I've had an insatiable wanderlust since a young age, but, in recent years, have begun to search for adventures that will keep my carbon footprint to a minimum. Thus, began my love affair with Montréal. A city of islands in the Saint Lawrence River, Montréal is the largest city in the Province of Québec and the second largest city in Canada. It is, also, the second largest French-speaking city in the world. Yet, Montréal has a strangely quiet, small-town feel, which makes it one of the greatest green urban destinations.
In recent years, I've taken to attending the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal over the July 4th weekend, and have come to see my weekend getaway as a wonderful opportunity to relax and rejuvenate. Montréal is an easy train ride from New York City, and, upon my arrival, I find I can usually walk everywhere, and enjoy the challenge of the steep grade from the Gare de Montréal, the central station, to my favorite B&B on the Plateau. (There is a metro, and bike rentals are available, but I don't mind the glute workout.) The Plateau Mont-Royal is a vibrant neighborhood of quaint townhouses, restaurants, yoga studios, coffee shops, and stores. In a city with two large universities, you feel a youthful pulse, inviting you to explore. I stay at Auberge Chez Jean, a completely eco-friendly, B&B-style hostel. Designed with terraces, skylights, and lots of windows, the Auberge is flooded with natural light and a cross-breeze that makes a/c unnecessary. You can sip herbal tea with travelers from around the world, and enjoy an organic, raw, living breakfast every morning, such as chia pudding made with hemp milk. From the Auberge on Henri Julien, it is an easy walk to festivals . . . and there are many.
Montréal is a city of festivals. Whether it is MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE, celebrating winter, or the world-renown Festival International de Jazz de Montréal with such big-name acts as Diana Krall and Stevie Wonder, these festivals truly epitomize Montréal's joie de vivre, with people, literally, dancing in the streets. Still, in spite of the lights, the stages, and the music for crowds at times exceeding 200,000, the jazz festival, now in its 37th year, remains carbon neutral. The festival runs on renewable energy, recycles everything, and makes use of rain water. This, year, the festival had a new addition: the Club Jazz Casino de Montréal, a Biergarten-style venue with a stage and picnic tables encircled by bars and food stands featuring New Orleans-inspired hors-d'oeuvres, at Place SNC Lavalin, on the corner of Rue de Bleury and René-Lévesque. Club Jazz is open until 11 pm, but there are shuttles to the beautiful Casino de Montréal, where the party continues.
The recently renovated Casino de Montréal, on its own island, has five floors of gaming, live music stages, and phenomenal restaurants. Perhaps nothing exemplifies Montréal's French heritage more than their love of food. With a vast array of restaurants and cuisines, Montréal has something for everyone. Although the city's signature dish, Poutine, is quite heavy (smoked meat with cheese curds in a brown gravy served on a bed of french fries), the city is keeping with current food trends offering more and more vegan and vegetarian options, organic food restaurants and stores, and local food. The casino is no exception. They serve local food whenever possible - and, in keeping with healthy trends, nothing is fried. Their five restaurants range from the simple deli with sandwiches and pasta at L'Instant, Déli & Pâtes to contemporary Asian Fusion at Ajia to exquisite gourmet cuisine. The recently opened L'Atelier Montreal de Joël Robuchon, is the creation of legendary French Chef Joël Robuchon, a man who has brought the art of fine dining to cities around the world from London to Bangkok, but is, perhaps, best known for his mashed potatoes. The casino, also, boasts two other fine dinning restaurants, Pavillion 67, a buffet, and Le Montréal. Perhaps no trip to Montréal would be complete without dinner at Le Montréal, offering breathtaking views of the city. At Le Montréal, one can try Chef Jean-Pierre Curtat's mashed potatoes, a smoked delight. I had an exceptional steak tartare with field greens and balsamic vinaigrette pearls, the tender Guinea Fowl with a silky smooth scallop mousse, and a beautiful selection of desserts including a Lychee and Raspberry Meringue, Lemon Tart, and assorted crème brûlées, including one that was distinctively Canadian: maple. After that culinary bacchanalia that was, in a word, memorable, I was glad to spend the next day walking around Montréal's hills, listening to more jazz and experiencing the city's zeal for life.
This September, Casino de Montréal will have even more to offer with the opening of a new dinner theater, Cabaret du Casino, featuring an all-star line up, opening with Tony Bennet on September 3, André-Philippe Gagnon on September 4, and Gino Vannelli on September 5. Experience the magic of Montréal, a quick green getaway that will have you coming back year after year.
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