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Kid-Friendly Zones: montreal, canada
Montreal is lovely year round but the charms of this island city on the St. Lawrence River are undeniable during the winter months. Embrace the snow-scape and special winter events – light shows are everywhere – and get that arm ready for snowball fights with the kids.
Where to stay Le Place d'Armes Hotel & Suites is conveniently located in the old quarter – Vieux Montreal – and kitty corner from the Notre Dame Basilica. A gracious staff greets you, after which you should make a beeline for the lobby's caramel-colored couches and an afternoon indulgence of cookies and hot chocolate. A junior suite is ideal for families, it's parent-approved king bed napped in soft white sheets and snug against an exposed brick wall. The suite's living area is commanded by a creamy corduroy sofabed and boffo entertainment system, while floor-to-ceiling windows paint a picture. The piece de resistance is a bathroom that's a room-within-a-room, its jetted soaking tub and rain shower a treat for everyone. The “Kids in the City” package is tailor-made for families and includes parking and a expansive continental breakfast where the croissants and pain de chocolat cannot be missed. http://www.hotelplacedarmes.com/en/ Doubles from $179 CAD, “Kids in the City” package from $243 CAD.
Oldie but goodie Vieux Montreal is what's old about a city whose energy invariably feels fresh and new. Step back in time as you walk the many curvy, cobbled streets, every turn exposing yet another shop or cafe. Especially enchanting is the eastern edge of Vieux Montreal, where you'll find La Maison Pierre du Calvet, a charming hostelry dating to 1725. Benjamin Franklin stayed here for six months and, during that time, helped launch the Montreal Gazette. The Notre-Dame-des-Bon-Secours Chapel close by is pretty as a picture, and the Marche Bonsecours up the street is a century-old indoor public market specializing in high-quality made-in-Quebec arts and crafts. The Montreal Science Centre runs the gamut from dinosaurs to Star Wars at its location along the Old Port and has the requisite IMAX screen (“Shark 3D,” anyone?). http://www.montrealsciencecentre.com/ An outdoor ice rink at the Old Port is open during the winter months and the essence of northern living.
The Main Attractions The Musee des Beaux-Arts is Montreal's fine arts museum yet kids will feel right at home. A recent exhibit, “Splendore a Venezia,” showcases the art and music of renaissance Venice via artwork and a musical audio tour (don't miss the full-sized gondola owned by Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil). While the museum's permanent collection runs the gamut from paintings to the artwork of indigenous peoples, the winner for kids will be the collection of David and Liliane Stewart, a hodgepodge of fanciful furnishings and decorative items including one chair that's an apple with a bite cut out of it and a lounger made up of a puppy pile of plush, stuffed animals. http://www.mbam.qc.ca/en/ At the Pointe-a-Calliere Museum, the history and archaeology of Montreal is celebrated. That said, it hasn't stopped the museum from hosting an exhibit on The Beatles' visit to the city in September 1964. Permanent exhibits include an interactive romp, “Pirates or Privateers?” that's ideally suited for ages 6-12. http://www.pacmusee.qc.ca/en/home All around the city, winter travelers will encounter Lumino Therapie, often-interactive installations featuring light, color and sound sure to warm a chilly winter day.
Hipster nabes As befits a city where travelers often cite “I came to eat!” as the reason for their visit, it's the neighborhoods where you'll find some of the best food shops and cafes. The holy trinity of food in this city may well be chocolate, bagels and poutine, that last one a dish of French fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curds. Three words: When in Rome. While locals can indulge in fierce debate on the best place for poutine, you won't go wrong at La Banquise, open 24/7 and featuring 28 varieties of this Canadian specialty. It's Fairmount Bagel for the sweeter-than-usual spheres (the secret is honey), and Maison Cakao is a jewel box of a chocolate shop. A multitude of delights can be found along Boulevard St. Laurent, Montreal's version of Broadway in New York City. This lengthy thoroughfare cuts through much of the city and you should be on the lookout for murals.
Chief contender for trendy neighborhood is the Plateau, a formerly working-class nabe now populated by younger sorts eager to make their mark. Even so, the original charm of the Plateau lingers in the many duplexes and triplexes featuring swerving, wrought-iron exterior staircases. Theories abound as to why the building's staircases were placed outside and not in, though it seems most plausible that space was the consideration. The micro-nabe of Mile End could be cooler than thou but everyone will enjoy the cheeky shops and sweets stops.
To the top! Mont Royal, the city's namesake (“royal mountain,” though it presents as more of a tall hill), is graced by the Parc du Mont-Royal at the top. This greensward was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, he of the Central Park design in New York City. Park in an upper lot and walk to the top and the Smith House, an interpretive center with an unparalleled view of the city. During the winter months, you can ski or snowshoe, go tubing or toboganning; rental equipment is available. Children will want to wander the parks many paths and commune with nature – encourage it! There's no better place to get “lost” in the city. http://www.lemontroyal.qc.ca/en/learn-about-mount-royal/homepage.sn
Trip the light and silent night Cirque du Soleil has taken a traditional circus and turned it on its head. Founded by Guy Laliberte in Montreal 30 years ago, the self-styled “dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment” now stages performances around the globe. You will generally find a show in Montreal (performances are staged outdoors during the summer months) and, most recently, it was “Varekai,” a play of eye-popping color and soaring music as backdrop for acrobats who jump and twirl in fantastical ways. Just when it appears that a juggler will steal the show, amazing young men and their flying trapezes take our breath away. It's a surefire winner with kids. http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/home/shows.aspx A much mellower experience is a visit to the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, grande dame of city churches. The Gothic Revival structure is characterized by a soaring deep blue ceiling dotted with gold stars; its Casavant Freres pipe organ backs up a choral ensemble during the Christmas holidays (tickets required for Christmas eve masses). The exterior of the basilica is dramatically lit in blue during the winter months, a play of light that's magical on a snowy evening – best views are from the Place d'Armes square across the street. http://www.basiliquenddm.org/en/
Where to eat Modavie is a small restaurant in Vieux Montreal with can-can posters on the walls and a menu of French classics including an excellent duck confit and poached salmon. http://www.modavie.com/en/ At L'Express, it's French bistro all the way, a black-and-white checkerboard floor paired with dark wood trim and bright lighting. Having an adventurous palate will be rewarded in the form of a chicken liver mousse so satisfying you may want for nothing more; servers wisely pair the mousse with a crock of grain mustard, a jar of perky cornichons and baskets of crusty French bread. The room is filled with families chatting away in French and while some young customers will belly up to the calf's liver with frites, others rely on the Croque Monsieur (grilled ham and cheese). http://restaurantlexpress.ca/ At Schwartz's Deli, a Montreal institution, ordering is simple: a smoked meat sandwich (ask for it lean, medium or fat, depending on your cholesterol level), a large pickle, fries, cole slaw and a black cherry soda. Everyone orders one of each and no one leaves hungry. http://schwartzsdeli.com/ca/en/ Garde Manger is celebrity chef Chuck Hughes' table number one, an energetic space known for it foie gras and tartares. Kids say non? Dazzle 'em with a bowl of lobster poutine. C'est magnifique! http://crownsalts.com/gardemanger/index_en.html
The kiddos will also smile at Le Cristal Chinois, a dim sum palace on the edge of Chinatown that appears to be as big as a hockey rink. Not to be missed are the soft-doughy BBQ pork buns, rice noodles with shrimp and the shrimp dumplings. A mango pudding stamped with a heart ends the meal on a sweet note. http://www.lecristalchinois.com/en/ Suite 701 at the Le Place d'Armes Hotel & Suites is a dazzler of a room notable for its artful chandeliers and where purple is the color du jour. Expertly-prepared and hearty fare includes a pork pie and a filet mignon astride creamy mashed potatoes. http://www.suite701.com/en/
Elaine Labalme is a food and travel writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and twelve-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.