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As temperatures cool down, hockey season is heating up. A winter trip to Montreal offers a chance to see hockey played in its sacred homeland, Canada. In addition to taking in a game, a sejour to Montreal has many other things to recommend it -- world class shopping; top-of-the-line restaurants; upscale, yet affordable hotels; and sights to rival those on the far side of the Atlantic.

Where to Stay

Centrally located and wonderfully convenient to many of the top attractions in Montreal, the Marriott Chateau Champlain (tel. 800/200-5909 or 514/878-9000; www.montrealchateauchamplain.com) is hard to beat if you're looking for a comfortable, reasonably priced hotel. Northwest-facing rooms have spectacular views of Dorchester Square, the magnificent Marie-Reine-du-Monde cathedral, the hopping shopping district and Ste. Catherine Street, and on up the hill to Mont Royal. A multi-million renovation project this year has brought all the rooms up to date with stylish linens, comfortable beds, and all the modern conveniences. All the rooms are clean, spacious, and quiet. The arched bay windows echo those of Windsor Station across the street, thus architecturally tying this modern hotel to its storied Montreal neighborhood.

The staff is super friendly here -- everyone from the valet and doormen to the cleaning service and concierge treat guests like friends. The hotel bar is a popular spot for drinks and food before and after hockey games, which are played just across the street at the Bell Centre. And the entrance to the subway system from inside the hotel's lobby means you can set out exploring the city without ever having to go outside -- anyone who's been to Montreal in the winter knows how invaluable that is.

For perhaps a more intimate choice of hotel, and if you want to stay in Vieux Montreal, choose LHotel (tel. 877/553-0019 or 514/985-0019; www.lhotelmontreal.com), the latest venture from famed Guess patriarch Georges Marciano. With an impressive collection of pop art -- think Lichtenstein, Warhol -- the hotel appeals to an arty, cosmopolitan crowd, but is quite comfortable for everyone. It's location on Rue St. Jacques is ideal for those planning on spending time in the old city.

What to See & Do

If baseball is the U.S.A's national pastime, then hockey is Canada's fulltime job. Hockey may be a game, but Montrealers take it seriously. A home game brings out the fans, who range in age from the very young to the very old, for a serious good time. The hometown heroes, the Canadiens (www.canadiens.com) -- known locally as the Habs, short for Habitants -- play at the Bell Centre (http://centrebell.ca/en/) in downtown Montreal. Whether you're a hockey aficionado or a casual fan, an evening spent in the arena cheering on Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge is a singular Montreal experience. And if they win the night you're there, more power to you!


If getting outside is more your thing, be sure to hit Parc du Mont-Royal. Winter is spectacular here. Whether or not there is snow on the ground during your visit, the nearly 500-acre park is welcoming. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame, the park's landscape and vantage point -- the highest spot in the city -- offers a welcoming respite from the bustling city below. With walking trails, jogging paths, Lac des Castors (Beaver Lake), and a sculpture garden, locals and visitors come here to take a breather and enjoy the natural beauty of Montreal.

Another must: Spend some time in Vieux Montreal (www.vieux.montreal.qc.ca). The European atmosphere and charm of the cobblestones streets add unique character to this neighborhood, which is some 300+ years old. A number of galleries and souvenir shops are located here -- some more classy than others.

Cafes, restaurants, and bars are also numerous in this area, so you won't go hungry or thirsty. Try the local specialty known as poutine, French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. Be sure to visit the Basilique Notre Dame (www.basiliquenddm.org/en/), whose spectacular interior -- including gilded ceilings and exquisite stained glass windows -- is most impressive. A Gothic Revival structure built in 1824 by James O'Donnell, the cathedral rivals any you may have seen in Europe. To get a better understanding of Montreal's rich history, make a point of visiting the Pointe-à-Callière (tel. 514/872-9150; http://pacmusee.qc.ca/en/home), a history and archeology museum built on the point where the city of Montreal was first founded. Be sure to start your visit in the theatre, where a state-of-the-art multimedia experience will give you a wonderful overview of the area.

Where to Eat

For a delightful breakfast with pastries, muffins, croissants, and delicious coffees and teas Premiere Moison (www.premieremoisson.com) is Montreal's favorite bakery. With locations all over town, you'll never be too far from one, so do try and stop by -- if not for breakfast then a mid-afternoon snack. The homemade baked goods as well as the gift-box chocolates, jams, and other confections make great gifts.


A cozy, upscale restaurant uniquely located within the walls of a former prison, Da Emma (tel. 514/392-1568) is an excellent spot for authentic Italian cuisine. Emma, herself, is at the helm in the kitchen and her crew puts out impeccable dishes including everything from homemade pastas and sauces to an impressive array of meat and fish dishes, antipasti, and desserts. The waitstaff is knowledgeable and the wine list comprehensive. You may spot a pro hockey player or movie star while dining here -- it's a favorite among the local and visiting glitterati.

For a gem of a meal, stop by Birk's Café (tel. 514/397-2468; www.birks.com/en/static/cafe/welcome.htm). Set on the mezzanine level overlooking the retail floor or Birk's jewelry store is the delightful cafe. Serving a small, but lovely menu of brunch and lunch items such as smoked salmon and crepes, they also have a delightful array of sweets and potables. High tea is also a specialty. It's not cheap, but perhaps you can curb your urge to spend money on diamonds and sapphires, but still get the Birk's experience.

For a trendy evening meal out, head to F Bar (tel. 514/289-4558; www.fbar.ca), the little brother to renowned Ferreira Café, and a fabulous new spot for tasty Euro-continental food with a Portuguese slant. Located in the Quartier des spectacles, the long, narrow restaurant is situated on a wide sidewalk just next to the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal. Cocktails and appetizers are yummy, but the entrees really shine. Pastas, casseroles, steaks, and seafood make up the menu.

Believe it or not, Montreal serves up a mean bagel. With such a large Jewish community in the city, it should come as no surprise that the comfort foods of the culture are all around. Pick up some bagels for breakfast or just a snack at Fairmount Bagels (tel. 514/ 272-0667; www.fairmountbagel.com) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Or head to Schwartz's (tel. 514/842-4813; www.schwartzsdeli.com) for a real Jewish deli sandwich.

Where to Shop

Montreal has some of the best shopping in North America. It has a flourishing and successful fashion industry and designers from all over the world sell goods here. Ste. Catherine Street is where you'll find many of the major department stores such as La Baie. Well-known designer boutiques and more can be found along Laurier Avenue. Elsewhere, other designer boutiques include Yves-Jean Lacasse (tel. 514/849-7118; www.yvesjeanlacasse.com), featuring runway fashions; Shan (tel. 514/287-7426; www.shan.ca), which carries swimsuits and resortwear; and Three Monkeys (tel. 514/284-1333; www.threemonkeys.ca), which sells wearable, hip, everyday clothes.

Perhaps the most impressive and memorable place for visitors to shop (not to mention a fabulous idea, given Montreal's often frigid winter weather) is the Underground City. This "weatherproof" city lies just under the streets of Montreal and winds for miles, connecting thousands of shops, restaurants, Metro stations, and hotels. Fine jewelry, leather, furs, high-end and low-end clothing, toys, furniture, drugstores, dry cleaners, florists, doctors, dentists, lawyers -- you name it -- the underground city has anything and everything anyone could want or need.

In addition to the Underground City, open markets are scattered throughout Montreal. These markets are great spots to buy vegetables, cheeses, wines, nuts, meats, and other specialty items. Similar to farmers markets in set-up, these open markets feature a series of vendors with stalls and stands, running row after row hocking their goods. Many Montrealers shop these markets on a daily basis, always bringing home what's in season and fresh to cook up for dinner. For visitors, they're a great place to get a taste (literally and figuratively) of what everyday life looks like for natives. One of our favorites is the Jean-Talon Public Market (located on Jean-Talon between Saint-Laurent and Saint-Denis).