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altCheerful and very enthusiastic were the first two things that struck me as I entered the Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal booth last January at the Toronto International Boat Show. “Come to Montréal”, they said. “See what we have done to our harbour. Get immersed in the port’s new life and sense the energy that is everywhere around the Old Port.”

In true Galley Guy style, we couldn’t say no, especially knowing that Montréal is one the most sought-out cuisine centers in the world, with over 5,000 restaurants representing cuisine from over 80 different nationalities – a Galley Guy must-go destination.

So, how to get there? Everything worthwhile takes a little effort, so getting to the Old Port will take some time and a little money, but if you follow the rivers and historic canals while passing the scenes so vital in the creation of Canada, you’ll get there. The trip is rich in natural beauty and historic significance with a variety of water and land-based activities to make the journey a truly memorable experience. There is an abundance of information on the Parks Canada website on the locks, times and fees. From my home base in Toronto, it is approximately 500 km (or 270 nm).

During the shipping season, more than 2,000 pleasure craft of all kinds pass through the seaway. Pleasure craft are welcome, but they must be at least 6 m (20 ft.) in length and weigh over 900 kg (one ton). There are special docks and tie-up areas along the seaway for pleasure boaters. These docks are equipped with telephones and staff will help with the tie-up in the lock chambers.

Once you get to The Old Port, an exciting adventure awaits. The dockage facilities are at Port d’Éscale in the Jacques Cartier Basin and facilities have been constantly improving and upgrading. This year, it boasts new showers and laundry facilities. Our host, Harbour Master Marco Lenzi took great pride in showing us the 2.7 km of the Old Port stretching from the Lachine Locks to the Clock Tower over looking the Yacht Club Montréal. The grassy boulevard adjacent to the waterfront is for everybody and the entertainment is non-stop. Throughout the season you’ll see everything from Cirque du Soleil to street buskers and a diverse list of festivals offering something for everybody. It is well worth the docking fee. Booking ahead is a great idea and this year Marco and his staff are expecting a great season with a repeat of the 28 megayachts that chose the Old Port for a stay last year.

Old Montréal is right there! Narrow cobble stone streets, galleries, shops, coffee shops and exciting nightlife are all within an easy stroll of the docks. After your cruise to the Old Port, if you need to soak in a tub or feel the comfort of fresh linen, try one of the dozens of charming and historic boutique hotels. We chose the Auberge Bonaparte on Rue Francis-Xavier and we were not disappointed. Dierdre on the front desk was a great source of cheerful information. Strolling, boutiquing and my favourite sport – people watching inconspicuously from behind a pair of Serengetis – are fantastic. And, a little romance can fill much of the time between those Old Port’s daily big decisions, like where shall we go for dinner? The summer weather in Montréal is perfect for dining “al fresco”; it just makes everything taste better! I have always used words like patio, deck, or veranda to describe outdoor eating venues, but in Montreal you dine on the “terrasse” where you are quickly transcended to an ‘old world’ fee
ling of intrigue, flair and epicurean delights that will long be remembered – very fondly. Rue St. Paul, running parallel to the waterfront, has so many great restaurants that you could tie up for a month and still have reason to come back.

Luck was with us on one evening as we were able to snatch the last two seats aboard Le Bateau-Mouche for the Soupers-croisières. Alain Pignard, Executive Chef of the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth Hotel and his staff prepared an elegant table d’hôte menu of seven courses that showcased many of the finest foods ‘la belle province’ has to offer, from fillets of Québec walleye to stunning cheeses from the Charlevoix region. All were carefully selected and elegantly presented while cruising the St. Lawrence River with the backdrop of the dazzling lights across the skyline. Sitting at the next table was a young couple celebrating their first wedding Anniversary. Meeting them was a treat although we had to overcome to some obvious linguistic limitations; however the evening concluded with a toast with a delicious glass of local ice cider – Domaine Pinnacle Sparkling Ice Cider 2004. Our narrow range of the French language was not a problem whatsoever during our visit; the challenges and effort really added to our sense of adventure and the mystique of foreign travel.

One way to work off the bounty that comes with savouring the Montréal restaurant scene is to rent a BIXI. Scattered all over downtown Montréal is a series of rental bike racks called BIXI. Just stick your credit card in the kiosk and choose daily or monthly rates and rent a bike. Easy to ride and well maintained, the bikes can be picked up or dropped off at spots located all over the downtown. The first ½ hour is free with your daily fee and you pay by the ½ hour. There are a number of paths and a whole day can be spent cruising the city and building an appetite for your next great meal.

A great trip to take on the BIXI is to the farmers’ market: Marché Atwater. The ‘inside’ market is home to many butchers and the Première Moisson Bakery and restaurant. The ‘outside’ market has many farmers’ stalls which sell both local and imported produce. There are as two cheese stores, a wine store specializing in locally produced spirits and a fish store – a great spot to replenish the galley.

If you have any spare change left after your bike ride, hop over to the Casino De Montréal on Île Notre Dame. Formerly the French and Québec pavilions of Expo 67, the Casino de Montréal offers over 3,000 slot machines and 120 gaming tables. It is also home to the Cabaret, a spectacular 500-seat performance hall as well as four restaurants to suit every taste. Going to the Casino should not be mistaken for, or referred to as ‘gunkholing’.

For kids of all ages, biking is a great activity, but there are also tons of options to enjoy minutes from your berth. The Montréal Science Center, IMAX Telus Theatre, La Ronde amusement park, paddle boats, rent a Segway, discover Pirates Corsaires et Flibustiers the Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History are all within walking distance. My favourite was riding the Lachine Rapids aboard the jet boats at Saute Moutons. The company’s guarantee is that you are going to get wet!

For the Galley Guys, the trip to the Old Port was a special time to enjoy boating and to feast on great food and fine spirits. A trip for you to the Old Port of Montréal could make it the year that everybody gets what they want; more time on the boat for some and an international adventure for others.

Amusez-vous bien !

*An offer you cannot refuse!

By Greg Nicoll