Day 2 (February 19, 2011) of our Montreal trip started with a culinary walking tour of Old Montreal. We linked up with our tour at Europea Espace Boutique, an offshoot of Europea, a fine dining restaurant owned by renowned chef Jérôme Ferrer. Several culinary walking tours were gathering in this culinary boutique which specializes in take-out lunches and a variety of sweets, including “macarons”, sweet, colourful confectionary made of eggwhites. With their bright colours and polka dots these macarons were adorning the display cases, and each one of us got a free one to try.
Our expert guide Micheline from the VDM Global tour company was going to lead our tour today and started us off with a brief stop at Notre Dame Basilica, a Gothic Revival masterpiece that was dedicated in 1829. Designed by American Architect James O’Donnell, this impressive stone church is a National Historic Site of Canada and one of the key landmarks of Old Montreal.
Bracing the chilly wind, we continued our walk to the stately former bank buildings on Rue St-Jacques. This street, also referred to as St. James Street, used to be the centre of Montreal’s banking and financial district in the early part of the 20th century. Historic bank buildings such as the Bank of Montreal’s domed Montreal Main Branch, the former headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada, the Canadian Bank of Commerce, the Molson Bank and the Canada Life Insurance Company can be found here.
We stopped at L’Hotel, a boutique hotel housed in a historic building designed in 1870 that used to be the head office of the Montreal City and District Savings Bank. The hotel is owned by Paul Marciano, fashion designer and co-founder of Guess? Inc., who has injected his creative spirit into the collection of unique art pieces in the lobby/gallery on the main floor of the hotel.
Across the street we went inside the Nordheimer Building, an 1882 architectural gem with a lobby full of Victorian-era details. From here we entered the World Trade Center complex, a 10 storey complex built in 1992 that features a large glass-enclosed atrium with a selection of retail stores on the main floor. The atrium is home to an 18th century French fountain that is often used as a backdrop for wedding photos. A fragment of the Berlin Wall can also be found in the courtyard.
Back outside in the cold we started our walk down into Old Montreal and admired the historic former warehouses that have been gentrified over the last couple of decades. Since this was a culinary tour, we did not only admire architecture, but we were on our way to our first stop: the Marché de la Villette, a French restaurant that is renowned for its foie gras, a popular French and French Canadian delicacy. Although the force-feeding of ducks is considered inhumane by many, the rich and buttery flavour of foie gras is very popular here. Micheline explained the process of how this special type of duck or goose liver is made, and I had a look at the glass display cases that featured a wide range of French terrines or meatloafs.
Back out in the cold we stopped at Place d’Youville and admired the former Flemish style fire hall that is now the Centre d’histoire de Montreal (Montreal’s history centre). Steps away we reached, the location where Montreal was founded. It is now anchored by the Montreal Museum of Archeology and History, opened in 1992 to celebrate Montreal’s 350th birthday.
Across the street is Place Royale which used to be an Amerindian camp before the arrival of the Europeans. Many archeological artefacts have been discovered here. In the 17th century this square became a fur trading post and later the location of the Old Customs House.
From here we headed away from the waterfront onto Rue St-Paul where we stopped at Le Marché du Vieux where we sat down for a cheese tasting featuring brie, goat cheese, some delicious crackers and an artisan cranberry dip. This combination of bistro and boutique allows you to sit down and enjoy a meal or purchase a wide variety of unique culinary products from all over Quebec. The merchandise includes a wide assortment of cheeses, smoked meat, foie gras, various preserves and jams, crackers, Montreal bagels and even ice cream.
With our palates now appropriately teased, Micheline took us to a place that would fulfill our cravings for sweets: Les Délices de l’Érable, or in English “Maple Delights”. This boutique café sells a wide range of maple syrup products, maple cookies, maple butter, pies and pastries, beverages, gelatos and snacks. Although produced throughout the north eastern United States and Eastern Canada, by far the largest producer of this sweet liquid is Quebec, and the precious golden liquid is one of Quebec’s most popular delicacies.
With this sweet high point, our culinary tour had come to an end and our group thanked Micheline for sharing her expert knowledge of Old Montreal and of Quebec’s unique culinary traditions. We retreated back to the hotel to warm and rest up a bit for our next winter adventure: snow-shoeing on Mont Royal.