Montreal in the Quebec part of Canada is a new-age global city, where love for knowledge and learning is the focus of the city’s activities. Simultaneously on its outskirts, there is a natural world of sports to be experienced with its beautiful lakes and forests. Hi! Blitz visits the Outaouais region, where both learning and adventure beckon the visitor.
It is rare to find a part of the world where the sub-degree cold of the country is matched by the high warmth of the people. The friendliness of Canadians in Montreal or Outaouais in Quebec is overwhelming and their sympathy as you rub your hands trying to keep warm in the biting cold, even in their summer time, is infectious. In this part of the world they speak French but they are not snooty about it, as their French brethren are. This even Canadians will tell you with a dismissive laughing shrug.
We enter the province of Quebec in the best way imaginable, driving through their pristine cold forests, skirting their icy lakes, staring at the clouds that dance incandescently in the distance on the mountains. Canada’s forest land is charming and mysterious. The colours of the trees change constantly, peaking finally like a noisy orchestra in autumn, so glorious and unimaginable that people fly down from all over the world just to view the orange and red hues. I try and wonder what it would be like to live in such a forest, like Hansel and Gretel—if you live in Canada, you can choose to live in a home in the woods and often people do. We passed many such log homes as we wound our way through the Montebello region.
We are in the Montebello region to experience a slice of the Canadian weekend life, which, with their strong affinity for outdoor sports, could include a spot of horseback riding, swimming, cross-country skiing, dog sledding, tubing, hunting or fishing. At the hotel Fairmont Le Château Montebello’s gourmet restaurant, Aux Chantignoles, I dive into the crêpes drowned in maple syrup and, really, your trip to Quebec is not complete if you do not discover the myriad joys of natural maple syrup, a religion almost in the country. Dribble it on salads, fruits, desserts, steaks—it adds a subtle natural flavour to every dish, making it memorable and addictive.
The next day we drive into Le Parc Omega, one of Quebec’s famous national parks. It’s a 10km drive through the 1,500-acre park. Carry some carrots with you. Some of the friendlier deer will nose you through the car windows for some generous bounty. The park is very well preserved and rich in bison, black bears, wapitis, fallow deer, moose, wolves, buffaloes, wild boars, beavers, timber wolves, Arctic wolves, caribou deer… If adventurous, you can take a walk through some of the designated walk paths where the animals you encounter are not aggressive. The park gives you a beautiful idea of the natural fauna of Quebec and how freely these animals roamed before human civilisation broke through.
A drive in the fresh air can make one hungry and we need no invitation to dive into the generous array of chocolates at artisan chocolatier Gaetan Tessier’s ChocoMotive, where you can watch the traditional and authentic techniques of chocolate-making while shopping for some delicious sinful treats. Incidentally, the Outaouais region has many designated artisan gourmet shops where you can pick up authentic and rare edibles. There is even a map giving you directions to these artisan food stores. So if you’re a foodie, a drive through the Montebello region of Outaouais is recommended.
The main city of Montreal yearns to introduce the visitor to more thoughtful, knowledgeable pursuits. Montreal has clearly positioned itself in expanding the horizon of human knowledge in a fun, lively manner and the Space for Life project is one such example. It is the city’s noteworthy attempt to gather together the amazing biodiversity of our planet in a compact area and present it in its entirety. It’s hard to describe it; the brochure calls it a ‘living laboratory’. The viewer gets to see firsthand, in a matter of hours, much of the earth’s amazing natural bounty that otherwise would take years to view.
The Space for Life encompasses four sections: Planetarium, Biodome, Insectarium and Botanical Garden. The most popular is the Biodome where you traverse five ecosystems: start with the tropical rainforests, where you encounter orangutans and crocodiles in lush, green, man-made forests; move to the Laurentian maple forests, where lynx, beavers and otters wait to surprise you. From there, you are led into the incomparable views of the Gulf of St Lawrence ecosystem, with its rich underwater fauna and myriad birds. You finally wind up with a visit to the Subpolar region and I could have spent hours just watching the penguins and auks play on the snow and ice. It is such a unique and strangely satisfying experience, bringing home the fragility with which the ecosystems of the world are linked to each other. My other favourite was the Insectarium, which came as a complete surprise to me as I am not a huge fan of insects. But after a visit here and understanding their huge contribution to the preservation of nature’s biodiversity, I have become their most ardent supporter. The Insectarium has 44,000 species of insects on display, most so stunning and brilliant in shape and colour that this place could serve as an endless inspiration for fashion collections!
Follow that with a visit to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where their collection of European and Canadian art will have you absorbed for hours, with the latter actually giving you an interesting glimpse of the evolution of Quebec from being a mere outpost of France to coming into its own individuality and aesthetics, independent of the original motherland.
Montreal’s chilly winds obviously inspired its founding fathers to come up with the idea of an underground city, and one can’t be grateful enough for the thoughtfulness when you are trying to battle the city’s current -4oC temperature. The brilliance of the Underground is that it is connected to all the main thoroughfares and many hotels and just requires you to go into the basement and, voila, you are there! The Underground is lined with boutiques, restaurants and shops. Above all, it is centrally heated, so enjoy the brisk, happy walk and just hop above to the great wide city when you feel you have reached your destination.
If you are a jazz aficionado, take a walk through the main thoroughfares of Montreal and enjoy a fun, raucous evening with some great music and wonderful food. We dined at the famous House of Jazz, which has played host to many legendary and upcoming jazz musicians, topped with some Louisiana-style food.
But above all, enjoy the people. Quebecois are the friendliest people in the world with an amazing zest to expand their knowledge bank, so a conversation with them is always lively, witty and affable.
This article first appeared in December 2013 issue of Hi! BLITZ magazine