Tremblant and Montreal � The rustic and metropolitan sides of Canada
By Nurit Pegrish and Scott Levy
Imagine flying to Europe in one hour. That’s how arriving in Tremblant or Montreal feels but without the time or expense. Recently, Continental started new non-stop service between New York (Newark Airport) and Mont-Tremblant in order to allow for easier access to this paradise in the Laurentian Mountains. For those travelers wary of flying it is possible to drive to Mont Tremblant, as we did, but we recommend allowing two days for the drive to make it more enjoyable as you head north. You can enjoy one of the lake towns in New York en route.
If you choose to drive to Mont Tremblant, an Intrawest property, make time to stop through Montreal as it is only an hour and a half drive from Mont Tremblant and offers a complimentary perspective of Canada. Mont Tremblant while best known as a winter resort, rated highly by skiers in the East year after year, also offers many appealing reasons to visit year round during the cool summers and beautiful fall seasons. Tremblant attracts visitors from throughout the US and Canada and even Japan during the beautiful fall season.
During our summer visit to Mont Tremblant we stayed at L’Ermitage Du Lac, a beautiful property that feels much more like a rented condo than a luxury hotel. L’Ermitage Du Lac is within walking distance of the mountain, charming village and complimentary gondola, which makes the trip to the mountain base that much faster. The staff at this hotel is extremely helpful and will gladly assist you with booking any activities that may interest you while there.
In the village, where most of the hotels are located, you will find many different restaurants to choose from; we tried Les Artistes. This restaurant offers a nice selection of fish, beef and game (including fine Canadian beef and bison). Make sure to save room for the cheese plate ($16 CDN), which features heaping portions of French and other artisanal cheeses. They have a wonderful wine selection to accompany your meal choices and delicious desserts to complete the meal. These rich tasty meals serve as the perfect reward or treat after a day of intense physical activity or serene relaxation depending on your travel pleasure.
At the base of the mountain, reachable via the gondola or walk, is an activity center where you can book a myriad of activities for travelers of all ages. David and his staff are eager to help you book single activities or packages depending on the length of your stay. We encourage all visitors to spend at least three nights in Mont Tremblant to fully enjoy all that it has to offer. Tremblant’s signature activities are skiing and golfing, but there are so many more to choose from. During the winter you may choose from 25 activities and in the spring/summer you may opt for any of the 40 different activities available in the warmer months. There are even activities for young children eager to explore. Families, couples and solo travelers can absorb the beauty of the mountains while participating in a canoe tour, rafting trip, plane ride, boat ride, horseback, ATV or snowmobile to name a few. For a complete list please visit www.tremblantactivities.com.
During your stay at Mont Tremblant make sure not to miss the Scandinavian baths. General admission costs $43 CDN, includes access to a multitude of hot and cold baths and saunas and can be used for an entire day. Additional amenities include jetted pools, manmade waterfalls, Norwegian steam room, Finnish sauna, the serene Diable River and more. Plan for a minimum three hour stay in order to fully relax and unwind in this Scandinavian wonderland - it will be time well spent!
Mont Tremblant Cruises ($17CDN) provide a relaxing tour of the Tremblant area via a lake cruise. Cruises run from May 31 to October 13 and last 70 minutes. The knowledgeable guides will entertain you with stories, facts, and legends of the Tremblant region and its history. If you are traveling in a large group you can book a private event or if you prefer an intimate romantic ride that is available as well. Please visit their website to see the variety of their offerings at www.croisierestremblant.com. As is the theme at the Tremblant resort, the staff here will do what they can to make your dreams come true.
For those travelers who enjoy hiking, picture perfect scenery or have an interest in wildlife you may want to do a half day visit to the mountain top where there are scenic look-out points, great for family photos. Parents, along with their children, can learn about the birds of prey within the area at one of the offered Birds Of Prey shows where live animals are showcased (availability may be seasonal). Additionally, there are some basic hiking trails that circle the mountain top offering multiple views of the region below.
Either on the way home or before you enjoy the idyllic setting of Mont Tremblant you must stop to enjoy the cosmopolitan city of Montreal. It is one of the most exciting cities within driving distance (about 370 miles or 6 hours) of New York City. Unlike Boston, Philadelphia, or Washington D.C., Montreal has the look and feel of being in Europe. Perhaps that is due to the city’s French origins, charming architecture and scenic waterfront. There are many hotels to choose from; we had the pleasure of staying at Le Square Phillips Hotel. Our rooms were spacious and are great for those travelers who also like the benefit of efficiencies within their rooms like fridges, ovens and microwaves if they wanted to stay in after a long day of city exploration.
First discovered by Jacques Cartier, Montreal remained a French colony until its surrender to the British in 1760. Around that same time Jews began to establish a prominent community in Montreal. The first Jewish congregation appeared in 1768 and nine years later the first synagogue was established.
Over the years the Jewish community grew and their culture made its way into the Montreal way of life. Perhaps one of the most tangible (and edible) impacts was the arrival of bagels. The old traditional method of making bagels is still captured by St. Viateur Bagels at 263 St. Viateur Street. Here the bagels are made by hand, boiled and then cooked in a wood fired oven and they are delicious. The early management of this bagel shop was Jewish and later in the store’s history a Holocaust Survivor even ran it.
Modern Montreal is a very safe city with extremely low crime rates and can be explored by walking or biking the many streets through the old and new city. Cycling is becoming more and more popular as a local means of transportation – even in the very cold winter. Natives cycle in weather that many of us are scared to leave our homes in during the winter months. While touring Montreal there are a few “must see” spots. Depending on your interests Montreal has 32 museums, high-end restaurants, shopping, nightlife and the ambiance of many scenic neighborhoods.
One of the best museums is the Botanical Garden on the eastside of the city. Founded in 1931 and almost half the size of Central Park in New York, the Botanical Garden is one of Canada’s true treasures. It sports true variety with 22,000 plant species and 30 thematic gardens. It is also very child friendly. The Courtyard of the Senses allows children (and adults) to smell, touch and experience plants up close. This Courtyard is a great way to expose blind travelers to the many wonders of the plant life displayed at the Botanical Gardens.
For shopping, head to St. Catherine Street, the heart of Montreal’s trendy boutiques. Although it hardly holds a candle to Madison Avenue, it does have a few unique (and lower cost) options. Ogilvy, an upscale department-style store is an example (1307 St. Catherine). Cigar enthusiasts may want to want to head to Vasco at 1327 St. Catherine. In Canada, Cuban cigars are legal and Vasco has an enormous selection of the best. If you want to enjoy a cigar and a drink there is a great bar scene.
Crescent Street is home to the bar scene where you will see locals, bachelorette parties, bachelor parties and other travelers. Hangouts ranging from casual bars to more upscale nightclubs dot the area. Similar to Europe the dress style for night activities tends to be a bit more upscale then most US cities. While on Crescent Street try Hello India (Allo Inde in French) a well-priced and tasty casual Indian restaurant. The staff is very accommodating so don’t worry if you aren’t a fan of super spicy food.
For a truly special dining experience try Toque (900, Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle). Toque has been recognized as one of North America’s finest dining destinations. These accolades are well deserved. Executive Chef Normand Laprise delivers a masterful gastronomic experience. Try the seven course gourmet menu alone ($92) or with five wine pairings ($156). We requested our meal to omit shellfish and pork, which was graciously accommodated. Perhaps most surprising is that a meal that tastes so incredible can be genuinely healthy. On our dish even the ‘cream’ was nothing more than whipped corn, but it sure didn’t taste that way. Equally impressive is the supremely comfortable and spacious dining area. Having eaten at many of New York City’s top restaurants, Toque compares favorably to this tough competition. It is arguably the single best dining experience that we have ever had.
Part of Montreal’s appeal is the variety and ambiance of the different neighborhoods. A relaxing city boat tour is a fine choice during the warmer months. Walking or bus guided tours are a quality year round option for seeing Montreal up close. If you’d rather explore the city on a more flexible schedule be sure not to miss a walk along the St. Lawrence River or a visit to plateau de Mont Royal, Montreal’s “in” area overlooking downtown. During the colder months the city goes underground with the world’s greatest number of interconnected structures. Also named RESO, the underground city hosts universities, shopping, hotels, apartments, museums, metro stops and more.
Montreal, like Mont Tremblant, has a lot to offer regardless of the season in which you are traveling. Restaurants, outdoor activities, historic sites and great people-watching are just a few of the many activities visitors to Canada can enjoy in these two areas. Until visiting these regions we never realized how close ‘Europe’ was to us here on the Northeast and while there are many similarities to European cities both Mont Tremblant and Montreal can stand on their unique charm alone.