Nothing says luxury more than Formula 1 racing. Pair that with Montreal, a fantastic city, and you have an incredible trip. Every early June, Montreal hosts a Formula 1 Grand Prix. The city (which without the race is a must visit) has a festive air and a sense of excitement. Street parties abound both in the Old City/ Port area as well as other parts of the city. Visiting the Old City of Montreal feels like a 17th century European town with wonderful parks, a thriving cultural scene and incredible restaurants.
First a brief history of Montreal. Located in the Quebec province of Canada, the area of Montreal was first settled by the Iroquois. In 1605, Samuel Champlain attempted to set up a fur trading post but the Iroquois prevented it. In 1642, a French mission known as Ville-Marie was established to create New France. Parts of the Old City date back as far as the 1600s. The British took control of New France and Canada in 1763. Under both the French and the British, Montreal was a major center of fur trading. Montreal retained many aspects of its French heritage.
Today Montreal is the second largest French speaking city in the world after Paris. Most people also speak English. The name “Montreal” is derived from Mont Royal Park. Frederick Law Olmstead designed the Park. He also designed Central Park in New York City. No building in the entire city can be taller than the Cross that stands on Mont Royal. Montreal is also the home of Cirque de Soleil. Fun fact-John Lennon wrote Give Peace a Chance during his “bed-in” at the Queen Elisabeth Hotel in Montreal in 1969!
Staying in the Old City is like traveling back in time across the ocean to a quaint European town. Located on the corner of rue Saint-Paul and rue Saint-Urban, Hotel Nelligan is perfectly located to explore the Old Town. Rue Saint-Paul is one of the first paved streets in North America (first paved in the 17th century). Hotel Nelligan is comprised of 4 connecting buildings dating to the 1850s. The hotel is actually named after Emile Nelligan, one of 19th century French Canada’s greatest poets. His photo hangs in the lobby area. Both the lobby and rooms are decorated with earthy tones and dark wood. Brick and original stone walls are featured in the guest rooms adding to the old-world charm of this boutique hotel. During the warmer months, the Terrase Nelligan, a trendy rooftop bar, is a popular hangout. In all of my travels, the concierge at Hotel Nelligan is one of the best. They are incredibly knowledgeable and have great restaurant and activity recommendations.
Old City Montreal
Walking through the Old City is a must when visiting Montreal. During Grand Prix weekend, it is even more exciting. Rue Saint-Paul becomes a pedestrian walk. Street art abounds including outdoor painting and eerie videos bringing history to life. Outdoor cafes line the street as well. There is just a festive air to this area that feels more European than North American. Stop at Le Petit Dep a charming café and candy spot. This café is a fun stop with delicious pastries, coffee, music and a fabulous candy selection. Outdoor seating provides excellent people watching especially during Grand Prix weekend. Of course, there are some incredible historic sites to see in this area any time of the year. Check out the following two sites.
Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel (Our Lady of Good or Perpetual Help Church)
This church located on rue Saint-Paul East is one of the most charming churches I have been to. It is also one of Montreal’s oldest churches, built in 1771 over the ruins of an original chapel from 1655. Since its creation, this church has been an important pilgrimage site in Montreal. St. Marguerite Bourgeoys founded the Congregation of Notre Dame and became its first teacher. Her remains are actually interred on the left side of the altar. After a visit to France in 1673, she returned to the church with wooden statue of Our Lady of Good Help. Years later in 1754, the church burned down but the statue survived unharmed and remains on display today.
In the 19th century, the church became a pilgrimage site for sailors. Upon returning to the Old Port of Montreal, sailors would make an offering to the Virgin Mary to thank her for protecting them during their voyages. The statue of the Virgin Star of the Sea was given to the church in 1849 by the Bishop of Montreal. She sits facing the harbor atop the church. The chapel is often referred to as “The Sailor’s Church.” In the nave, beautiful wooden boats hang from the ceiling in homage to the pilgrims and sailors. It is worth paying the small fee to enter the adjacent museum. Here you will have access to a short climb (69 stairs) to the rooftop of the church. The view of the harbor and St. Lawrence River is spectacular. This is definitely one of my most favorite churches.
The contrast of the Basilica of Notre Dame versus Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel is stark. Both are beautiful. While Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel is quaint, charming, and intimate, the Basilica of Notre Dame is the grand gem of churches. The Basilica, built in 1823-1829, is located a block from the Hotel Nelligan. It is built on the site of the parish of the Holy Name of Mary founded in 1657. It is one of the largest churches in North America. The Basilica features the Gothic Revival style of architecture and incredibly ornate décor.
Upon entering, you will be awestruck by the vaults of the ceiling decorated with golden stars and a deep rich blue. The walls of the Basilica are decorated with many stained-glass windows that depict the religious history of Montreal rather than biblical scenes. As you walk down the center aisle of the nave, stop, turn around and look up. The 1891 Casavant Freres pipe organ is stunning. There are 7000 individual pipes! It is very hard to describe the splendor and grandeur of the Basilica. The deep blue and gold décor of the apse of the church (located at the bottom of the center aisle) is just breathtaking. Located directly behind the apse, is the Chapelle du Sacre-Coeur (Chapel of the Sacred Heart). This chapel provides a much more intimate place for worship but is equally as beautiful as the Basilica. Few interesting facts. Pope John Paul II elevated Notre-Dame Church to a Basilica in 1982. In 2000, current prime minister Justin Trudeau gave a eulogy in the Basilica at the funeral of his father, Pierre Trudeau (Canada’s 15th prime minister) . My sister’s favorite fact: In 1994, Celine Dion‘s wedding was held in the Basilica. In 2016, she held her husband’s memorial service there.
Montreal is definitely a city for foodies. There are so many incredibly restaurants, cafes, and bars. In fact, Montreal has the highest number of restaurants per capita in Canada. It is second only to New York in North America. You can find all types of food ranging from Michelin Star to down-right casual all served with flair! Here are my favorites all of which are located in the Old City.
Olive & Gourmando: This charming, rustic restaurant is the perfect place for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. The casual, cozy atmosphere reflects the type of food ranging from delicious breads and sweets to fresh salads and paninis. The food is fresh, natural and healthy and incredibly delicious. I stop here on every visit!
Jellyfish Carbon + Crudo: Jellyfish offers a hip, sophisticated vibe with delicious food and innovative cocktails. The space is beautifully decorated with 16-foot-high ceilings, gorgeous crystal chandeliers, and a large bar in the center. The black, white, grey, green color décor creates this very chic feeling. I particularly loved the wall featuring copies of portraits of women that hang in museums around the world! The food is delicious and best ordered to share. The menu offers a variety of raw dishes or charcoal-grilled dishes with the influence of several cultures- Asian, Italian, and American.
Barroco: I love this restaurant!!!! This cozy, intimate restaurant has a lively supper club atmosphere. The music was one of the best playlists I’ve heard contributing to the cozy atmosphere. The stone walls, fireplace, and bar make you feel like you are in a secret speakeasy. We had the coolest table that was set into an alcove created by stone arches and walls. Since it was Grand Prix weekend, tables were set up outside on the rue Saint-Paul but definitely sit inside for the atmosphere. The menu is small but fantastic offering a range of fresh seafood to short ribs. You can’t go to a supper club without sampling a signature cocktail created by their in-house mixologist. For a lover of books, the drink menu is the best! The menu is an old book that the restaurant calls “the bible.”
Montreal Formula 1 Grand Prix
Now let’s talk Formula 1! Montreal is a fabulous trip to make anytime of the year. But Montreal during the Formula 1 Grand Prix is really special. Walking through the whole city there is a sense of excitement and an influx of visitors from around the globe. Formula 1 attracts glamourous jet setters as well as hard core racing fans; the people watching is fantastic. The city roles out the red carpet for the event with festivals all over the city. The race has been a fixture in Canada since 1961 and has been held 54 times. It has been held in Montreal since 1978 on the track which is located on Notre Dame Island. The island is a quick drive to the track. Best to get to the track early to avoid too much traffic.
Our Grand Prix experience was the ultimate luxury experience. With access to the paddock, garages, pit lane and incredible hospitality, it is clear why Formula 1 is a jet setting event. We spent both Saturday (practice day) and Sunday (race day) at the track. Spending a full day at the track can be long but the Red Bull Racing hospitality suite provided an incredible, club like atmosphere with an awesome DJ, champagne, delicious food, and a fantastic view of the pit lane and starting line.
Touring the Red Bull Garage was a highlight for me. To be up close to these incredible race cars, the 40 plus crew, and the drivers was truly amazing. To watch the crew work in this immaculate garage was fascinating. Everything is done with such precision to fine tune these expensive machines. On practice day, we were lucky to stand in the garage with headsets listening to the drivers communicating to the crew from their cars; it was a truly special experience.
Whether you are a guest of a team sitting in a hospitality tent or a fan sitting in the grandstands, nothing can compare to the start of a Formula 1 Grand Prix. On race day, watching these feather light cars rev their engines, jockey for position, and race by at speeds over 200 mph is exhilarating. As you can tell we are Red Bull Racing Fans, but not matter what your team is, the Montreal Grand Prix is an incredible sporting event!
Montreal is a fabulous city to visit! Grand Prix weekend adds even more excitement. For any lover of travel, great food, old historical culture, and friendly people, Montreal is for you. I’ve visited Montreal in both summer and winter and enjoyed every minute I’ve spent in this friendly, cosmopolitan, historical Canadian city.