With its famous summer festivals like the Montreal International Jazz Festival and the Just for Laughs Festival, Montreal is a hugely popular destination in the warmer months. But the city’s winters are known to be quite chilly, and fewer people make it here during the cold season. My goal was exactly to experience Montreal in the depths of winter – February, one of the coldest months – to be precise, and to see what the city has to offer when it’s freezing outside.
Tourism Montreal had been very helpful in preparing a five day itinerary for me and my travel partner Gary that would start with a comfortable train ride with Via Rail from Toronto. As part of our first class tickets we got to enjoy the Panorama Lounge at Toronto’s historic Union Station and minutes later at about 8:30 am we started boarding. After working for some time on my computer (with the help of the on-board wifi system), we were served an appetizing lunch that consisted of salmon sushi, penne pasta and smoked salmon.
After some delays our train arrived in Montreal at about 3 pm and. We took a taxi to our abode for the next 4 nights: the historic Auberge Bonaparte in picturesque Old Montreal. General Manager Michael Banks welcomed us and provided us with our rooms: my spacious room came with a stunning view of the back of Notre Dame Basilica and its private garden, while my friend’s room was facing out to the historic Rue Saint François Xavier.
Auberge Bonaparte also has its own restaurant: Restaurant Bonaparte, and co-owner Martin Bédard took me on a restaurant tour after I settled in. He showed me the cozy spot by the window where René Lévesque used to sit, a spacious private dining room in the back and the Empress dining room which features a fireplace and many paintings reminiscent of Napoleon Bonaparte’s era.
Martin explained that this area of the building used to be a pastry shop, while the entire building originally used to be a notary’s office. Martin even took me into the kitchen where I got to talk to the chef and his team, who allowed me to watch the food preparations and peer into the various pots that were boiling on the stove.
Shortly before we headed out General Manager Michael Banks took me on a hotel tour. The building dates from 1886 and has one of the widest store fronts on this narrow street.
The hotel’s rooms range from nicely appointed standard rooms, to superior rooms, some of which feature king size beds, two beds or even a private terrace. We also visited the Prestige Suite which consists of a large bedroom and a separate living room with a pull-out couch and a large private terrace that has a gorgeous view of Notre-Dame Basilica.
Michael also took me to the conference room on the top floor which can accommodate up to 70 people and from there we went out to the rooftop terrace which offers a phenomenal view of Old Montreal , including the Old Port area and the Basilica of Notre Dame. In warmer weather, this terrace is accessible to the hotel guests free of charge.