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French explorer Jacques Cartier landed on the island of Montreal in 1535, naming it Mount Royal after its prominent geographic elevation and his royal patrons. The significant hill is still called Mount Royal, part of a chain between the Laurentian and Appalachian ranges. A relaxing hike up its paths rewards you with scenic bird's eye's views of the city. Its French colonial heritage remains evident today; not only is Montreal's primary language French, but many facets of its culture are, too.
The non-Francophone traveller can easily get by in Montreal; most residents are bilingual and both English and French are spoken in this cosmopolitan and multicultural urban centre. Embrace Quebec's distinct cuisine and customs and find a Quebecois restaurant (calorie counters need not apply) and pamper your taste buds (and arguably, assault your health) with rich fare that's heavy on foie gras, lard and meat. The pig is king of the table here, and modern Quebec chefs compete to make traditional fare even more gastronomically gluttonous.
Quebec's largest city and Canada's second, Montreal is a captivating unity of old and new. The best example of the latter is Old Montreal, which dates back to New France (Nouvelle France) and the 16th to 18th centuries. With its cobblestoned streets and laneways and centuries-old edifices, it is possibly the most picturesque part of the city and definitely the most historic. Old Montreal is a destination for history buffs, foodies, and architecture and art lovers alike, with excellent restaurants and endless art galleries housed in beautiful stone buildings.
Conversely, Montreal is slick and modern, with cutting edge fashion, arts and music scenes. Some argue that Montreal is Canada's cultural epicentre, part of its enduring rivalry with Canada's largest city, Toronto. Sports teams, size and their relatively close proximity to each other also incite and incense good-natured tensions between the two cities.
The best time of year to visit Montreal is summer, where the city is buzzing with excitement and activities after its long, cold winter hibernation. Summer festivals celebrate everything from beer to shopping, but they're especially about music, ranging from the internationally-renowned Montreal Jazz Festival to Osheaga, a 3-day celebration of popular music talent, plus countless free concerts and dance parties in city parks. The famous Just for Laughs (Juste Pour Rire) comedy festival and Formula One Grand Prix are also huge draws.
Flights from Calgary to Montreal tend to be seasonally consistent in price; winter months are popular due to Quebec's many snow sports. Excellent skiing and snowboarding in Mont Tremblant is a huge draw, not to mention winter festivals that can range from its Festival of Lights, food festivals (maple syrup and poutine included, of course) to Igloofest, a month-long electronic dance festival. The famous winter wonderland that is the Quebec Winter Carnival (Carnaval du Quebec) is held in Quebec City, which is about a three hour drive from Montreal.
Montreal is a beguiling city that is easy to fall in love with and hard to leave.