Story by Merilyn Chang
Photo by Liam Rondeau
A slight chill hovers in the air over Montreal, even in early August. The stone streets are still damp in the mornings and have a kind of luster that doesn’t exist on city sidewalks. When it rains at night, the stones accentuate every trace of light from the streetlamps. From afar it looks as if the whole street is lit up in some brilliantly gauzy amber and bronze glow. The streets are on fire.
It’s the stone streets that give Old Montreal its allure. Anything that reminds us of our recent pasts—anything that beckons bouts of nostalgia—is likely to attract visitors. It’s no wonder that millions of tourists flock here every year to walk along the cobblestone streets and revel in the antique charm of the town. It’s sectioned off from the rest of the city, which has slowly industrialized and modernized within the past couple of decades. Old Montreal is a living museum of an era that has long since passed.
Only the scattered tourist-catered gift shops that line the narrow streets detract from the city’s antiquity. This is, however, an inevitable side effect of a city that builds its industry off of tourism. Even so, hidden among the tacky keychains and neon refrigerator magnets are some worthwhile gifts. Handmade glasses in delicately decorated boutiques and wood carved figurines are among the several specialties of Montreal that you can bring home.
Crêpes, another speciality, unfortunately don’t last—so fill up on the thin, sweet pancakes while you can– try them spread with nutella and topped with strawberries or simply drizzled in salted caramel.. One benefit of visiting an old French town its inevitable tie to cultural cuisine. Brave visitors can try escargot– snails doused in warm, garlicky butter at French brasseries. For a more traditional French-Canadian dish, poutine offers a heaping pile of fried potatoes topped with cheese curds and a gravy-esque sauce.
Whatever you choose to do, walking through the filmy and antiquated old town is taking a momentary step back into the past.
This story appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Baedeker.