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  • Photo: © Marc Bruxelle | Dreamstime.com

Parc du Mont-Royal

In geological terms, Mont-Royal is just a bump of basaltlike rock worn down by several ice ages to a mere 760 feet. But in the affections of Montrealers it's a Matterhorn. Without a trace of irony, they call it simply la Montagne or "the Mountain," and it's easy to see why it's so well loved.

For Montrealers it's a refuge, a semitamed wilderness within the city. It's where you go to get away from it all. And even when you can't get away, you can see the mountain glimmering beyond the skyscrapers and the high-rises—green in summer, gray and white in winter, and gold and crimson in fall.

The nearly 500 acres of forests and meadows were laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), the man responsible for New York City's Central Park. Olmsted believed that communion with nature could cure body and soul, so much of the park has been left as wild as possible, with narrow paths meandering through tall stands of maples and red oaks. In summer it's full of picnicking families; in winter cross-country skiers and snowshoers take over, while families skate at Lac aux Castors and ride sleds and inner tubes down groomed slopes. If you want to explore with minimum effort, you can hire the services of a horse-drawn carriage (or sleigh in winter).

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