New Experiences in Montreal

by Gray Cargill on August 21, 2013

Post image for New Experiences in Montreal

Earlier this month, I went to Montreal for two new experiences: The Chihuly Exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and the International Mosaiculture Exhibit at the Botanical Gardens. Those two exhibits alone were worth the drive to and from Montreal. But they weren’t the only new experiences I had on this trip. For this weekend, I mixed up my travel style significantly, staying in a new part of town (the “Golden Mile” neighborhood) and trying new restaurants.

I even flirted a little with the dark side: Immediately after publishing my post about why solo travel is so much better than traveling with other people, what did I do? Travel with a friend. Oh, the irony.

I’m always cajoling people who travel in pairs and groups to give solo travel a try. It seemed only fair that I try traveling with someone else again. Sometimes, you’ve just got to see how the other half lives. So, how did it go?

On Traveling With a Friend

As it turns out, even a hard-core solo traveler like me can travel with a friend successfully. Who knew? We didn’t fight, we didn’t come home enemies, and I didn’t come home wishing I’d gone alone. I had a great time. (I hope she did, too, but I won’t speak for her.)

Taverne Gaspar

One of the benefits of traveling with a friend: Someone to take your picture with that awesome cocktail you had at dinner.

It helped that my friend (we’ll call her “J”) knew going in this was a “working” weekend for me. Tourism Montreal arranged our lodging, city transportation and museum passes for the weekend. J has been on a food tour with me before, so she knows about my habit of stopping every five seconds for photos.

One thing I really appreciated was that J is a great navigator. Once again, my GPS let me down in terms of directions. (Bad GPS!) So it was really helpful having someone in the passenger seat who could read a map and help me avoid one-way streets going in the wrong direction. She also took on the assignment of finding a restaurant for dinner Saturday night. It was such a relief to have someone else to whom I could pass off some trip planning responsibility. So that’s what I’ve been missing as a solo traveler!

Chateau Versailles in Montreal

Chateau Versailles in Montreal

On the Golden Mile: Chateau Versailles

Our home-away-from-home for the weekend was Chateau Versailles, an historic luxury hotel located in the Golden Mile neighborhood. I’ve never visited this neighborhood before, and I have to say, I liked it. There are lots of boutique shops, cafes and restaurants (including one across the street), and beautiful old apartment buildings here. There’s an ATM a block over on Rue Sherbrooke and a nearby market where you can stock up on sundries. Best of all, the hotel was a convenient five-minute walk away from the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and the Guy Concordia Metro Station—making it an ideal home base for what we wanted to do that weekend.

The Lobby at Chateau Versailles

The Lobby at Chateau Versailles

The staff at Chateau Versailles were all warm and welcoming (once we checked in, they remembered us as we came and went), but I really have to single out Yvonne at the front desk, who was nice as could be and a real problem-solver. Montreal Tourism had booked our stay here, and there was a miscommunication about the room. When my friend and I opened the door to our room, we found just a single king bed. Uh. . .awkward.

King bedroom

King bedroom

I went back down to the desk to indicate that we needed two beds, where I learned they were sold out for the night. Yikes. I told Yvonne I’d be willing to sleep on a rollaway cot or an air mattress, anything we could squeeze into the room as a second bed. Within five minutes she was able to find another King room that had a sleeper sofa and switched our rooms quickly and easily.

Believe it or not, the sleeper sofa was as comfortable as a bed, and I got the best night’s sleep I have in months. Of course, the two-hour drive and miles of walking around the city might have had something to do with that. . .but I was happy, nonetheless. If you knew the difficulties I have sleeping through the night, you’d understand why.

Sleeper sofa

This sleeper sofa transforms into a most comfortable bed.

This hotel might not be practical for everyone—especially if you’re on a tight budget (it’s on the spendy side at $200 plus or minus per night) or have mobility problems. There is no elevator, the front steps are long and steep, the hallways narrow, and the bathrooms very small. So be forewarned.

Lion Statue

Just one of many great architectural details of Chateau Versailles

But for our purposes, it was great, and anyway, those are the architectural features that make it obvious this used to be a private home–which is what gives it so much character. It has all the amenities you’d want in a luxury hotel room–safe, minibar, Crabtree and Evelyn products in the bathroom, a plush robe hanging in the closet. There are even Keurig coffee makers in the rooms.

Le Boudoir

Le Boudoir

Perhaps my favorite thing about the Chateau Versailles, though, was the complimentary continental breakfast; it reminded me of the breakfasts I had in Paris. It is served in “Le Boudoir,” a spacious room with a fireplace and cozy seating in comfortable chairs fitting for the historic setting. There was a variety of food and it was plentiful (heavy on the pan au chocolat and croissants–yay!). Since we ate around 8am, before other guests were up, breakfast was an unhurried, civilized affair. It was a lovely way to start the day.

breakfast

Complimentary Continental Breakfast at Chateau Versailles

Speaking of food. . . .

Two Favorite New Restaurants

Plaisirs Gourmands

We loved this place so much, we ate here twice.

Yvonne tipped us off to Plaisirs Gourmands, a great lunch spot located down Rue Sherbrooke from the hotel. Plaisirs Gourmands is a casual coffee/pastry shop that also serves delicious warm sandwiches. It’s a basement space with charming brick walls and a variety of seating options ideal for the solo traveler—two-tops, counter dining, relaxed lounging chairs and tables in the back, and terrace dining out front. Service is a bit inconsistent—our waitress on the first day was terrific, while our waiter on the second day was well-intentioned but not on the ball.

Roast Beef Sandwich

Yummy roast beef sandwich

The roast beef sandwich with dijonnaise on a crusty bread was delicious, though I’d have been  happier if it had more vegetables on it. Still, I had it twice, so obviously I liked it. The menu here is only in French, so if you don’t read French, you’ll have to get some translation assistance from your server; they all speak English.

Taverne Gaspar

Our dinner feast at Taverne Gaspar – including the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had

For dinner, J had chosen Taverne Gaspar on Rue de la Commune Est in Old Montreal, across from the Waterfront in a prime people-watching location. If you have the opportunity, definitely dine outside, where you can people-watch and see the horses and carriages coming and going. It’s the quintessential Old Montreal setting.

Patio dining at Taverne Gaspar

Patio dining at Taverne Gaspar

We sampled a number of small plates and finished everything, so I can recommend the raspberry margarita, the cucumber collins (with lime and cucumber), the nicoise salad, beef tartar (with crostinis), the cod fritters (which sit in a small dollop of spicy sauce), and the mini lobster rolls. Those were the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had. I’m not sure what all the ingredients were, but the filling was more flavorful than I’ve had in the past. They came with very thin, crispy waffle fries that were so addicting, I wished they sold bags of them—by the pound.

Making Time for an Old Favorite

Vieux Port

Montreal’s Vieux Port at sunset

It’s just not a trip to Montreal if you don’t spend at least an hour or so wandering the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal—preferably at night. Summer is the perfect season for enjoying the Waterfront. We browsed some shopping kiosks on the pier and listened to music from a nearby band wafting across the water. We walked up the crowded St. Paul Street to Place Jacques Cartier–a must on a Saturday night if you want to be in the center of the action–and enjoyed the energy there.

Montreal City Hall

Hey! That telephone booth photobombed my great shot of city hall!

I was a little sad to leave town on mid-afternoon Sunday, but we both wanted to be home by dinner time to get some things done at home before the start of the work week. Given that we were only in Montreal for a little over 24 hours, it’s amazing how much we were able to do. It was a busy and exhausting, but very satisfying weekend that left me wanting more of Montreal in the near future. Au revoir, Montreal. I’ll be back.

Note: My sincere thanks to Chateau Versailles and Montreal Tourism for hosting our fabulous weekend in Montreal. Though most of the weekend was comped, my opinions are 100% my own, as always.

Frank October 11, 2013 at 10:04 am

Hi Gray – glad you enjoyed our city!
Frank (bbqboy)

Gray Cargill October 11, 2013 at 10:27 am

Always, Frank! Montreal is one of my favorite cities!

Tracy Antonioli August 27, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Gorgeous photos! Particularly the one with all the food. (It doesn’t hurt that I’m kinda hungry and trapped in an airport, and I refuse to eat in airports…)

I love the trying-new-things aspect of your trip, particularly the traveling with a friend part! I went on my first group bus tour this past weekend, and while my solo travel soul did come away a teensie bit battered, I was surprised at how much fun I had–and at the friendships I forged. It was different than any trip I’d have taken, for sure–but that’s part of what made it great. (That being said, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, got myself to a high end restaurant, and ordered a martini as soon as I arrived–solo–in Chicago at the end of the weekend!)

Gray Cargill August 27, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Thanks–and ha ha on the food, I know what you mean. Wow, YOU went on a group bus tour? I can’t believe it! It’s kind of okay shaking up your travel routine once in a while, isn’t it?

Barbara August 23, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Hi Gray, I’m new to your site and really enjoying reading about your travel adventures solo and with a friend! I look forward to following along in the future! I would definitely love to experience Chateau Versailles, it looks amazing. I’m so happy you enjoyed traveling with your friend! Happy Travels!

Gray Cargill August 23, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Thanks, Barbara! Glad you enjoyed it!

Lauren Meshkin August 22, 2013 at 5:36 am

I’m a big fan of smaller hotels. They always seem to have the most character and friendliest service. I don’t mind splurging every now and then. Chateau Versailles sounds ideal! Also, the one problem I find when I’m traveling with others is that some just don’t understand my need to photograph practically everything. I’m glad you had no problems 🙂

Great post!

Gray Cargill August 23, 2013 at 5:51 am

I don’t mind splurging now and again, either, Lauren. After all, we’re worth it, right?

lee laurino August 21, 2013 at 9:02 pm

You are soooooo correct, solo travel is a LOT of work… One person does all the planning, decisions, research, and handles all the changes.or ‘disasters’…. For a story, i used a trip planner in Lecce, Italy and was amazed at the unusual, wonderful event and people to meet……all through a trip planner.

Gray Cargill August 23, 2013 at 5:52 am

Oh, yeah, Lee, for sure I’ve come to realize why people use travel agents. It’s just so much easier to let someone else do all the logistical work.

lee laurino August 23, 2013 at 8:11 am

i have still NEVER found a travel agent who will work with a solo traveler with enthusiasm, … travel agents work on commission and one sale is not as good as a ‘couple’… but a travel planners knows everything about a location, is an expert and can often give me introductions to places and people i would never know about…. so now when i think of traveling to an ‘exotic’ place, i will search for a local expert ….it will be worth the money.

Gray Cargill August 23, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Well, travel planners will also book things for you, won’t they? So yeah, best of both worlds. I think it would be worth it, too, especially for complicated trips or trips where you just don’t have time to do the research yourself.

Monique August 21, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Really nice post! Too bad I’m too far away from Montreal now, but I will make sure I keep this hotel in mind for my next visit!

Gray Cargill August 21, 2013 at 6:41 pm

I have this document of places I want to visit, Monique, and as I run across names of hotels or restaurants or things to do in those places, I copy and paste them into the document for reference when I get around to going there. For some reason, the more information I collect, the higher up on my travel list those destinations go. Here’s hoping Montreal rises to the top of yours in the not-too-distant future.

RobRob August 21, 2013 at 8:17 am

What an awesome looking hotel! I have no idea when I’ll be able to get to Montreal but, when I do, I know where I’ll be staying. Glad you had a good weekend and survived traveling non-solo! Also have to agree with you on Chihuly. I’ve seen exhibits in a couple of cities and each one… Mind blown. 🙂

Gray Cargill August 21, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Yes, I’m quickly becoming a Chihuly fangirl. 🙂

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