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Montreal Spotlight

For a bit of France in North America, head to Montreal

By Natasha Hall

February 7th, 2007

The world's second largest French-speaking city, Montréal presents a captivating mélange of old-world charm infused with the up-to-the-minute energy of North America's most modern cities. Set on the St. Lawrence River, this Canadian metropolis comprises an easily accessible patchwork of lively neighborhoods, each with its own unique joie de vivre. Visitors can still get their fix of Old World Europe without crossing the Atlantic, but a clutch of trendy new hotels, restaurants, shops, and clubs are the latest indication that this city will never become a stodgy artifact of past triumphs.

Indeed, much has changed since explorer Jacques Cartier first climbed to the top of Mont-Royal in 1535. From this central outcropping, now part of the rambling Parc Mount Royal, modern visitors can survey the imposing stadium built for the 1976 Olympics, the gleaming high-rises of downtown Montréal, and the city's sprawling array of neighborhoods. Just south of downtown, on the banks of the St. Lawrence, Old Montréal beckons with narrow cobblestone streets, quaint shops, and vibrant jazz clubs. For a taste of hip bohemia, head northeast from Old Montréal to the gentrified enclave of Plateau Mont-Royal and burgeoning Mile End, a laid-back community that's fast becoming the city's latest bar and restaurant hotspot. Further afield, unexpected attractions, like the world's second-largest botanical garden, a flashy casino, and the only Grand Prix circuit in North America beckon as well.

An action-packed three-day visit will give you time to check out Old Montréal and downtown, with enough time for a boat ride on the St. Lawrence, while a more leisurely five-day stay will allow for unhurried museum-going, and a thorough sampling of the city's best shops and restaurants, and still leave time to spend your afternoons people-watching over café-au-laits and nights out listening to live music and bar-hopping.

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