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.)
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Speaking of food. . . .
Two Favorite New Restaurants
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.