Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 19, 2017

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Old Montreal's nouvelle hotels

We leave no cobblestone unturned in our search for the old quarter's best design properties

Old Montreal has always appealed to visitors wanting a taste of Canadian history and the charm of European architecture. But for decades, it was a cultural dead zone, frequented by busloads of tour groups and filled with ghastly, overpriced restaurants and trinkety tourist shops.

With the turn of the millennium, an explosion of design hotels (many with stellar eateries) started sprouting up in the area, helping to redefine the classic calèche-and-cobblestone circuit as a genuine and emerging neighbourhood.

Design hotels — often confused with smaller, highly personalized and more expensive boutique properties — offer everything you'd expect from a major chain, with better decor and trendier amenities. They've also become bellwethers for the next "it" neighbourhoods, where stylish travellers go and the rest are sure to follow.

Montreal got its first design hotel, Le Germain (2050 Mansfield Street; tel: 877-333-2050; www.hotelgermain.com) — all dark wood, warm leather and white fabric — in an unassuming downtown office building in 1999. (The same groundbreaking Quebec City-based hotelliers went on to inaugurate Toronto's first design property, also called Le Germain, in 2003.)

Around that time, the tech boom was in full swing in the newly minted Cité du multimédia — an area of soon-to-be-renovated warehouses on the western edge of Old Montreal. Urban-styled hotels started popping up to cash in on the cachet of the elegant stone buildings and narrow streets of the residential area between this new high-tech zone and the tourist mecca around Place Jacques-Cartier at the eastern end of the old quarter.

The Call to Arms
When the Hotel Place d'Armes (55 St-Jacques Street; tel: 888-450-1887; www.hotelplacedarmes.com; doubles from $190, including breakfast and afternoon wine and cheese) moved into a stunning Beaux Arts building across from Notre-Dame Basilica in June 2000, the only accommodations in the area were 18th-century-styled auberges. A design hotel in Old Montreal seemed not quite right for either design-conscious travellers or history-seeking tourists.

But the Hotel Place d'Armes won both groups over with a pitch-perfect restoration of its soaring ground floor space and rooms that have the warmth of a historic home with a sparse contemporary style.

And this Old Montreal dog has since added a few new tricks. In 2004, it opened the much-lauded restaurant, Aix: Cuisine du Terroir. And last year, the hotel inaugurated a major new expansion which incorporates two adjacent 19th-century buildings. In addition, the hotel launched the Suite 701 martini bar and its unique Rainspa, which features the city's first hammam (Turkish steam room).

SoHo Cold
The Hotel St-Paul (355 McGill Street; tel: 866-380-2202; www.hotelstpaul.com; doubles from $175) is largely credited with kick-starting the revitalization of McGill Street, at the very edge of Old Montreal, where tourists and locals had rarely bothered to tread. In the last five years, gourmet bakeries and cafés, designer boutiques and spas have popped up on the surrounding streets.

Housed in another of the old quarter's Beaux Arts jewels, the property has won a host of design awards and made numerous travel hot lists. It's easy to see why. The white lobby gives off an ice palace-meets-SoHo vibe, with a soaring backlit alabaster fireplace embodying the themes of fire and ice. Rooms alternate from ethereal and pale with white fur throws, to earthy with rusty colours and wood and stone accents. And all 120 rooms have enormous windows that fill the space with light.

The hotel's local reputation is due in no small part to its award-winning restaurant, Cube, which, when it opened, knocked perennial favourite Toqué! off the top spot as best in the city.

Poetic Justice
Named in honour of a 19th-century Romantic poet, the Hotel Nelligan (106 St-Paul Street West; tel: 877-788-2040; www.hotelnelligan.com; doubles from $190 including breakfast and afternoon wine and cheese) is housed in a pair of connecting buildings dating from the mid-19th century.

It takes full advantage of its historic structure, exposing brickwork and stone throughout the lobby and ground floor bar, which are filled with warm wood touches and oversized leather chairs.

To the side of a fountain and atrium, its chic Verses Restaurant offers contemporary French cuisine with regional touches in a colonial Montreal take on bistro design. In the summer, the Verses Ciel rooftop bar is packed with the after-work crowd.

The Nelligan's 35 rooms and 28 suites are decorated with a subdued palette of dark woods and rough brick against pale creamy walls and fabrics. Rooms have views onto the St. Lawrence River or the central atrium, and suites also feature fireplaces, exposed stone walls and Jacuzzis.

 

Pretend You Live Here
The understated Hotel Gault (449 Ste-Hélène Street; tel: 866-904-1616; www.hotelgault.com; doubles from $229) looks like it was designed for frequent visitors who don't want to feel they're at a hotel. On a quiet side street, its simple entrance could easily be mistaken for one of the condo developments in the historic buildings that surround it.

The enormous guestrooms are decorated with low platform beds and ultra-modern furniture, but the overall feeling is closer to a minimalist apartment than a trendy hotel room. Some suites have separate living rooms, private terraces and sliding panels that can be moved to change the look of the space.

The intimate property has just 30 loft-style rooms and no restaurant or spa — only a lobby café-bar for breakfast or drinks, a fitness centre and a small reading room stocked with art and design books.

Condo Conversion
Located behind Notre-Dame Basilica and overlooking the gardens of the Sulpician Seminary, Hotel Le Saint-Sulpice (414 St-Sulpice Street; tel: 877-785-7423; www.lesaintsulpice.com; doubles from $165) couldn't be more rooted in the city's history: it's even built on the site of the 17th-century home of two famous fur traders.

This all-suites hotel bills itself as an urban resort, bringing the condo-hotel concept from the ski slopes to the city. The warm decor isn't quite up to the sleek or historic design standards set by other properties in the area, but it is moderately priced. The 100 loft-style or one-bedroom suites come with kitchenettes, enormous bathrooms and French windows opening onto either a courtyard or the old town's narrow streets. All the rooms feature an additional sofa-bed and the deluxe suites have exposed brick walls, and fireplaces or terraces with a panoramic view.

For those who don't even want to use their microwaves, S Le Restaurant is staking out a place for itself among local eateries with a creative menu and warm but stylish decor.

Welcome to the Scene
In 2004, the Starwood chain anointed Montreal with official hip city status by opening a high-style W Hotel (901 Square Victoria; tel: 514-395-3100; www.whotels.com; doubles from $190), the only one in Canada.

Taking over an old bank building in the no-man's-land financial district, the W has the advantage of being just a couple of blocks from the shops on Ste-Catherine Street and the cobblestone streets of the old town.

The lobby sports the brand's signature, eye-catching, red check-in counter and "Living Room" experience. Here, designer couches are scattered in front of a four-metre waterfall cascading over backlit, sculpted glass.

The rooms themselves give off a more serene vibe, with muted greys and whites accented by touches of electric blue. They feature oversized couches and desks, illuminated end tables and large transparent shower stalls. Among the 152 rooms are Urban, Wow and Extreme-Wow suites, the latter boasting six-metre, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the newly revamped Square Victoria.

True to W style, the two bars — the Wunderbar and the Plateau — would make the perfect setting for LA scenesters. The hotel's Italian fusion restaurant, Otto, was created by the minds behind Paris' Buddha Bar and New York's Man Ray. Guests can also walk around the corner to sample the much-lauded organic market fare at Toqué!

Plateau Boho
The most recent design hotel in Montreal has made the jump from Old Montreal to the hip Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood. Located at the corner of Saint-Laurent and Sherbrooke, the Opus Hotel (10 Sherbrooke Street West; tel: 514-843-6000; www.opushotel.com; doubles from $149) has taken over a landmark Art Nouveau building dating back to 1914.

It's the first large hotel to venture beyond downtown or Old Montreal, and it's perfectly placed to take advantage of the trendy restaurants, bars and shops that crowd St-Laurent north of Sherbrooke.

An understated glass and concrete building houses the lobby as well as most of the 136 rooms, which have a decidedly Montreal take on industrial chic. The exposed concrete ceilings and dark colours — deep eggplant fabrics, with hand-painted and canvas-wrapped grey walls — look straight out of one of the city's warehouse-cum-art venues. In fact, the crumbling spiral staircase in the heritage building has been set behind Plexiglass like an art installation.

The moody sunken bar with outdoor terrace sits on the edge of the see-and-be-seen action without being right in the thick of it. A high-end restaurant is set to open on the premises later this year, but you're just a few minutes' walk from the more down-to-earth, bring-your-own-wine eateries of Prince Arthur Street or the Victorian mansions and leafy square of Carré St-Louis.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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