A Weekend in Old Montréal

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Nothing could be more romantic than taking a new flame (or an old love) to a European city for a long winter weekend. With the euro pounding the dollar, however, it makes sense to see the cobblestone streets and candlelit cafés closer to home. French speaking and cosmopolitan, Montréal is the perfect proxy for Paris, and a real value with the Canadian “loonie” at one to one with the dollar. Splurge on a limo from the airport (about $50) and settle into a boutique hotel in historic Old Montréal. Your ticket to sure-fire romance is just outside your hotel door.

Best spa experience
For the ultimate couple’s massage in the most curiously cozy of environs, book a hot stone treatment at Le Spa. Converted from a vintage bank vault, the small space oozes peaceful luxury. Candlelight bounces off the brick ceiling, rugged stone walls, and a heated onyx floor. Le Spa in the Hôtel Le St James, 355 rue St-Jacques (514) 841-3111.

Most panoramic sunrise071108_clock_tower_Alphonse%20TranF.jpg
With the massive arc of the Biosphere peeking over the distant tree line, the clock tower at the north end of Vieux-Port provides an exceptional backdrop for dramatic morning skies. Gentle currents of the St. Lawrence River flow below your feet as the rising sunlight glistens off the Jacques Cartier Bridge on the near horizon. C’est magnifique! Vieux-Port at Quai de l’Horloge.

Best place to sip wine
Tuck yourself away in an alcove at Hôtel Le St James’ tiny lounge, with its high-backed love seats and dim lighting. Black-clad waiters provide excellent — but unobtrusive — service, sliding roasted almonds in front of you and disappearing without a word. An impressive wine list features world-class wines by the glass (for under $15).

Most decadent treat
Forget the crème brûlée. It’s child’s play on the splurge scale when compared to Bistro Boris’ pommes frittes (French fries). Deep fried in duck fat and dipped in spicy mayo, these fries are pure indulgence. Flickering candles and intimate tables set the scene at this diminutive eatery.

Best place to hold hands
As dusk fades to night, park yourself on a bench in the Place d’Armes — across from Basilique Notre-Dame. Royal blue lights suddenly appear in the cathedral’s windows and arches, mimicking the color of the darkening sky. Water trickles from the park’s central fountain, casting an emerald glow. The effect is stunning. Don’t miss a visit to the church earlier in the day. It’s intricate interior is wonderfully rococo without being overly ornate.

071108_Ernesto%20Andrade_notre_dame_montrealF.JPGMost romantic cliché
Although frightfully unoriginal — and a bit expensive at $45 for 30 minutes — an evening carriage ride through Old Montréal is still terribly romantic. Glimmering lanterns along Rue St-Paul and the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on the cobbled streets set the stage for cozy snuggling under faux fur blankets. Carriages line up in front of the Basilique Notre-Dame, 110 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest.

Best reason to wander from Old Montréal
Catch a taxi (or hop on the Metro) to rue Sherbrooke Ouest and impress your love with an afternoon of old-world elegance. Take high tea at the Ritz-Carlton’s posh courtyard garden. Make sure to ask for a table on the heated terrace overlooking the duck pond. After tea, stroll across the street to the Musée des Beaux-Arts. The collection here features work by local artists and select works from both European and modern masters.

Where to Eat
The fries at Boris Bistro are a must, and the duck and salmon dishes are well prepared. Three-course meals with wine run $45-$55. Restaurant Gibby’s is a Montréal institution. Steak and oysters live up to the hype. Three-course meals with wine run $60-$80. Skip dessert at Chez L’Epicier at your own risk. The menu features a chocolate “club sandwich,” with sliced strawberries replacing the tomato, basil for lettuce, and chocolate for roast beef. The pineapple “fries” are sheer crispy sweetness. A three-course meal with wine runs $75-$100.

Where to Stay
Expedia offers great deals at the delightful Hotel XIX Siecle. Ranging from $125-$165 per night (depending on your travel dates), the rate includes parking and a European-style continental breakfast buffet. The location can’t be beat — it’s near Basilique Notre-Dame and Le Spa. Slightly more upscale, Hotel Le Saint Sulpice is also in the heart of Old Montréal. Weekend rates start at $165 for a simple loft suite; $305 for a superior loft suite with breakfast and a spa credit.

Dawn Hagin