Happy 375th birthday, Montreal!
Credit: Catherine Tse

Happy 375th birthday, Montreal!

Come every fall, there's a brief period when Montreal transitions briskly from all patios and buskers to cozy, low-lit bistros and twinkly lights. This is my favourite time of year to visit this island city. It's really the best season to appreciate some of what Montreal does best: carbs (oh, the bagels and pastries), food (highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada) and spas (la vie en rose, bien sur!).

Also, 2017 marks Montreal's 375th birthday and the city is planning a year of spectacular celebrations. The excitement is already palpable as new construction and renovation projects dot the city at every corner. Luckily, Montreal is a truly walkable city, so ditch the taxis and take to the streets by foot where you'll see some incredible architecture while burning off calories (always plan ahead for the next buttery, flaky croissant that crosses your path).

Read on for some of my favourite places to visit and eat while in Ville de Montreal...

Where to eat
Credit: Catherine Tse

Where to eat

Battle of the Bagels: St. Viateur versus Mount Royal

You're in Montreal; you're gonna have bagels. But which ones: St. Viateur or Mount Royal? This is a hotly divisive debate in the city and if you don't have an opinion yet, I suggest you go to each one, buy a sesame bagel and start sampling. Both are boiled then baked in a fire oven. Both are made fresh daily. Both come in a wide assortment of flavours. Both are deeply revered. But there are marked differences. Mount Royal's is a bit sweeter. St. Viateur's a bit chewier. The two bagel shops are within a few blocks of each other in the Mile End neighbourhood, kicking off a perfect start to exploring of this beautiful and historic area.

Tapas 24

For a little bit of Barcelona in Quebec, try this two-level eatery in Old Montreal that's based on the original Tapas 24 in Spain (where it's open 24 hours). The menu is incredibly diverse and easily accommodates light snacks to full, lavish meals. Not to miss are the manda huevos (almost like Spanish poutinefries topped with perfectly runny, fried eggs and your choice of cured meat), alcachofas con jamon Ieberico (beautifully prepared artichokes topped with Iberian ham and truffles) and, my favourite, the bunuelo de bacalao a la sirope de arce y limon (crispy, creamy cod croquette with maple syrup and lemon).

Kyo Bar Japonais

You'll find this restaurant on the hill by Notré-Dame Basilica, tucked away by Place-d'Armes Square. A favourite spot for locals, it provides delicious Asian comfort food in a friendly, polished environment. The okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancake) is large, fluffy and packed with seafood and topped generously with the proper sauces and a handful of smoky benito flakes. For hearty appetites, the bibimbap is every bit as large as you'd hoped, served authentically in a screaming hot stone bowl and topped with, most importantly, plenty of kimchi and a gleaming raw egg. My favourite was their version of gomae, Japanese spinach saladnot quite deconstructed but definitely not traditional. It arrived in three small nests on a narrow plate in a shallow pool of brightly-balanced black sesame sauce, topped with a delicate piece of fried taro root.

What to do
Credit: Catherine Tse

What to do

Au Sommet, Place Ville-Marie

If this is your first time to Montreal, you may want to start here. This observation deck is located in the centre of the city, 185 metres high, providing a spectacular 360° panorama of every corner of the city and beyond. One floor below is the exhibition hall that provides interactive and collaborative "missions" to help you discover Montreal based on your personal preferences. Missions change seasonally and include activities like "Do 8 laps of backstroke in the Olympic pool," or "Take a selfie with penguins at the Biodome," or "Take your date to eat the creations of a future chef."

Tea-tasting walking tour

Ward off the chilly weather and explore the city by taking a tea-tasting walking tour. Montreal has a truly impressive body of tea experts and resources. If you're a tea connoisseur, this definitely will not disappoint. The tour provides privileged access to some of Montreal's finest tea shops including importers, a tea sommelier school and a mixology bar. There are tastings and educational demonstrations at every stop and the tour ends with afternoon tea service. The tour starts in Chinatown, taking you through the Latin Quarter, the Plateau and finishing off in  Mile End.

Bota Bota, spa sur l'eau

Bota Bota started off as a working ferry boat in the '50s and '60s, then a showboat through the next several decades before it was bought in 2008 and totally refurbished into the sleek, luxury floating spa it is today. Docked in the Old Port of Montreal, Bota Bota offers its passengers the healing benefits of a spa while being lulled by the waters of the St. Lawrence River. This 40,000 square-feet spa has five decks, 21 treatment rooms, two Finnish saunas, two steam rooms, four cold showers, three cold baths, two basins and even its own restaurant and outdoor garden and pool. With 678 portholes, clients are guaranteed a fantastic view wherever they are. But the outdoor pools provide a truly memorable experience: relaxing in hot, therapeutic water with the crisp air keeping you cool, looking out at the Montreal skyline.

Where to stay
Credit: Catherine Tse

Where to stay

Hotel Gault

This could very well be the most elegant boutique hotel on the prettiest street in Old Montreal. This particular block is typically busy with film crews because the stunning architecture makes it pass for any European capital. The hotel itself is also a favourite of A-list celebrities who appreciate Hotel Gault's luxurious rooms, beautiful decor and private back entrance.

Pity. Because the front entrance is stunning with its tall, heavy doors, double height ceiling, lobby lounge/café and semi-private library in the back. It definitely has that Montreal cool-vibe happening, effortlessly grand and intimate at the same time.

The historic building was originally a cotton factory in 1871, owned by Andrew Gault. In 2002, it opened as Hotel Gault and last year underwent a renovation to rejuvenate amenities. The 30 rooms are all updated, though the architecture itself remains the best feature: some rooms have exposed original brick walls, all have French doors, a few have private terraces perfect for a café-and-croissant breakfast.

Visit Tourisme Montréal for more information about planning your next visit.