We stayed in Vieux Montreal (old Montreal), the city’s historic core. Dating from Montreal’s founding as a French settlement in the 17th century, old Montreal has been lovingly preserved and restored since the 1960s after years of neglect. Today, the area is a major tourist destination, though a beautiful one (it beats Times Square any day).
Its narrow, cobblestone streets are lined with formidable 18th and 19th century buildings, a number of which have been converted into boutique hotels. Hotel Nelligan, Hotel Place d’Armes, and the St. Paul Hotel (where we stayed) retain their period façades, though their interiors have been largely overhauled with cool modernist design.
Although we spent most of our waking hours away from Vieux Montreal exploring the city’s diverse neighborhoods, one of the best things about the hotel's location was is its proximity to a fantastic bicycle path along the Lachine Canal. Good thing, too, since I needed some exercise to counterbalance all of the great food we were eating.
Completed in 1825, the canal stretches 11.5 kilometers from Vieux Montreal until it empties into Lac Saint-Louis. The bicycle path meanders along the waterway, occasionally criss-crossing the channel on narrow bridges. Montrealers picnic and push strollers along the canal, with groups clustered at several points to see the locks open and close. As I pedaled, the path passed through some industrial areas, as well as what seemed to be many former industrial buildings converted into condominums, not to mention new construction as well.
I followed the path until its end at Parc René-Lévesque, a narrow swath of green dotted with odd and unusual sculptures, and took in the panoramic view of the St. Lawrence River and Lac Saint-Louis.
For the ultimate in trailside refreshment -- albeit perhaps not the safest cycling -- McAuslan Brewery operates a beergarden right along the canal (pictured above, at left). But, for something more nourishing, you could do no better than Atwater Market, which the canal passes about 3 kilometers or so from Vieux Montreal. The bustling market, built in 1933, is part of an extensive public market system in Montreal. Fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers are trucked in and sold at outdoor stalls that surround the complex. Inside the market, a long hall is flanked on each side with individual shops selling charcuterie, cheese, bread, and coffee, among other specialty food offerings.
I resisted Atwater's temptations, snapped some pictures, and hopped back on my rented bike, saving my appetite for a post-ride visit.