The French-Canadian city of Montreal is an easy place to fall in love with, discovers Linda Shackelford.

It's 10am and the potent aroma of coffee and freshly baked pastries wafts out on to cobble-stoned streets. Petite fashionistas in figure-hugging skirts prance elegantly into office buildings and well-suited businessmen follow admiringly. The sun bounces off modern skyscrapers and university students share a fabulous French joke.

It's a Tuesday and I'm in Montreal. For a city showcasing the mechanics of success and business, there's a surprisingly relaxed feel to it.

I have felt this vibe before - in Spain, the south of France and Italy, where simple pleasures count most - but never in North America.

It's not surprising then, that my first morning in Montreal starts with me ogling the locals and dreaming of ways to filter their attitude into my slightly hectic life.


Oh la la ... my crush on Montreal has just begun.

The city instantly delivers the shot of energy I desperately need after waking up murky-eyed from a late-night flight from Vancouver. Canada's second largest city after Toronto, Montreal is a jewel in Quebec, a province abounding in glamour, history and seduction.

"Bonjour mademoiselle", beckons the charming cafe assistant as I stand at the counter, overwhelmed by the choices of pastry delights. Using pidgin French I order a croissant oozing melted chocolate and a frothy mochaccino. There's something about this Parisian-style cafe that sweeps me in. Probably the wallet-friendly price-list and cosy ambience.

Montreal's made a fabulous first impression and I quickly forget about the sleepless night at my C$40-a-night ($52), four-to-a-room accommodation.

With a population of 3.4 million, the city is a nirvana of character, history, fine cuisine and beautiful, sexily-accented people. These are the weapons of seduction that separate Montreal from the rest of Canada.

Montreal is home to the second largest Francophone population in a city (after Paris), and in recent decades has also become a melting pot for Jewish, Italian, South American and Lebanese communities.

From Montreal-Vieux (Old Montreal), to the sophisticated retail experiences in the Underground City, which link the Metro transport system and shopping malls for 30.5km, the pulse of this city never slows.

While Montreal is rich in French-Canadian culture, it makes room for a Chinatown. Although not the most interesting Oriental community I've explored in North America, Montreal's Chinatown presents enough food and shopping to entice me for an hour or two.


The price tags are a cheering contrast to those in the high-couture boutiques sprinkled throughout the city. In fact, my C$12 chiffon top has since attracted many compliments.

"It's a one-off from Montreal", I tell admirers. Where I got it, or how much I paid will remain a mystery.

Lunch at Place Jacques-Cartier - an outdoor square for eating and socialising named after French explorer Jacques-Cartier (considered one of the major discoverers of Canada) - isn't complete without a C$4 bowl of Poutine. Pronounced "poo-teen", this is Canada's famous French fries, gravy and cheese combination. Perhaps not the healthiest choice, but the cheese curd concoction has even the most figure-conscious tourist hooked.

After digesting lunch, along with common sights of public displays of affection at Place Jacques-Cartier, I venture towards Rue Sherbrooke Ouest. Approximately a 35-minute walk from Montreal-Vieux, this street flaunts high-end shops, museums and art galleries that keep the most avid art patron captivated. Nearby, the McGill University grounds offer a lush spot for catching some afternoon shut-eye under leafy trees.

Another place I have to stroll is Boulevard-Saint Laurent. It's alive with artistic activity, punctuated with Bohemian-style boutiques and shadowed by brightly-painted Victorian-era homes, originally a working class district but transformed in the 1960s and 1970s by an influx of writers, poets and artists.

Meandering these character-filled streets with bakeries thrusting the scent of sweet comfort food out of windows could consume an entire day. But I don't have the liberty of time to flutter my eyelashes over a coffee like many of the locals appear to. Instead, I opt to scale Mt Royal, a famous landmark, from which the city derives its name, a climb taking around an hour.

A stunning mix of modern glass facade skyscrapers and French architecture greets me. Neo-gothic steeples tower over a labyrinth of alleyways that weave their way down towards the Old Port of Montreal.

Also prominent is Notre-Dame Basilica, close to the port and dating back to 1829, which attracts hundreds of tourists each night for its sound and light show detailing the history of Montreal and the basilica.

All of that may sound like a lot of activity but I realise it's always important for tourists to follow the example of the locals and eat, laugh, dance and relax. So I tuck into some Mexican cuisine on one of the rooftop patios located on the popular restaurant and bar strip, Rue St Clements.

Canadians love patio dining because for much of the year they are cooped up inside, avoiding sub-zero temperatures.

But this strip attracts visitors all year round with its smorgasbord of restaurants, music and late-night socialising. While it's comfortable to start the evening with banter with the locals, the night doesn't have to stop there because there is a selection of upbeat nightclubs within walking distance.

As for me, I have an early morning flight to catch, so I call it a night around 9pm. My first taste of French-Canadian culture has been delicious, I conclude, as I sip my last mocha poured on Quebecan soil and reflect on my brief love affair with Montreal.

In Quebec, "bonjour" means both hello and goodbye. So I bid you "bonjour Montreal" - see you again soon.

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Vancouver and Air Canada flies between Vancouver and Montreal. Travel is also available via Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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