Hugo O’Doherty, a writer and editor from Sandycove, Co Dublin, went to Montreal to learn French, and also because he “heard it was affordable and fun, and it has been all that and more”.
Where is the first place you bring people to when they visit Montreal?
Montreal is named for its mountain, Mont Royal, which lies right next to downtown. It’s actually more like a hill, but don’t tell the locals that – they’re pretty proud of it. You can walk to the top in well under an hour, and from there get a view of the city and beyond. Beginning a visit this way offers a great perspective on what’s going on and where.
The top three things to do there, that don’t cost money, are . . .
The jazz festival: every summer a large downtown area is filled with five stages, where some of the world’s best musicians entertain visitors and locals alike from the afternoon until late at night, for free.
Jean Talon market: the sounds and smells of this large market in Little Italy are worth the trip alone.
Cycling: only the hardiest cycle in winter, but through the other seasons, Montreal is paradise for cyclists. A popular ride is to go through the Plateau neighbourhood down to the Old Port, then along the Lachine Canal, which takes its name from the word for China in French (La Chine).
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Montreal?
I would wager that the most consumed dish in the city is poutine, which consists of chips (fries/frites), cheese curds, and a sort of gravy. It’s not like just lashing some Bisto on chips though – the sauce is a bit sweeter and, frankly, yummier. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. My favourite late-night place is called Chez Claudette, tucked away in the Plateau.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Montreal’s place in history?
The Old Port, situated on the bank of the Saint Lawrence River, was where fur traders established a trading post more than 400 years ago. Reminders of Expo ’67 – considered to be one of the most successful World’s Fair events ever – are clearly visible from the very spot where those traders conducted business long before.
Habitat 67 is a bizarre yet amazing-looking housing complex right on the river.
On the other side of the Old Port, on an island just off Montreal Island, you can see the Biosphere. This was first built as the United States pavilion for Expo ’67, but today houses a museum dedicated to the environment.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Montreal?
You mean apart from bagels and maple syrup? Well, the style of French spoken is quite unique, often taking words from English (anglicisms) to form strange structures and phrases. Anyone who truly wants to understand Montreal should probably take home a dictionary of Québécois French, so they can brush up before their return visit.