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Montreal: A city for all seasons

Montreal: A city for all seasons

SOURCE:The Record

"From my house in New Milford, it takes about as much time to get to Montreal as it does to make the trip to Cape May and back. So, the drive really isn't that bad. And it's a much nicer place to be in the off-season than the Jersey Shore," Jackie Wildman said. "My first trip to Montreal was in the dead of winter about 10 years ago. The weather was absolutely miserable, but I loved every minute of it."

A  five-bedroom, two-bath house in a new development has an asking price of $629,000.
A five-bedroom, two-bath house in a new development has an asking price of $629,000.
This five-bedroom, 2.5-bath home in the Cote-Saint-Luc neighborhood of Montreal near Concordia University sold for $549,000.
This five-bedroom, 2.5-bath home in the Cote-Saint-Luc neighborhood of Montreal near Concordia University sold for $549,000.

Others share her sentiment. Not put off by frigid winter weather, many of the 7 million tourists who arrive in Montreal each year find visiting the bustling Canadian city a year-round pleasure.

It's easy to see why. More European than North American, this bilingual city that could be called the cultural capital of New France pulses with an energy that keeps the atmosphere heated no matter what the temperature.

Montreal is an intriguing mix of traditional and ultramodern, centuries-old crooked cobbled streets and a state-of-the-art 24-hour subterranean Metro system, refined classical entertainment and buzzing nightlife. The city bursts with restaurants, cafes, boutique hotels, casinos, museums, theaters and street markets.

Situated at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers, Montreal is a 68-square-mile island city laid out on a grid. At its heart lies St. Laurent Boulevard (called "The Main"), which separates the predominantly Francophone east side of town from English-speaking western neighborhoods.

"The place is so well put together that I know people who come in the winter and don't even wear a heavy coat," said Wildman. "They take full advantage of the Underground City. It's an amazing marvel of engineering that links hotels directly to shopping malls, major landmarks and even the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, all below street level."

Wildman, 33, a confessed clotheshorse and "unrepentant shopaholic" who works in public relations, often finds herself prowling the below-ground 21-mile pedestrian network for additions to her already overstuffed wardrobe. Two years ago, she bought a foreclosed two-bedroom condo for $203,000, which she visits at least once a month. "In the winter, I divide my time between cozy — up in front of the fireplace — and finding something outside to get into," she says.

New Yorker Adam Easterly, 46, a software entrepreneur, is another frequent visitor. "I consider myself very fortunate to be able to spend so much time in such a unique place," he said. "Living in the Big Apple, I don't have to leave to find culture, but Montreal has something much more. For starters, native Montrealers and immigrants are very friendly, tolerant and sophisticated people. And somehow, the city manages to feel much more laid-back than any large city I've never been to."

Easterly travels to Montreal at least four times a month on business, attending art showings and ballet, opera and symphony performances in his spare time. While in town, he stays in a 1,200-square-foot luxury apartment in an elegant historic building in Old Montreal he bought in 2007 for about $1 million.

Canadian property was once a bargain when a favorable exchange rate made U.S. dollars 40 percent more valuable, but these days, Canadian currency and greenbacks are close to parity. Although Montreal's real estate market was slowed by global economic troubles, sales are finally picking up steam, and "prices appear to be on an upswing again and properties are selling much faster than a year ago," according to one local Realtor.

"For anyone interested, now is a very good time to look in Montreal because it's still a buyer's market, but there's no telling how long that will last," said Wildman. "I was lucky enough to get in when a lot of people were forced to sell low. Those days seem to be over now."

Perks

A vibrant, culturally rich metropolis with a healthy dose of Parisian-style charm, joie de vivre spirit and a mosaic of global culture without the jet lag that usually comes with it

Real estate is somewhat pricey. Less than cold-hardy types will find it tough to cope with winter's bite.

The weather

Cold, brisk and snowy winter weather, beautiful spring, warm summers and nice falls.

The costs

The average single-family home in Montreal sells for about $464,000. A one-time welcome tax is assessed on property transactions. Property taxes, which recently increased, are high.

Getting there

Delta, United, US Airways and Air Canada all provide service into Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, with advance-purchase, round-trip tickets starting at about $540. Alternatively, the drive from North Jersey takes about 6 hours.

Where to stay

Le Petit Hôtel ($139 and up; 514-940-0360; petithotelmontreal.com) has a contemporary boutique interior housed in a 19th-century shell in history-soaked Old Montreal.

Must see

Mount Royal — the mountain that gave the city its name — provides spectacular views and is home to Mount Royal Park, one of the city's largest swaths of public green space.

For more information

The official website of the Greater Montreal Convention and Tourism Bureau (tourisme-montreal.org) provides a wealth of information about the city and surrounding area.