure I would really call him cynical (that word seems to communicate that one isn’t seeing clearly - or is seeing through the eyes of a depressed lens), but I would say he has a suave way of naming raw truths that underlie our nature. “This was a very innocent planet," he writes, "except for those great big brains.” So true. So very true!
Even when we are on vacation, we are shameless restaurant repeaters. During the first part of our honeymoon in Rome, we went to the same forno every day. While in Montreal, we found three restaurants in particular that we loved and we back twice to each. The following are our favorites.
Bistro Sur La Riviere
We arrived in Montreal close to dinner time and were grateful to receive a recommendation from our AirBnB owner that was within walking distance. What is better than a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, mostly attended by locals, where the menu is a list of items on a chalk board that changes daily? M drank delicious wine, and I drank tea. We shared pea soup, steak au poive, and a burger (cooked through - I'm getting used to a well done burger!). It was a cold night and our dinner warmed us from the inside out. We enjoyed a bundled walk home (which included a Tums excursion).
Regine Cafe was our favorite brunch spot in Montreal. M does some heavy food hunting when we visit a city and Regine stood out right away. It has a relatively non-descript exterior, but when you walk in, it is hopping and ripe with color, pastry, and cozy seating. First time around, we sat at a family style table with stacks of cookbooks to browse through, and chatted with a couple of frequent Regine-ers who offered recommendations as to what we should see in Montreal. Second time around, we went back the morning before we left. We shared an intimate table where we could look out the window and reflect on our time in Canada. Between two visits, we shared: coffee, a latte, a green juice, a cinnamon roll, Champi, Sucre Sale, and Chocolat. Even though I tend to prefer savory, Chocolat was our agreed upon standout favorite! Not too sweet!
Another favorite was Patrice Patissier. I was actually a bit crabby the morning we went to Patrice. We were deciding between pastries or crepes and I felt indecisive and uncomfortable. I had been up the night before, worrying about truly random child/motherhood-related potentialities. This, my friends, is par for the course. Or so I've decided! But, back to our important subject!
Patrice Patissier has such a cool vibe. When you walk in, it seems like a no-nonsense patisserie. But once you walk past their classic pastry case full of beauties, you find a spacious easy sitting area, and a cookbook-packed backroom that is dedicated to both seating and pastry making. Perfectly browned homemade brioche loaves rest beneath shelves petit-four tiers, and aproned bakers handling steaming Koign Amanns stand beside seated breakfast-brunch-and-lunchers, sipping their drinks and awaiting their food.
I can't speak highly enough of this location, but even moreso - the pastries. If you are a pastry lover, be sure to stop by. They are refined but not fancy. Not too massive or sweet. In a word, perfect. We tried all sorts of things. Between two visits, we tried (get ready for this list) the: Koign Amann, chocolate shortbread tart, mini key lime tart, chocolate chip cookie, Grilled Cheese, Croque-Monsieur, green salad, coffee, latte, and clementine-orange-strawberry LOOP juice (a company, who I decided to email because their juice was amazing and I am an incredibly picky juice drinker. If it has citric acid or is watered down, I notice and I just don't want it. LOOP is a company that transforms imperfect/would-be-tossed fruits and transforms them into uniquely flavored delicious juices. I e-mailed them to ask if I can find their product in the states, and they responded, saying to keep a look out! They are hoping to come into the states sometime soon. Very exciting! Keep a look out if you are interested).
Back to pastry. The Koign Amann was an agreed upon favorite. A bit like a blend between a moist bun and a croissant on the inside, and with a crisp, almost caramelized, exterior (delicate and not at all chewy or tough). The chocolate chip cookie was wonderful (moist center and not too sweet). Marcio loved the two tarts. I could have done without them - too dessert-y as opposed to pastry-y (if that's a thing). And both sandwiches were great. M preferred the grilled cheese, and I preferred the Croque-Monsier. The green salad was bright and perfectly complimented the richness of the grilled cheese. And that LOOP juice! I can't say enough about it.
Au Pied de Cochon
Au Pied de Cochon was an experience, to say the least! M made our reservation a few weeks in advance, and despite the name, I didn't realize how entirely meat-focused the menu would be! This was another location that we visited a second time. Between two visits we shared: warm bread with butter cooked in a brick oven, a blue cheese salad (which was really amazing. Amongst greens it was made of thinly sliced apples, jicama, and walnuts - I want to re-create it in some form at home), a pork leg for two (YUP), root vegetables with goat cheese, and duck cooked in a can (again - YUP!). The chefs of Au Pied de Cochon have a canning device that allows them to seal and pressure cook all of this dish's ingredients inside a can. They open it with a can opener table-side, and gloop (just like that), all ingredients topple out, somehow beautifully plated, like some kind of glop-to-refinement post-modern trick. It was an extremely decadent dish. If you eat meat, don't miss this experience!
La Banquise was recommended to us to by our AirBnB owner to satisfy our search for the best poutine in Montreal, and it did not disappoint. You won't believe that these two plates below are "smalls." We considered sharing a "large" but wanted to try a few different varieties. M wanted hot dogs and I ordered the "special," both tasted and felt like that kind of dirty-in-a-good-way-comfort-food that we all crave from time to time. It's a cash-only, high-flow poutinerrie, with a quick-moving line that snakes down the street, leaving hundreds of customers satisfied and FULL. I'm sure there are a variety of wonderful places to eat poutine in Montreal. We also tried the poutine at Au Pied de Cochon, which was very good as well. Hard to go wrong with fries, gravy, and cheese curds! I'd say it's all about the hotness/crispiness of the fries and the depth of the gravy. In the end, both locations were very good and I can't say that one was "better" than the other.
Poutineville was another location that was suggested to us by our neighbors. Should we go back to Montreal, we'd give that a try for curiosities sake!
Park Mount Royal
Park Mount Royal was our favorite destination. I had no idea that Fredrick Law Olmsted (the landscape architect who designed Central Park) created a park in Montreal. But it made perfect sense once we saw it. Meandering trails, rolling hills, and trees placed like intentional pendants. It has a grace to it. It conveys both a sense of vastness and a cozy, reassuring sense of feeling held in harmony.
We loved the sculptures placed throughout the park. In 1964, Montreal hosted a sculpture symposium in which a series of artists from different countries were invited to work together in open air conditions without restrictions on their methodology. I can only imagine what it must have been like to witness them work on such large-scale pieces for all to see! We see plein air painters all the time in nature. It feels rare to encounter sculptors working outdoors.
Museum of Contemporary Art
We visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, and unfortunately their permanent collection was closed. But we were able to see a few funky and expressive temporary exhibits.
My favorite piece was Micah Lexier's Debby Lexier's Tulip Drawings. The work is a collaboration between the artist and his mother, in which he asked her to create a freehand drawing of a tulip. He decided to scan her images and felt inspired when they were distorted by his scanning materials. Eventually, he developed their process into a monochromatic relief sculpture.
We explored Old Port of Montreal, walked up and down St. Catherine Street, and dipped in and out of vintage shops and home design shops along St. Laurent Boulevard. During a particularly rainy afternoon, we explored Montreal's famous underground mall.
I wish I had taken a few more photos of some of the shops we dipped into. My favorites were a moderately sized artist collective in Old Port (where we found artsy pepper-grinders as well as hand made rattles - though we passed on purchasing either), a boutique in Old Port called Atelier B (which features lovely thick cotton dresses and a beautifully curated collection for little ones - though we passed on purchases here too) and EQ3 on St. Laurent (where I bought a grey platter (brand website here) and a small wooden spoon for our kitchen). Nesting? definitely.
We enjoyed our late mornings, king-size bed, and daily excursions. As is typical, after a number of days away from home we felt ready to see Sunny, head back, and huddle up with our book on tape once again. As travel-loving homebodies, it's always exciting to get away but also reassuring to snuggle back home.
Au Revoir, Montreal!
Thank YOU for reading along! If you've ever been to Montreal and have tips or recommendations, mention them in the comments!