Business trip: Montreal

The second largest French-speaking city on the planet stands out from the pack with its mix of Euro-chic, urban ambiance and small town neighbourhoods.

As one of Canada's largest cities, Montreal stands out from the pack for its combination of big city ambiance and small-town neighbourhoods, European flair and North American attitude. The confluence of culture and economy has also transformed the city – the second largest French-speaking city in the world – into a business hub for numerous industries, including aviation, banking and insurance.

Operating a strong North American and transatlantic hub from Montreal-Trudeau International Airport, Air Canada has been a key driver behind the 1.4 million business travellers that arrived in Montreal in 2012. The airport (a 20km taxi ride from downtown clocks in at a flat 40 Canadian dollars) recently completed the first phase of its C$261 million expansion project named Gate 62, and the second stage will begin construction in 2014, adding six new wide body gates, including two equipped for the Airbus A-380 jumbo jet.

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And though the city's frigid winter temperatures can dip to -7C in January, there are  32km of underground pedestrian walkways that are lined with more than 1,700 shops and restaurants – meaning you may never have to step outside.

Hotels

Elegant
Known as the cheese grater due to its iconic, half moon-shaped windows that resemble the kitchen appliance, downtown’s Marriott Chateau Champlain is one of the city's most recognisable high-rise hotels. Inside the 592 rooms and 19 suites, guests are treated to unending views of downtown, the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, the Saint Lawrence river and Mount Royal, the mountain that gave the city its name. A 2011 renovation added in-room marble-slab desks with convenient power ports that connect devices to the flat-screen TVs. The hotel sits directly above the Bonaventure metro station and underground city, making it popular with conference groups.

Originally opened for the 1976 Olympics, the Omni Mont Royal, located along historic Sherbrooke Street downtown, is fresh from a C$20 million interior renovation, which included a total overhaul of its 299 guest rooms, decorated with velvet fabrics and containing Nespresso machines. Its lobby saw the addition of a new fireplace, giving an added sense of warmth in the winter months.

The 605-room Hyatt Regency Montreal, located near  Chinatown, also recently overhauled its chic lobby and SIX Resto Lounge, where visitors can sip bubble tea infused with essences of lemongrass mint and lavender citrus. A new Enomatic wine system in the bar allows guests to sample vintages with the swipe of a credit card, enjoying a sip, half glass or full swig of various regional drops.

Fresh from its grand opening this autumn, the 221-room Courtyard by Marriott, located by the convention centre, features a unique interior garden, while its rooftop pool terrace provides some of the best panoramic views in the city.

At the airport, the completion of the 272-room Montreal Airport Marriott in 2009 atop the US departure terminal means the transfer time from bed to check-in desk can be less than two minutes. The property's lobby opens directly into the airport check-in area, making it easy to gauge the wait time.

Edgy
Despite opening a decade ago, Hotel Gault is Montreal's hippest hotel, with only 30 rooms and a style all its own. It is the city's only member of the Preferred Hotels Group, which caters to luxury and business-minded travellers, and is located in the popular Old Montreal neighbourhood. The hotel's restaurant has unveiled a speedy new breakfast and lunch menu, sporting favourites like French crepes prepared with Nutella, fresh fruit and homemade compote (fruit cooked in a sauce or syrup). The express lunch menu includes salmon tartare with salad or braised oxtail with pappardelle pasta.

Coming in early 2014 is the 154-room Alt Griffin hotel, which will be part of the largest multi-use real estate project in town (expected to combine residential, shopping and dining outlets in the blossoming Griffin district). Priced more affordably than other full-service hotels, which include a restaurant and meeting spaces, the fusion of IKEA and Pottery Barn designs will appeal to business guests, artsy types and trendy baby boomers alike.

Expense account
Foodlab at the Society for Arts and Technology, near the St Laurent metro station in the Latin Quarter, is a casual restaurant with creative, budding chefs and a menu that varies depending upon the week's theme of experimental recipes. Themes range from Middle Eastern classics such as mezze, featuring spreads of hummus, olives and falafel, to Balkan dishes such as Macedonian vegetable and mayonnaise salads or a tasty cevapcici sandwich (composed of minced meat with garlic yogurt and grilled vegetables). The outdoor terrace is popular for a glass of wine on warmer days, and the clientele ranges from hip urbanite to rich socialite.

Downtown, wander over to the Place des Festivals, a large public space dedicated to the city's continuous schedule of urban entertainment, including the annual jazz festival that takes place each summer at the end of June or beginning of July. At Balmoral bistro bar, which overlooks the main plaza, enjoy live jazz Thursdays through Saturdays while noshing on dishes such as signature beef tataki topped with roasted sesame seeds and Quebecois maple syrup, or a traditionally French beef bourguignon.

A few blocks away sits the lovely Apollo restaurant, housed in a historic presbytery in the shadow of Christ Church Cathedral next door. Diners praise the six-course tasting menu, which covers culinary ground with everything from a local foie gras to chef Giovanni Apollo's masterful chocolate dessert creations.

Perhaps one of the most famous eateries in town, Restaurant Da Emma is located in what was formerly Montreal's first women’s prison. Da Emma serves traditional Italian cuisine and has hosted celebrities and diplomats including Brad Pitt and Bill Clinton. It is a sin to not sample chef Emma Risa’s (affectionately known as Mamma) famous fettuccine with porcini mushrooms, but the suckling pig roasted with garlic and rosemary is a close second favourite.

No one should leave Montreal, however, without tucking into the decadent local favourite: poutine (fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds). Its caloric weight means it is best shared with a brave companion, and it is delicious whether eaten from one of the city's many food trucks or in a cafe. The aptly named Poutineville, at the edge of the Latin Quarter, is a prime spot to capture locals indulging in favourite poutine variations like The Godfather, which is topped with Italian sausage, roasted red peppers and marinated aubergine.

Off the clock
If you have a few hours between meetings, the Montreal Botanical Gardens near the Olympic Park are a haven of peace and tranquillity. Its extensive collection of 22,000 plant species, 10 greenhouses and colourful gardens make it worth the trip even for visitors that do not possess a green thumb. Next door is the entertaining Insectarium, which houses several species of creepy crawlies in North America's largest insect museum.

Like a local
Get lost in romantic Old Montréal, where the cobblestone streets have witnessed the passage of time for more than three and a half centuries. Visitors watch history come alive as they pass horse-drawn carriages, artisan boutiques and cafes housed in 18th- and 19th-century buildings. 

Younger business travellers may prefer the Latin Quarter for its proximity to live entertainment, Bohemian-style living and numerous student pubs. McGill and Concordia universities are two of 11 in the city, placing it second to Boston in terms of university students per capita in North America.

Don't do this
Montrealers are proud of their French heritage and almost always initiate a greeting with the two-cheek kiss. The kiss begins with the right cheek and is used among friends, neighbours and business colleagues that have known each other for some time. Do not immediately assume that a first-time greeting necessitates a kiss, although locals will happily oblige!

Also, while many Montreal businesses will take US currency, it is polite to inquire before engaging in a transaction to avoid a rebuff later.

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