According to many movie industry blogs, X-Men: Apocalypse is slated to start filming in Montreal in early 2015. Those same posts say that set construction will begin as early as this December. This wouldn’t be the first time the Marvel universe stormed down on Canada’s second-largest city, of course; Montreal made more than a few cameos in the comic-book series’ last installment, X-Men: Days of Future Past. With grand architecture and vast green spaces, the place is an ideal backdrop for a major Hollywood production.
Get past all the cinematographic pluses, though, and you see a city that proves welcoming to those of us who don’t possess special gifts as well. A metropolis of nearly 4 million residents, Montreal has the cultural calendar and fine-dining selections you’d expect from Gotham. But with its proud French ancestry — the first European settlers to what is now Quebec came from France in the 1500s — and vast collection of attractions, it proves welcoming to families and folks looking for a good time as well. Suffice it to say, the place almost has a superpower about it, pulling in travelers on business for a week or those merely stopping by for a weekend.
We could gush endlessly over Hyatt Regency Montreal and Forbes Travel Guide-Recommended Hotel Le Crystal. Each dazzles in its own way—the Hyatt Regency offers more of a sleek, modern aesthetic while Hotel Le Crystal speaks with an urban, individualistic voice—but for this trip, your best bet is the centrally situated The Ritz-Carlton Montréal. The very first hotel in the world to bear the “Ritz” name, this Four-Star property exudes a sophistication (a $200-million renovation gave 129 rooms and suites new life in 2012) and charm (majestic staircases, stunning Palm Court for tea) all its own. Should you bump into Hugh Jackman or Jennifer Lawrence in the lobby, don’t be shocked; the hotel is a magnet for A-listers, and it’s been that way since before Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton married there in 1964.
Once you’ve stowed your bags in your room, head out for a day of sightseeing. Just down the street from the hotel is the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. You can’t miss it because there’s a massive, bright Dale Chihuly glass sculpture aptly titled, “The Sun,” right in front of the building. Some 140,000 square feet of Chihuly (his “Utterly Breathtaking” exhibit runs through October 27), pre-Columbian art, multimedia projects and more await you inside. Pay particularly close attention to the Fabergé collection, not only because it features four of the 43 famed Easter eggs that remain, but because the show concludes on October 5.
Since you didn’t make much time for breakfast, take the four-minute cab ride from the museum to Birks Café for brunch. Like something out of an elegant romance film set in Paris, the refined eatery, with its menu of crepes and sandwiches, rests inside a high-end jewelry store filled with its own namesake pieces alongside Cartier, Bulgari and others. Where else can you indulge in minerals and macarons at one sitting?
Once you finish ogling at Birks, grab a taxi for the seven-minute ride toward Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal. Located in popular Place d’Armes square, the Catholic sanctuary was dedicated back in 1829. Today, the towering building fashioned in the Gothic Revival style is still a functioning center for mass and other religious gatherings. (Céline Dion got married there in 1994.) But outdoors, it’s a haven for family photo ops and locals on lunch break. Walk east just a few blocks and you’ll pass a number of other breathtaking structures in the Old Montreal area, none more fascinating than Montreal City Hall. The five-story, Second-Empire style building will look as good on your Facebook timeline as it did during its close-up scenes in Days of Future Past.
After a busy day of trekking downtown, your feet will thank you for an easy night of dining near your room. Renowned chef Daniel Boulud’s Maison Boulud, which sits on the Ritz’s ground floor, is a tantalizing space of glass, polished wood walls and see-through fireplaces. Ducks can be seen parading near the wading pool in the outdoor dining area, too. But if you think all of the fun decorative elements are meant to distract from a mediocre meal, allow the Cappelletti d’Aubergine (handmade cappelletti pasta, eggplant, tomato coulis, Pecorino di Fossa, olives and basil), pan-seared sockeye or cherry-marinated duck to prove you wrong.
The view atop Parc du Mont-Royal couldn’t be better if you had Phoenix’s gift of flight. If you get up and at ’em before 9 a.m. to take in everything—the 761-foot hill affords views of a host of Montreal landmarks such as Olympic Stadium—you can probably beat the crowd of picnickers and visitors who swarm the park almost every day. You’ll build up an appetite from walking the area, so take the 10-minute cab ride to Eggspectation near the Complexe Desjardins mall. The warm, laid-back space does a splendid job with some morning favorites like sausages and Belgian waffles while putting a tasty twist on eggs (lobster omelette) and sides (Lyonnaise-style breakfast potatoes).
When you finish eating, walk across the street to Place des Arts, one of the city’s finest entertainment complexes, to look at the evening’s schedule. Most Saturdays and Sundays will showcase a globally known musician (International Music Festival, October 5), a dance performance (Les Grands Ballets’ Paquita, October 16-19) or theatrical production (Hamlet, November 12-18).
Should you see something on the marquee that you like, use the time that you have before the show to do some last-minute exploring around town: Montréal Botanical Gardens’ 10 greenhouses are absolutely flooded with color, and the 200-plus bird species aren’t anything to sniff at either; Underground City, this subterranean network of shops, restaurants, train stations and the Montreal Canadiens’ home arena, Bell Centre, is like a comic villain’s secret lair that you have to see to believe; Montreal Pool Room’s air of seedy charm disqualifies the establishment from any mainstream accolades, yet many locals would argue that the place serves the finest poutine in the province, making it an unofficial landmark by default.
But there is a chance that the Place des Arts’ docket might be empty the night you’re in town. If that’s the case, the odds of something outdoorsy going on in the city are still pretty high. Lovingly nicknamed “City of Festivals,” Montreal hosts hundreds of events per year, some big (June’s Montreal Jazz Festival), some small (March’s International Children’s Film Festival), some in the winter (Igloofest, Jan. 16-Feb. 8, 2015), others in the fall (Taste MTL, Nov. 1-11, 2014).
By the time you finish frolicking, you’ll be ready for dinner. Not even a 10-minute ride from The Ritz-Carlton, Montreal is Pasta Tutti Giorni, a pretension-free zone serving a rosée pasta with garlic sautéed shrimp you will swear came straight from a village in Northern Italy. If you’re looking to seal the trip in lavish fashion, however, head over to the Little Burgundy neighborhood for Liverpool House. We recommend calling ahead for reservations. The popular restaurant, which is the sister spot to the well-known Joe Beef right down the street, has the feel of a worn but warm cottage along the North Atlantic coast. There are leather banquettes, wooden tables, brass chandeliers and an ever-changing chalkboard of scrumptious seafood selections (shrimp linguini) and bold proteins (everything from deep-fried pork loin to horse) that are done with flavor and ease.
Director Bryan Singer might choose Montreal to shoot his X-Men movies because of the tax breaks and other incentives. Keen travelers have made the city popular because of its delicious take on fine dining and a diverse cultural itinerary. After your action-packed two days in the Canadian metropolis, though, you’ll realize there’s so much more to marvel over than that.