A one-part article is not nearly long enough to capture the essence of the Canadian jewel that is Montreal. But alas, I only had less than 24 hours in this stunning, cosmopolitan city—which has been described as “a lush mix of North American swagger and Euro-cool”—as it was the starting point of a sojourn throughout the province of Québec.

Last October, my brief home-away-from-home was the Montreal Airport Marriott Hotel, conveniently located inside the Montreal-Trudeau International Airport. Yet despite the cacophony of the airport environment, once inside, you feel like you’ve stepped into a peaceful retreat offering the utmost in luxury and class.

The rooms are spacious and charming, with fashionable, chestnut-hued cabinetry and furniture with platinum accented hardware, modern bathrooms with glass-enclosed showers and beautiful tile, and plenty of closet, dresser and desk/counter space.

On the eighth floor, you’ll find a well-appointed fitness center overlooking the rows of Air Canada aircraft waiting to move into their open gate. The nicest surprise here was the tropical-themed, heated indoor pool, Jacuzzi and relaxation area with soaring floor-to-ceiling windows on one side, dotted with chic, avocado-hued outdoor patio couches and double chaise lounge chairs, with their AltiSpa just around the corner. Meals are served in the Bijou Restaurant and Bar, with hot beverages, pastries and the like offered throughout the day in the Illy Café.

The whole experience was a lovely, unexpected surprise.

“An island city that’s open to the world”

My pre-trip homework revealed that this city of 1.7 million denizens (Québécois), founded in 1535 after an estimated 12,000 years of Native American occupation, was first ruled by the French and later by Great Britain until 1763, when it took its destiny under its own reigns. Today, Montreal—named after the “mountain,” Mont Royal—is actually an island situated in the St. Lawrence River near the confluence with the Ottawa River, constituting part of the Hochelaga Archipelago.

After dropping off my bags at the hotel, I took a short bus ride then joined the multicultural throngs of people aboard the Metro (which is very easy to navigate, like the subways in New York, San Francisco and Paris) disembarking in the center of town.

It was a beautiful fall day in Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal), with daytime temps hovering in the mid-70s and cooling down to the upper-50s at night. I was delighted to amble about, taking in the sights, smells and vistas of this fabulous locale situated about an hour from both New York City and Chicago, three and a half hours from Dallas and Miami and five and a half hours from San Francisco.

Montreal is a very welcoming city, in part due to the burgeoning number of international immigrants that call the metro area home, and there is still an allegiance to the 11 First Nation tribes, comprised of approximately 70,000 aboriginal people who reside in the province. Despite this, Montreal still strongly identifies with its rich French culture and maintains French as the primary language.

Walking around, it wasn’t long before I noticed the palpable, natural ease of the denizens here, evident in their composure and interpersonal interactions, and was amazed to see the outdoor cafes filling up with folks … starting around 5 p.m. … on a Monday! Together, this seems to translate into an authentic attitude of gratitude for the simple things of everyday life. It is very welcoming and refreshing for a city of this size.

And everyone is in good shape! I don’t mean five-times-a-week-at-the-gym good shape, but for the most part, everyone was thin and healthy looking. A large part of this is likely attributable to the prominent use of public transportation and the large contingent of people moving about on two wheels in this very bike-friendly city.

See it and Eat it!

Visitors here will find a wealth of historic and noteworthy sites and attractions, including the Basilique Notre-Dame, the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Centre des Sciences de Montréal.

Olympic Park, built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, is another major tourist attraction and home to the Tower (the tallest inclined tower in the world), Olympic Stadium, the Montréal Botanical Garden, Planétarium Rio Tinto Alcan, Esplanade Financière Sun Life, the Sports Centre, the Montréal Insectarium, the Montréal Botanical Garden and the Montréal Biodome, just to name a few.

Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to eat at one restaurant in town, a hard choice among the bevy of outstanding eateries ranging from amazing Eastern European to Greek, South African, Italian, Brazilian, British, Turkish, vegetarian, French of course and everything in between.

After meandering about and perusing several menus, I chose an early dinner at Restaurant Le Fripon, located on Place Jacque-Cartier along an expansive, pedestrian-only pathway stretching from the waterfront into Vieux-Montréal. The restaurant serves a wide array of delicious, creative and French-inspired appetizers, seafood, grilled meats, pastas and daily chef specials. I opted for a lovely plate of smoked duck breast, goat cheese and green apple, as well as their house specialty—the Assiette Mer Mer—a delightfully delicious combination of a half-pound lobster, mussels and French fries, and a glass of wine. Ooo-la-la!

Fully sated and relaxed, I walked for several more hours through Montreal’s charming streets, passing quant retail shops, wine and specialty food stores, major and boutique hotels and several museums.

Even after dark, I felt perfectly comfortable wandering alone to enjoy all that this captivating city has to offer. At about 8 p.m., I made my way back to the Metro, riding back to the hotel for a restful evening.

Although excited about my upcoming sojourn throughout the Quebec province beginning the next morning, I wished I had just a little more time. But as is the case with many other places I have visited and with which I fallen in love, I know I will just have to come back!

Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at lallmanbaldwin@kc.rr.com.

Resource List

Basilique Notre-Dame: 514-735-1361, www.basiliquenddm.org/en

Centre des Sciences de Montréal: 877-496-4724, www.montrealsciencecentre.com

Montreal Airport Marriott Hotel: 514-636-6700, www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/yulma-montreal-airport-marriott-hotel

Musée des Beaux-Arts : 514-285-2000, www.mbam.qc.ca/en

Olympic Park: 877-997-0919, http://parcolympique.qc.ca/en

Restaurant Le Fripon: 514-861-1386, www.restaurantlefripon.com/en

Tourisme Quebec: 877-266-5687, www.bonjourquebec.com/qc-en/montreal0.html

Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal): www.vieux.montreal.qc.ca/eng/accueila.htm