The island city of Montreal lies at the confluence of two rivers, the St. Lawrence and the Ottawa, in southwestern Quebec, less than fifty miles from the U.S. border.
For its unique architectural character, its French heritage, and its flourishing arts scene, encompassing everything from indie rock to haute cuisine.
It’s a reasonable drive from Vermont, upstate New York, or southeastern Ontario, and it’s served by an international airport named for the former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Choose your timing wisely — winter in Quebec is no joke, and lasts from November through March. Spring and fall are magical, if brief, and in summer Montreal gets downright hedonistic.
The province of Quebec — isolated from the rest of Canada and the U.S. by language, geography and a proud streak of cultural separatism — is hard to mistake for its fellow new-world neighbors. We sent husband-and-wife photographer team Andrew and Gemma Ingalls to Montreal with one brief: to show us in pictures why it’s as close as you’ll get to Europe without crossing the pond. Their photos above offer glimpses of the city’s old French heritage, yet they also reveal a more youthful modern side — proof that holding firm to its distinctive character hasn’t left Quebec stuck in the past.
The aptly named Old City, built around the port, looks like the Montreal that most of us imagine. Narrow cobblestone streets are crowded with landmark buildings and churches reminiscent of early nineteenth-century Europe. Horse-drawn carriages only add to the effect, jostling tourists as they bounce along the cobblestones, visceral reminders of the city’s efforts toward historic preservation.
From the outside, the 1850’s brick exterior of Hotel Nelligan, which overlooks the St. Lawrence River from its position in the Old City, fits perfectly into its surroundings. But inside, the old exposed brick begins to seem more contemporary, especially alongside the creature comforts of a twenty-first-century hotel. If the interiors of the Hotel Nelligan are surprisingly contemporary, those of Hotel Gault are decidedly modern — Eames chairs, polished concrete floors, open-plan loft-style rooms. Yet this being Montreal, it’s all hidden behind an eighteenth-century stone facade, sitting on a corner lit by gas streetlamps.
While the architecture sets an atmospheric scene, the more hedonistic student of Québécois culture will want to go straight for the food. Befitting its European roots, the prevailing style is meticulous, with a heavy reliance on seasonal ingredients. Pâtisseries, chocolate and charcuterie shops, little bistros and cafés on the corners — it all looks quite like Paris, but perhaps more importantly, it often tastes like it, too. At the same time, the emphasis on local ingredients, not least at the bustling Marché Jean-Talon, where farmers, foragers, fishermen, butchers and bakers peddle their delicacies, ensures that the flavors are just as rooted in Quebec.
The service is likewise distinct. Expect bellhops at hotels to walk you to your car holding an umbrella over your head, then greet you upon your return in the same manner. Waiters tend to know their menus (generally written in both French and English) in impressive detail. And shopkeepers will tie your purchases with a bow or baker’s twine, as the case may be. It all adds up to a unique, sophisticated place apart that’s just across the border.