summer travel guide - camille on montreal
Canada is a magical land to me.. a place of myth since I've never really been there (unless you count a brief sojourn when I visited Prince Edward Island as a 10 year old and spoke terrible French to a vacationing family on the coast), filled with amazing food and cultured locales. And out of all the mystical cities, Montreal is the one I want to visit most. Named one of the most livable cities in the world and the cultural capital of Canada on numerous occasions, its French roots dating back to the 16th century - it's not one to miss. Camille of Unpretentious Bouquet of Parentheses (whose classic French style and film snapshots make her one of my favorite reads) is a Montreal local and today, she's sharing her favorite spots with us!
Where to eat? Bagel Etc. - you can't visit Montreal without trying out the local bagels. Many people go directly to the source at Saint-Viateur Bagels, but I think it's better to have them as part of a meal such as the delicious classic of smoked salmon and cream cheese on said bagel. Bagel Etc. is my favourite spot to eat brunch or late breakfasts. The decor is a mix between Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and 50s diner style, and according to an autographed letter on one of the walls, Leonard Cohen is a regular. I haven't seen him yet, but you might be lucky.
At Kem CoBa, you'll find the best homemade ice cream and sorbets. You can try all the flavours you like before taking your difficult final decision and no matter what it turns out to be, do not leave without at least trying the 72% chocolate. The Casa Del Popolo is a comfortable cafe where you can eat delicious sandwiches such as the Boccolicious (with bocconcini cheese and pears) and burritos. At night, it also doubles up as a bar and has an affiliated concert room on the side. One thing I really enjoy doing is meeting up with friends for dinner and drinks on the Casa's back patio before heading to their concert room.
Best coffee/tea shop? Fuchsia is a very cosy tea shop where most food and drinks have flowers as part of their ingredients. They serve sweets such as rosehip jam cookies, orange blossom cupcakes, and lavender brownies. They also have a small selection of salads, like the delicious kale and wheatberry option.
Favorite afternoon excursion? We're really lucky to have the Mount Royal Mountain right in the centre of the city. It's surrounded by large parks where you can picnic, hang out with friends, and read for as long as you like. And if you're feeling a bit more sporty, it makes for great hikes on or off the paths.
Otherwise, I really enjoy going to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (Fine Arts Museum). I have been trying to go to all of their major exhibits (tip: tickets on Wednesday evenings are half off), and I have recently taken to visiting their expansive permanent collection.
Favorite evening entertainment? Montreal is a great city for music lovers. We have many music festivals during the summer, such as the Francofolies (which features artists performing in French), the Jazz Fest, as well as Osheaga, where major and indie artists perform alike. However, my favourite festival is the Suoni Per Il Popolo. It takes place during the whole month of June and invites a large number of artists to perform in concert rooms across the city, including the aforementioned Casa Del Popolo and its neighbour, the Sala Rossa. I usually don't know most of the performers, but it's the kind of festival where you can show up to almost any performance and love it; this year, the best show I've seen at the festival was Yamantaka//Sonic Titan. Regardless of festivals, there are always amazing shows going on pretty much any night, any time of the year in town.
Where to shop? Clothing - Friperie Saint-Laurent. This is the first real vintage shop I've ever visited. I did not grow up in Montreal, but when visiting the city when I was 11, I made a point of stopping by the Friperie after reading about it somewhere. It is owned by two brothers who have been in the vintage dealing business for almost 20 years. Their collection is impeccable; they always carry tooled leather handbags, beautifully detailed 1950s dresses, and rarer specialty items such as 1940s sports and souvenir jackets. They also occasionally acquire collections: that's how I finally managed to get marine pants in mint condition.
Local 23 has a great selection of more recent vintage pieces and is very affordable. They have the occasional 1950s gown or day dress, but I usually go there to find breezy seventies blouses, 1960s shoes and coats, or early eighties striped jersey tops. They have a sister store, Annex Vintage, which carries more 1980s and 1990s unique items as well as older deadstock, but for some reason I always find more things at Local 23. General 54 is also affiliated to Local 23 and Annex - and is Annex's neighbour. This is the best spot to find items from Montreal/Canadian designers like Les Enfants Sauvages, Birds of North America, and Broundoor.
Books and records - Argo Bookshop. I'm a little biased when it comes to this one since my friends are the owners, but it's the best English independent bookshop in town. They carry books that are more difficult to find elsewhere whether it be in fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. It's the kind of place where you can pick up pretty much anything and be glad you did.
Cheap Thrills. This is a bit of a hidden spot. To get there, you have to go up a flight of crooked steps in a turn-of-the-century stone building surrounded by modern skyscrapers. The first time I went there, I was a bit intimidated by the apartment-like look of the place, but there's no need to be. Cheap Thrills has the most interesting mix of used and new records and has an excellent selection of used books.
Favorite neighborhood? To hang out with friends and shop, I prefer the Plateau/Mile-End neighbourhood; most of the places I have mentioned are located in this area. I used to live there, but I'm very glad to have moved to Saint-Henri a few years ago. Saint-Henri is close to its history and has a very interesting community I'm happy to be part of.
What travel advice would you give to those visiting Montreal for the first time? Bring comfortable shoes! It's very easy to travel by foot or by public transportation around town, so make the most of your sojourn by avoiding sore feet! Also, while you can get service in English pretty much everywhere, I think it's always nice and useful to learn a few very basic French words to ease your exploration of the city. Most of all, don't stress, go out, and have fun!
Thanks Camille! All photos courtesy of Camille - check out her blog, vintage shop, and Flickr here.
This marks the last of the summer travel series, sadly - but I plan on continuing the series in the future, during a different season! Maybe over the holidays? It's been fun - check out all of the summer travel cities here.
And I promised a giveaway winner for tonight.. the winner of the Dalena Vintage giveaway, chosen via random.org, is Bekuh of Secondhand Sundays! Congrats, Bekuh - you should receive an email shortly. Thanks to all who entered!