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Kondiaronk Belvedere, atop Mont Royal, offers skyline views of Montreal.
Kondiaronk Belvedere, atop Mont Royal, offers skyline views of Montreal. (Marcos Townsend for The Boston Globe)

Up north c'est bon

Canadian city's got style with a French accent

Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / May 9, 2007

International in style and cosmopolitan in outlook, Montreal may be a great city in all seasons, but the long days of summer are the best. Street cafes bustle in the ruddy hours of a lingering dusk, and there's always a party somewhere in town once night finally falls. Summer festival season begins with the drop of the checkered flag at the Grand Prix du Canada in early June, weeks before fluttering fleurs-de-lis banners signal Quebec National Day on June 24 , the traditional launch of summer. The party barely pauses until Labour Day, which means the same in Canada as in the United States, but with a "u." As the second-largest French-speaking city in the world , Montreal has a globe-spanning sense of style unlike any other place in North America -- and it's only a six-hour drive away.

Play

Montreal has plenty to wear out the kids. The best route up the city's eponymous mountain, Mont Royal, is the Olmsted Path that begins at the Cartier statue on avenue des Pins and wends its way to the Kondiaronk Belvedere for sweeping views of a forest of skyscrapers.

On the riverside flats, the Old Port promenade joins the 8 3/4-mile path along the Lachine Canal for a good cycling or inline skating workout. For rolling on the river, the Lachine Rapids Jet Boat Tours (47 rue de la Commune Ouest, 514-284-9607, jetboatingmontreal .com; adults $50, ages 13-18 $42, 6-12 $33) offers a good soaking and heart-stopping exhilaration.

While parents sniff the roses at the Botanical Garden (4101 rue Sherbrooke Est, 514-872-1400, ville.montreal.qc.ca), their offspring generally prefer the diaphanous butterflies and giant cockroaches at the adjacent Insectarium (4581 rue Sherbrooke Est, 514-872-1400, ville.montreal.qc.ca). A "Nature Package" ticket (adults $22.90, ages 5-17 $11.45, 2-4 $3.60) includes admission to both, along with the Biodôme (4777 avenue Pierre-de-Coubertin, 514-868-3000, ville.montreal .qc.ca), a museum of ecosystems that presents the flora and fauna of a tropical forest, the woods of the Laurentian Mountains, the marine system of the St. Lawrence River, and Arctic/Antarctic ice floes and ocean -- parrots to penguins, as it were.

Fuel

A new documentary, "Chez Schwartz" (chezschwartzfilm.com), celebrates smoked meat, a Montreal delicacy akin to pastrami. Long lines at Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen (3895 boulevard St-Laurent, 514-842-4813, schwartzsdeli.com, $4.50-$14.50), a fixture since 1928, testify to just how good barbecued brisket can be.

Founded in 1936, the roast-chicken joint Rotisserie Laurier (381 rue Laurier Ouest, 514-273-3671, $7-$11) claims almost as strong a following. Pierre Trudeau, the late prime minister, used to stop by for the half chicken and lemon cream pie.

Traditional Quebecois cooking takes on French and Asian finesse in the "house of the grocer," Chez L'Epicier (311 rue St-Paul Est, 514-878-2232, chezlepicier.com, $18-$28), just off Place Jacques-Cartier in Old Montreal. Reservations are recommended, especially for the six-course tasting menu ($58), but the restaurant also sells prepared dishes to go.

Possibly Canada's top gourmet establishment, Restaurant Toqué (900 place Jean-Paul-Riopelle, 514-499-2084, restaurant-toque.com, $27-$38) showcases Normand Laprise's inventive treatments of Quebec provender, from salt-meadow lamb and duck foie gras to baby vegetables and foraged mushrooms. Special-occasion diners often choose the tasting menu ($77 or $124 with wines, $8.50 extra with foie gras).

Party

Montrealers repress their memories of winter by celebrating summer with a succession of festivals. The season revs up with the Grand Prix du Canada 2007 (June 8-10, 514-350-0000, grandprix.ca) on Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on Ile Ste-Helene. Race fans haunt the track, but the party scene, including free outdoor concerts, focuses on Place des Arts.

The music is a warm-up for the blockbuster Montreal Jazz Festival (June 28-July 8, 888-515-0515, montrealjazz fest.com). While virtuosos from all over the world perform in big halls and tiny clubs, as many as 50,000 spectators share the groove at free headliner concerts on Place des Arts.

The last note has barely faded before the giggles begin at Just for Laughs! (July 12-22, 514-845-3155, hahaha.com). Mimes, comics, and jugglers do their thing on street corners while stand-up comics fill clubs and concert halls.

On selected Wednesdays and Saturdays from mid-June through July, the Montreal skyline lights up with the International Fireworks Festival Loto-Quebec (514-790-1245 or 800-361-4595, internationaldesfeuxloto-quebec.com). The viewing stands are at La Ronde amusement park (Ile Ste-Helene, laronde.com, $32-$42 fireworks seats, $64 for two for general admission) but most Montrealers simply stake out standing room on the Jacques Cartier Bridge.

Rest

Montreal lodgings embody the city's sense of style. Constructed inside the shell of a former fur trade warehouse, the Auberge du Vieux-Port (97 rue de la Commune Est, 514-876-0081 or 888-660-7678, aubergedu vieuxport.com, $157-254) dresses up the original rough stone and brick walls with hardwood floors, wrought- iron bedsteads, and rich floral fabrics.

Also a former Old Port warehouse, Hotel Nelligan (106 rue St-Paul Ouest, 514-788-2040 or 877-788-2040, hotelnelligan.com, $161-$250) appeals as much to touch as vision with its well-padded, elegantly modern furniture and lofty down comforters.

Between Old Port and downtown, the historic Banque du Canada on Victoria Square has been reborn as the modernist W Montreal (901 square Victoria, 514-395-3100, starwoodhotels.com, $178-$889). Bold splashes of color in public areas contrast with soothing minimalism in the rooms.

Comparable style with a more colloquial panache rules at Hôtel Le Germain (2050 rue Mansfield, 514-849-2050 or 877-333-2050, hotelgermain.com, $178-$297). Perfectly located for the jazz and comedy festivals, Le Germain's irresistible perk is a 24-hour espresso machine.

Spend

The still-strong US dollar and a penchant for European style make Montreal a shopper's city. Boutiques and department stores line rue Ste-Catherine between the Peel and McGill stops on the Métro.

If Neiman Marcus and Paris's Galeries Lafayette had conceived a love child, it would look something like Les Ailes de la Mode (677 rue Ste-Catherine Ouest, 514-282-4537, lesailes.com/en/accueil.htm ), where high fashion reigns and shoppers can indulge in one of the city's best day spas.

Several blocks west, French chapeaux are displayed next to knit ski caps at Simons (977 rue Ste-Catherine Ouest, 514-282-1840, simons.ca), the people's choice for smart clothes. On the Plateau, younger and quirkier fashions are found along rue St-Denis, especially between rue Roy and avenue Duluth. The Old Port overflows with knickknack and T-shirt shops.

Serious art buyers should check out the Inuit stone carvings of Galerie Le Chariot (446 place Jacques-Cartier, 514-875-4994, galerielechariot.com).

Do

Montreal has so many attractions that it's best to pick one as an excuse to explore that part of the city. The oldest part of town is bracketed by Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel (400 rue St-Paul Est, 514-282-8670, marguerite-bourgeoys .com), historic refuge of sailors, and the archeological museum on the site of the city's founding, Pointe-à-Callière (350 place Royale, 514-872-9150, pacmusee.qc.ca, adults $10.20, seniors $6.80, students $5.50, ages 6-12 $3.60).

The harbor islands were enlarged for Expo 67, the World's Fair that put Montreal on the map. The impressive French and Quebec pavilions now house the Casino de Montreal (1 avenue du Casino, Ile Notre-Dame, 514-392-2746 or 800-665-2274, www. casino-de-montreal.com), a European-style casino that enforces a tasteful dress code and bans those under 18.

It's worth strolling rue Sherbrooke to visit the high-end art galleries on your way to the Museum of Fine Arts (1379-1380 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, 514-285-2000, mbam.qc.ca, adults $12.70 adults, seniors and students $6.35, family $25.40). The permanent collections -- including important pieces by Canadian landscape painters known as the Group of Seven -- are always free.

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