A European Vacation at Home

Photo: Flickr.com/flowizm
Six ways to experience the old country without leaving Canada

Want to tour Europe without leaving a massive carbon footprint? Montreal offers European-inspired experiences that will make you feel like you’re in the Old Country. To travel the world without leaving the city, try these six eco-conscious outings.

Take a Bite out of France

Bakeries abound in Montreal but travellers wanting to get to the steaming heart of French bread should book a lesson with artisanal baker Marc-André Cyr. He holds his workshops on bread-baking (minimum of five students) right in your own home, as much as possible using local organic flour, butter, cheese and fruit. Don’t have a big kitchen? Opt for an all-day cooking class with Marc-André at Académie Culinaire in Old Montreal (info@academieculinaire.com, 1-877-393-8111).

Immerse Yourself in Italy

Montreal’s highly walkable Little Italy offers ample opportunities to surround yourself with paisani. Start with an authentic thin-crust pizza at the rowdy Pizzeria Napolitana (189 rue Dante, 514-276-8226), move on to coffee at the legendary local hang out, Café Italia (6840 blvd St Laurent, 514-495-0059), and wrap up with a smooth gelato at local ice cream-maker Havres aux Glaces (7070 ave Henri Julien, 514-278-8696). If there’s a soccer match on, grab a seat anywhere you can, and bask in the Italian shouting and gesticulating.

Pretend You’re in Paris

A pleasant and emission-free way to get around town is using the BIXI commuter bike system, which is modeled on Paris’s popular Vélib program. The base rate of $5 allows you to unlock a bicycle from one BIXI station and ride it to any other station in the city (for a map of locations, see the BIXI website). These bikes aren’t meant for sight-seeing, though: Using one for less than 30 minutes at a time is free but taking it for more than an hour gets extremely expensive.

Hark Back to Holland

Amsterdam isn’t the only city with scenic waterways. Pick up a rental bike or rollerblades at one of the shops in Old Montreal or by the Atwater Market, and cruise along the beautifully maintained bike path that flanks the historic Lachine Canal. If you’re feeling energetic, head all the way out to the charming village of Lachine (roughly 15 km west of Old Montreal), and dine at one of the tiny local restaurants. Plan your trip in springtime and there might even be a few tulips on display.

Raise a Glass to Ireland

At Ye Olde Orchard pubs, you can enjoy the feel of Ireland and the low carbon footprint of local brewing. In addition to classics from Eire (including Smithwicks, Kilkenny and Guinness), the pub has seven Quebecois beers on tap. Occasionally, imbibers are also treated to the sprightly tunes of an Irish folk band. Check the website for the pub locations (there are three in Montreal) and for information on show times and other events.

Spoil Yourself, Scandinavian-style

End your day with a soak in the warm waters of a Scandanavian spa. Located in the heart of Old Montreal, Scandinave Les Bain delivers profound relaxation as visitors move from the heated pool, steam room or sauna to the cold shower, and back again. Massage therapists are also at hand to work out the knots. Designed by Montreal “starchitects” Saucier + Perrotte, the building is so sleek, you’ll feel like you’re walking through an architecture magazine. A few “green” features make the experience even more enjoyable: the water is salted (no chlorine), run-off is diverted for reuse in the toilets and drinking water is filtered on site to avoid the use of bottled water. A word of warning to the garrulous: they have a strictly enforced “no talking” policy ($42 per person, 71 rue de la Commune Ouest, 514-288-2009).