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December 09, 2008

Tale of Two Cities: Montreal and D.C. in Winter

Dia: Beacon
Keep your ears open at the
Hay-Adams hotel lounge,
Off The Record.

Photo: Concierge.com

A Daily Traveler reader recently asked: My parents and I want to take a last-minute getaway before the holidays. We live in Providence, Rhode Island, and it would be from December 19 to 26. We could fly up to three hours from Providence or drive six hours, and we want to go somewhere with plenty of cultural and ecological things.

We've put our heads together and come up with two options. If you want (read: can brave it) to go north this time of the year, Montreal is a little more than three hours by plane but worth the extra travel time. Crisp by day and cozy by night, the city is all-the-time festive. In Condé Nast Traveler's 2006 "Dispatch from Canada's New Culinary Front," Renaissance Man Mark Schatzker gives us the (not-so) skinny on poutine and duck fat-fried potatoes to be had in Québec. Restaurant DNA and M:brgr are two of our newly opened food favorites. (What says culture like practicing your order of roast sablefish with raisin brown butter in French?) The former is essentially around the corner from Hotel Gault, a renovated textile warehouse with 30 loftlike suites, and down the street from Olive & Gourmando, where you can surrender to bowls of café au lait and oversized palmiers for breakfast. For a handle on the city's music scene--Montreal has a long-standing reputation for breeding great bands--surf hour.ca and montreal.mirror.ca. Le National, a two-tier concert hall with pristine balcony boxes and plush red banquettes, and Église St-Jean Baptiste, a Catholic church with stunning acoustics and a monumental handmade brass-and-wood organ, are two spectacular venues. The city's also full of art--browse the Belgo Building's five floors of small contemporary galleries--and parks. And don't leave Montreal without checking out Little Italy's Marché Jean-Talon, a fantastic market open year-round. (Note for the green-minded: Montreal is the first urban center in the world to sign National Geographic's Center for Sustainable Destinations' Geotourism Charter. Read more here.)

For a southern option, why not Washington, D.C.? The presidential hooplah has died down a bit, but there's still a thrilling buzz in the streets, and you'll have a better view of the Capitol Building than you can get on C-SPAN. Across Lafayette Square from the White House, the Hay-Adams hotel has great views of the city. A 2008 Gold Lister, rooms at this former residence of politician John Hay and author Henry Adams feature carved plaster ceilings and custom Italian beds with Frette linens. As for grub, you can go global with Komi, Chef Johnny Monis's heavily reviewed Greek-Mediterranean spot, or comfort yourself with American bistro fare at Cathal Armstrong's Restaurant Eve. Finally, you're looking for culture, you say? The Smithsonian Institution has 17 museums in Washington, including the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Air and Space Museum. Since it's so nippy, we don't recommend a road trip to the Appalachian Trail; rather, try ice skating in the sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Art.

Enjoy your time with your family, and please report back on the trip! Other questions? Just comment below.

Comments

From Providence Montreal and D.C.
are great suggestions, i would also
add The Hudson River Valley, and
The coast north of Boston, e.g. Rockport, Portsmouth, Kennebunkport for
options other than major cities.

I would reccommend you to visit Montreal in the summer. My extended family lives there and you have to be crazy to visit Montreal in winter. It is horribly cold and depressing. Its been -20c this week! They have to have a mexican or carribean vacation for two weeks just to stay from going mad!

Thanks for reading! Maybe I'm a cold-weather girl: I just returned from Montreal, and loved bundling up in the crisp, winter air. Thanks to your suggestions, though, I'm sure our reader will find a trip that suits--minus twenty or not!

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