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Sleep: Montreal

Prepare to have a ball in the fun-focused Canadian city that packs a foodie punch. And its hotel scene is just as exciting as the city itself, from modern masterpieces with a luxury twist to an African-themed abode and art-centric spots that steal the spotlight

Sleep: Montreal
Executive suite at LHotel, Montreal

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Vieux Montreal

The city’s oldest part lines up along the St Lawrence River, and acts as a tourist honeypot for the easily pleased. That’s not to say it isn’t lovely, however. There’s a brilliant mingling of the quaint and the imposing — with banks and merchant buildings from Montreal’s distant past as a financial powerhouse mixing with galleries, cafes and evening options that straddle the line between restaurant and nightspot. Many of the city’s best cultural attractions can be found here, too: the Pointe-à-Callière Museum does a cracking job of covering the history of the city and the French influence in North America, while Cirque du Soleil’s home turf is on the waterfront.

We recommend: Hotel Le St-James
Within a former bank, the city’s most personality-packed luxury option goes in with all guns blazing. Guests wait in the chandelier-dominated library; then, once the room is ready, individualism takes over. No two rooms are alike, and the furnishings come hand-picked by the owner, who tends to bring back tapestries and carvings he likes.

Serious attention is paid to providing a truly luxurious experience: a 10-strong team meticulously irons the Frette bedsheets; room temperature, music and perfume are tailored to personal preference; doors have motion sensors so staff know exactly when someone’s inside.

The rooms on the first couple of floors keep the original wood panelling from the bank, but what were once high-end meeting rooms now have a masculine, home away from home feel. Elsewhere, the XO restaurant is dressed to impress — it’s a hugely decorative, stucco-packed, multi-level power dining monster that could easily pass as a swish nightclub.
Rooms: Doubles from C$345 (£187). hotellestjames.com

Best for art: LHotel
Another former bank, and another hotel with the distinctive stamp of its owner applied. In this case it’s Georges Marciano, a jeans mogul who decided a hotel was the perfect place to display his art collection. The bubbly, comical Voluptuous Man On A Horse by Fernando Botero stands outside, while originals by the likes of Jaume Plensa, Magritte and Andy Warhol are inside.
Rooms: Doubles from C$164 (£89). lhotelmontreal.com

Best for romance: Pierre du Calvet
Essentially an 18th-century castle converted into accommodation, it’s gloriously, barking mad. OTT, gaudy four poster beds come with knightly shields behind them. Stone carvings, sparkly draped curtains, stained glass windows in the showers and furniture with a pirate treasure chest theme add to the creaky floorboard and stuffed animal head charm.
Rooms: Doubles from C$236 (£128). pierreducalvet.ca

 

Best Hotels Montreal - La Loggia

La Loggia, Montreal

Quartier Latin/ The Village

The Quartier Latin is centred around the Université du Québec à Montréal, and is arguably the most obviously francophone part of Montreal. It’s young and full of life — with no shortage of bars and restaurants to amble between. The Village, just to the south, is where the rainbow flag flies most vigorously. The hub of the gay community is hardly a timid beast, and there are plenty of clubbing options within its confines. Combined, the two show off Montreal at its best — usually chilled, but ready to switch to high energy good times at the drop of a hat.

We recommend: La Loggia
A plaque outside the door says La Loggia was once the home of painter Marcel Barbeau, who lived here from 1980 to 1996. And it’s immediately clear the artistic spirit lives on. There are sculptures of torsos all over the place — the handiwork of co-owner Joel — while the rooms come with colourful, almost cartoony cityscapes.

The five-room B&B, built by a ship’s captain in 1870, sets out to show off the work of Canadian artists, and it does so in a house packed full of little touches. The upstairs lounge, used for breakfast in winter, comes with stained glass windows, petal-esque blades on the ceiling fan, a wood fire and sheepskin throws on the couch.

In summer, however, the heart-flutteringly pretty, sculpture-laden garden is used instead. Book the Art Studio room if you can — as the name suggests, it’s Barbeau’s former studio fitted with skylights, exercise balls and weights equipment. The other co-owner, Rob, uses it for his personal training work when it’s not booked.

Only three of the rooms have en suite bathrooms — the other two share one between them — but there’s a clear care and love in the place. That the owners live here and want to give a guest experience that shares their vision is obvious. And as a guest of La Loggia, you are invited to visit Joel’s studio-gallery located two blocks away.
Rooms: En suite doubles from C$171 (£93). laloggia.ca

Best for backpackers: Montreal Central
It’s rare to find the dreaded eight-bed dorm that’s not a hideous battery cage, but at Montreal Central, even the biggest dorms have plenty of space, plug sockets for the unlucky souls in the top bunks and en suite bathrooms. There’s a packed events calendar — comedy and karaoke nights, live bands and beer pong competitions are part of the mix. Most, however, are held in sister hostel M a block away. This means Montreal Central has opt-in fun without the noise.
Rooms: Dorm beds from C$37.99 (£21), en suite doubles from C$129.98 (£70). hostelmontrealcentral.com

Best for local life: Auberge le Pomerol
There’s a delightful small-scale homeliness to this warm but unflashy inn. Breakfast is delivered in little hampers to the room, where there are flowers on the table and the beds are possibly more comfortable than you’d expect for the price. Staff members seem eager to share local tips, and there’s a little kitchen full of complimentary snacks to snaffle between 3pm and 11pm. But location is a huge bonus — it’s on the cusp of the hazy Quartier Latin/Village boundary, and it’s opposite Berri-UQAM Metro station, which has two lines running through it.
Rooms: Doubles from C$130 (£70). aubergelepomerol.com

 

Best Hotels Montreal - Kutuma

Kutuma, Montreal

Plateau Mont-Royal

If one area captures Montreal’s easygoing but energetic vibe, it’s the Plateau. On a summer weekend, it’s particularly glorious, with the main strip Boulevard Saint-Laurent inevitably pedestrianised for a street art or music festival. Restaurants bring all outside and turn into street food outlets, while fashion boutiques wheel their racks on to the pavement.

With a more defined sense of Gallic decorum, rue Saint-Denis has some of the best eating and shopping in town. Between the two are Portuguese sandwich shops, Venezuelan empanada joints and Jewish delicatessens. The Plateau is where Montreal goes from effortlessly bilingual to dizzyingly international.

We recommend: Kutuma
Montreal doesn’t have an awful lot in common with Africa, but that’s not going to stop this nine-room hotel attempting to bring the two together. And that means rooms with billowing plants, distinctively African paintings on the wall and an overdose of animal print that’s so thorough it actually works.

Each room varies slightly — one might have zebra print pillows and leopard print sheets, another might have throws that look suspiciously like cheetah fur and plates with unmistakeable giraffe markings. Bare brick walls, clover-shaped spa baths and woven reed tables are all part of the mix. All the rooms come with kitchenettes, but if you don’t fancy cooking, the hotel is on top of Le Nil Bleu, an Ethiopian restaurant which serves up authentic dishes.
Rooms: Doubles from C$117 (£63). kutuma.com

Best on a budget: Anne Ma Soeur Anne
Inside a townhouse on francophile Montreal’s favourite street, this small B&B comes as an unchintzy surprise. Red-brown woods dominate, there’s a little outdoor terrace and space is smartly maximised using fold-down beds. There’s room enough for basic self-catering — microwaves and fridges are squeezed in — while breakfast is delivered to the room each morning. There’s a European flavour to the place, absorbing the charm of the area it’s in. And friendly, helpful, staff — full of advice — round off the experience.
Rooms: Doubles from C$108 (£59). annemasoeuranne.com

Best for nightlife: Hotel 10
During the week, Hotel 10 presents itself as a vaguely hip business hotel — filled with art installations, random wooden carvings and wacky-coloured carpets in the lobby, plus concrete ceilings for an urban edge. But it morphs into something different at the weekend, partly due to its enormous canvas-covered restaurant/bar terrace and partly due to its location at the foot of buzzing Boulevard Saint-Laurent, known for its chic shopping as well as its bars and restaurants. And if a big night out’s after-effects need shaking off, the huge walk-in showers provide a refreshing wake-up call.
Rooms: Doubles from C$281 (£152). hotel10montreal.com

 

Best Hotels Montreal - Rooftop pool at Le Square Phillips, Montreal

Rooftop pool at Le Square Phillips, Montreal

Centre-Ville

Montreal’s downtown area tends to change vibe within a few blocks. There are patches of corporate blandness, strips of studenty party bars and plenty of entertainment options — whether that means going to the Bell Centre to watch the Montreal Canadians ice hockey team or getting theatre tickets for the ‘Quartier des Spectacles’. Big name shopping tends to be found along rue Sainte-Catherine, and during the summer months, a fair few downtown area streets see temporary stages erected for festivals.

We recommend: Le Square Phillips
There are myriad categories which Le Square Phillips could come out as ‘best for’. Shopping is one of them — it’s on the other side of the square to the Baie department store, which kicks off the rue Sainte-Catherine spendathon strip. It’s also a superb bet for families — a baby-sitting service is available, as are high chairs and fold-out beds. With the smallest rooms still being 42 square metres, it’s not as if everyone’s going to be tripping over each other either.

There’s a strong case for it being the best option for longer stays, too. All rooms come with full kitchens, dining tables, cutlery, crockery and dishwashers, while there are laundry facilities downstairs. Continental breakfast comes free, although it’s a somewhat perfunctory spread. Another plus is the indoor pool on the top floor — it’s not huge, but is a somewhat unexpected bonus given the price bracket. While it’s not a place of grand statements, high design or pretentions to zeitgeist-grabbing hip — trying to find something to grumble about leads to a lot of head-scratching.
Rooms: Studios from C$178 (£96). squarephillips.com

Best for business: Hotel Le Dauphin Montreal Downtown
There are plenty of strong but somewhat pricey options for those on lavish expense accounts, but if in Montreal for work and paying your own way, this prime-positioned outpost of a local mini-chain ticks the right boxes. In-room computers are provided if needed, water and wi-fi are free, roller blinds can be controlled from your bed, and there’s a little balcony for crafty smokers.
Rooms: Doubles from C$179 (£97). hotelsdauphin.ca

Best for winter stays: Fairmont Le Reine Elizabeth
This humungous hotel is no stranger to people wanting to huddle under the covers all day — John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their famous bed-in and recorded Give Peace A Chance here back in 1969. But there’s no need to do so on one of Montreal’s notoriously fierce winter days. Corridors connect to the main train station and Montreal’s 20 miles of integrated passages and shopping malls (the ‘Underground City’).
Rooms: Doubles from C$237 (£128). fairmont.com/queen-elizabeth-montreal


Published in the December 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)