The Magic of Mon­treal

The coun­try’s cap­i­tal of cul­ture and cui­sine, is also a global busi­ness hot spot — a city sans pareil

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ram­sey Qubein

Canada’s La Belle Ville is a city on the way up

Ev­ery Oc­to­ber, Mon­treal’s world fa­mous Botan­i­cal Gar­dens are lit up at night with hun­dreds of Chi­nese lanterns. The Magic of Lanterns Fes­ti­val is an an­nual Mon­treal tra­di­tion, and this year runs through Nov. 3. New lanterns cast an en­tranc­ing glow over the Gar­dens, each more col­or­ful and in­tri­cate than the year be­fore. It’s another thread in the rich ta­pes­try that is Canada’s sec­ond largest city.

A visit to Mon­treal has al­ways had that mag­i­cal feel, like step­ping into a Euro­pean coun­try, with its dual-cheek kisses and a flair for in­ven­tive cui­sine. But th­ese days that dis­tinc­tive saveur has lifted Mon­treal up to another level on the world stage, prov­ing that its Que­be­cois charm and pos­i­tive eco­nomic cli­mate en­cour­age busi­ness to the city. Ac­cord­ing to Tourism Mon­treal, the city reg­is­tered nearly 8.4 mil­lion visi­tors in 2012 and ex­pects even more this year.

Ac­tu­ally an is­land in the grace­ful St. Lawrence River, Mon­treal is the most pop­u­lous French-speak­ing city in the world af­ter Paris. It is this com­bi­na­tion of cul­ture and an ef­fer­ves­cent econ­omy that draws com­merce to town – not to men­tion a pos­i­tive busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment that al­lows com­pa­nies to flour­ish. Among the 20 largest North Amer­i­can ur­ban cen­ters, Mon­treal ranks first in terms of com­pet­i­tive op­er­at­ing costs ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study con­ducted by con­sult­ing firm KPMG.

And in 2012, an Econ­o­mist In­tel­li­gence Unit study en­ti­tled Hot Spots ranked Mon­treal the 22nd most com­pet­i­tive world city. The study com­pared 120 of the largest ur­ban cen­ters in 8 dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories based on 31 in­di­ca­tors in­clud­ing qual­ity of life and in­sti­tu­tional ef­fec­tive­ness.

Over the years, the city has hosted nu­mer­ous glob­ally rec­og­nized func­tions in­clud­ing the 1967 World Expo and the 1976 Sum­mer Olympics. More re­cently, Mon­treal has risen to third place in terms of North Amer­i­can des­ti­na­tions for con­fer­ences ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Congress and Con­ven­tion As­so­ci­a­tion’s re­port re­leased in 2011.

Mod­ern Gate­way

The city’s breath­tak­ing growth all be­gins with ease of ac­cess, and Mon­treal has that cov­ered. Its Trudeau In­ter­na­tional Air­port han­dled nearly 14 mil­lion pas­sen­gers in 2012 mak­ing it one of Air Canada’s main hubs. From here, car­ri­ers serve a di­verse range of des­ti­na­tions in­clud­ing dozens of North Amer­i­can cities in ad­di­tion to points across Europe. Mon­treal is less than two hours fly­ing time from NewYork, Philadel­phia, Bos­ton, Wash­ing­ton, DC, and Toronto.

The first phase of a ma­jor air­port re­de­vel­op­ment plan has been com­pleted giv­ing the fa­cil­ity ex­panded check-in space and se­cu­rity check­points for the US-bound de­par­tures area. In 2014, con­struc­tion be­gins on six new wide body gates for the in­ter­na­tional ter­mi­nal, in­clud­ing two that are equipped to han­dle the mega-sized Air­bus A380.

“We are con­fi­dent that this ex­pan­sion will al­low us to at­tract new air­lines and des­ti­na­tions to the air­port while also giv­ing our ex­ist­ing visi­tors a world-class fa­cil­ity,” says James C. Cherry, pres­i­dent and CEO of Aéro­ports de Mon­tréal, or ADM.

Also added re­cently is an au­to­mated bor­der clear­ance sys­tem in the ar­rivals hall that can re­duce wait times and process ar­rivals more quickly. The $4 mil­lion project was driven by the al­most con­stant growth the air­port has ex­pe­ri­enced since 2003. De­part­ing pas­sen­gers to the US also have pre-clear­ance fa­cil­i­ties al­low­ing them to com­plete de­par­ture im­mi­gra­tion and cus­toms for­mal­i­ties be­fore board­ing their flight. This means land­ing in the US is just like any other do­mes­tic flight, sav­ing trav­el­ers time.

Within the next decade, ex­press rail trans­fer ser­vice be­tween the Trudeau Air­port and the down­town train sta­tion is slated to be com­pleted.

Cana­di­ans, es­pe­cially, are fond of train travel, and Mon­treal Cen­tral Sta­tion is well-con­nected to points across the coun­try and to the US thanks to VIA Rail, the na­tional rail com­pany that prides it­self on the af­ford­abil­ity of its net­work. Cen­tral Sta­tion is also con­nected to Mon­treal’s la ville souter­raine, the vast un­der­ground net­work of shop­ping and din­ing out­lets. Of­ten re­ferred to as a city unto it­self, its 20 miles of pas­sage­ways sport more than 1,700 shops and eater­ies and 40 movie the­atres, so that even dur­ing the most frigid months of the Cana­dian win­ter, there’s no stop­ping this town’s con­nec­tiv­ity, com­merce and cui­sine.

Ap­petite Ap­peal

Mon­treal is truly a global city, and the food scene is as varied as the pop­u­la­tion. It spans ev­ery nu­ance of fla­vor and in­gre­di­ents from Viet­namese and Chi­nese to Turk­ish and Ital­ian – like the city’s famed Da Emma restau­rant, which is housed in Mon­treal’s for­mer women’s prison. Dark and cave­like, this is a must-visit lo­cale and is on ev­ery se­ri­ous foodie’s bucket list. Mamma Emma her­self crafts her fam­ily’s home­made Si­cil­ian recipes in the kitchen,

but rarely ven­tures out into the din­ing room. The menu is read ver­bally from a chalk­board with vivid de­scrip­tions of ev­ery item, but it is hard to keep track of your prime choice as each one sounds bet­ter than the last.

Mamma’s fet­tuc­cine with porcini mush­rooms is a peren­nial fa­vorite, but the sautéed sword­fish topped with arugula, chopped tomato and olives is equally de­li­cious. Snag­ging a reser­va­tion can be tough, but the grow­ing celebrity wall de­picts the hun­dreds of big wigs who have made their way in­side.

Along the Rue St. Jac­ques, Alexis Le Gour­mand is a farm-to-ta­ble gourmet epicerie that plucks the Euro­pean charm of shop­ping and plants it in this his­toric black­smith shop-cum-gro­cery. Try the Bil­bo­quet ice cream, a re­gional clas­sic that is ap­proach­ing 25 years of ar­ti­sanal pro­duc­tion.

Mediter­ranean fare at Es­tia­to­rio Mi­los is another city leg­end (ad­di­tional out­posts in Athens, NewYork and Las Ve­gas have helped it de­velop a loyal fol­low­ing) with plates of del­i­ca­cies – like fried cala­mari, fried saganaki cheese, and grilled pep­pers – piled high on ta­bles for lunch and din­ner. The seafood menu reads like a sailor’s to-do list, in­clud­ing ev­ery­thing from At­lantic hal­ibut to Hon­jake salmon. With its lo­ca­tion in the Plateau Mont-Royal neigh­bor­hood, a meal here can lead swiftly to af­ter-din­ner drinks at Bar­raca, where the ta­pas menu pairs well with its list of rum drinks and wine la­bels, or to a pou­tine sam­pling at nearby La Ban­quise.

There is no men­tion of food in Mon­treal with­out the word pou­tine, the gooey dish

Monteal is truly a global city, and the food scene is as varied as the pop­u­la­tion

of French fries laced with brown gravy, cheese curds, and other top­pings like ba­con or pulled pork. Of­ten con­sid­ered a late-night snack, the dish could be a meal in it­self. There is no bet­ter place than the 24-hour La Ban­quise where its menu ex­pands to 25 dif­fer­ent types of the arteryclog­ging dish. Af­ter tele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity and Chef An­thony Bour­dain sin­gled this eatery out as a fa­vorite, it has only grown as a must-visit spot.

In the heart of Old Mon­treal, a thriv­ing dis­trict packed with shops and cafes in the city’s seem­ingly un­touched snap­shot of decades past, Chef Alexan­dre Ar­pin’s Com­mu­nion fea­tures a menu of New Que­be­cois cui­sine that de­liv­ers a sam­pling of lo­cal prod­ucts. The turmeric quail con­fit with fin­ger­ling pota­toes is a great starter, even if you’re only there to sam­ple some­thing from the wine list on the out­door ter­race.

Hos­pi­tal­ity Plus

Ap­prox­i­mately 37,386 ho­tel rooms are cur­rently avail­able in the Mon­treal met­ro­pol­i­tan area, with the pipe­line con­tin­u­ing to grow to meet de­mand.

Known as the cheese grater, the Mar­riott Chateau Cham­plain is per­haps one of the city’s most no­table down­town lodg­ings with a fa­cade that fea­tures arched win­dows jut­ting out­ward, which gives it the ap­pear­ance of a kitchen uten­sil. In­side is some of the city’s most pop­u­lar digs thanks to the panoramic views of Mary Queen of the World Cathe­dral, Mount Royal (from whence the city de­rives its name) and the Saint Lawrence River. The win­dows’ cur­va­ture al­lows guests to ac­tu­ally see out in ad­di­tion to side to side en­hanc­ing the sense of space. It sits atop the Bon­aven­ture metro sta­tion and un­der­ground city giv­ing it in­stant ac­cess across town.

Just a block away, the fa­mous Fair­mont The Queen El­iz­a­beth is the city’s grande dame, but de­spite its ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory, it con­tin­ues to em­brace mod­ern hos­pi­tal­ity year af­ter year. On the rooftop, the Queen E, as the prop­erty is af­fec­tion­ately known among lo­cals, houses six queen bees that over­see 300,000 worker bees buzzing about man­u­fac­tur­ing honey. The chef’s or­ganic gar­den is also nearby where many of the ho­tel’s herbs and veg­eta­bles are grown.

Both the Mar­riott Chateau Cham­plain and Queen E of­fer ex­pan­sive meet­ing space draw­ing con­fer­ences and so­cial func­tions year-round. Also heavy on the meet­ing scene is the Omni Mont-Royal, which is fresh from a com­plete ren­o­va­tion of all the guest rooms and suites, plus adding a fire­place to the lobby and up­dat­ing the din­ing ar­eas.

Speak­ing of new din­ing space, the Hy­att Re­gency has com­pleted an over­haul of its lobby bar and restau­rant. The stun­ning new Six Resto Lounge is the per­fect spot to in­vite a client for a cock­tail or pre-bite din­ner to unwind.

Le Cen­tre Sher­a­ton has also been up on the over­haul band­wagon, re­fresh­ing all of its guest rooms as well as its state-of-theart fit­ness center. A brand new Court­yard by Mar­riott boasts an in­ner gar­den court­yard, rare for any ur­ban ho­tel, and

panoramic views from its rooftop ter­race. All of th­ese ho­tels are within short walk­ing dis­tance of the pop­u­lar Sainte Cather­ine Street’s hub of shop­ping and din­ing.

The city is also em­brac­ing one of the new­est trends in the ho­tel scene, ex­tended stay prop­er­ties. Th­ese give busi­ness trav­el­ers ex­tra liv­ing space de­signed to make a room feel more like their home. The Res­i­dence Inn, on the up­per west side of down­town, pro­vides guests with a sep­a­rate liv­ing room, small kitchen, free wire­less In­ter­net, and com­pli­men­tary break­fast and evening happy hour. Its de­signer digs give the ac­com­mo­da­tions a unique sense of col­or­ful style while also pair­ing value with ex­tra liv­ing space.

A Green Wel­come

The nu­mer­ous con­fer­ences and fes­ti­vals that Mon­treal at­tracts on an al­most weekly ba­sis, bears wit­ness to the city’s com­mit­ment to rolling out the wel­come mat. In fact, the main con­ven­tion center has re­cently un­der­gone ren­o­va­tions adding new dig­i­tal sig­nage and pump­ing up its wire­less In­ter­net ca­pa­bil­ity to a higher stan­dard to al­low as many as 20,000 si­mul­ta­ne­ous users. With the cur­rent pace of growth and in­no­va­tion, it will at­tract larger events on a more global scale with­out af­fect­ing the city’s en­vi­ron­men­tal beauty and plans for pre­serve its sus­tain­able ur­ban sur­round­ings.

In 2007, Mon­treal be­came the first city in the world to sign the Na­tional Ge­o­graphic So­ci­ety Geo­tourism Char­ter, un­der­scor­ing its on­go­ing com­mit­ment to pro­mot­ing and main­tain­ing sus­tain­able tourism. Since then, more than 100 al­leys have been pedes­tri­an­ized and greened, and a new bike-shar­ing pro­gram has be­gun in the city’s down­town core.

The de­vel­op­ment of an In­no­va­tion Dis­trict in the Griffin­town neigh­bor­hood which be­gan in 2012, has as its goal cre­at­ing an “ur­ban ecosys­tem” ded­i­cated to fos­ter­ing sci­en­tific, tech­no­log­i­cal, cul­tural and eco­nomic growth. En­ter­prises from across the spec­trum of busi­ness and in­dus­try can take part; par­tic­i­pants in­clude com­pa­nies such as Bom­bardier and Pratt & Whit­ney. The projects can bring to­gether busi­nesses from one sec­tor with sim­i­lar ob­jec­tives or cre­ate syn­er­gies for com­pa­nies from dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries.

The idea be­hind the In­no­va­tion Dis­trict is to spark col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween in­no­va­tive and growth driven or­ga­ni­za­tions, both in the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors. The in­cu­ba­tor en­cour­ages th­ese suc­cess­ful en­ter­prises to de­velop cre­ative ideas, new patents and so­cial projects to cre­ate value for the neigh­bor­hood and eco­nomic growth for the city as a whole.

One ques­tion that is never in doubt, Mon­treal has more in­ter­na­tional ap­peal than many cities and its care­ful, con­trolled growth cou­pled with a com­pet­i­tive busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment are pro­pel­ling it for­ward. Maybe it’s the warmth of la ville souter­raine in the win­ter, or of its peo­ple all year round. Per­haps it’s the city’s youth­ful joie de vivre – there are 11 large uni­ver­sitylevel in­sti­tu­tions rep­re­sent­ing a quar­ter of a mil­lion stu­dents in Mon­treal, mak­ing it sec­ond in North Amer­ica for univer­sity stu­dents per capita. Or pos­si­bly it’s the Old World French in­flu­ence.

How­ever you de­fine its magic, there is a spark in Mon­treal that at­tracts and re­tains fans for life.Visit for your­self and see; just save an ex­tra notch on your belt­line for the pou­tine calo­ries. Bon ap­petit! BT

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