There is something magical about coming home for the Holidays. I was born and raised in Montreal, but I now live in Toronto. However, in my heart, Montreal will always be “home” and I was very much looking forward to going back to spend a few days with my family and friends. On the other hand, going home for the holidays also means staying with the in-laws and using guest rooms. So why not take advantage of these few “off days” to unwind, enjoy a little “me” time and discover new places in that city you thought you knew by heart? Because, there is a chance that you missed a few things while you were gone, sadly. That is exactly what I decided to do the day before Christmas and I wasn’t disappointed.

Renaissance Downtown Montreal Hotel

At night: Renaissance Downtown Montreal Hotel

On December 23st, in the middle the first snowstorm to hit Eastern Canada this winter, I checked in at the new Renaissance Downtown Montreal. This hotel was built in an old heritage building that was left unoccupied for years in downtown Montreal. Now, it stands as one of the only laid-back luxury hotel in the area, located directly at the corner of the most popular shopping avenue: Sainte-Catherine street. Inaugurated last January, the Renaissance Montreal is quite unique: to start, it is the official hotel of the Montreal Canadians, in a city where hockey is everything. Also, it is designed with great flair to reflect the artistic character of the most European city in Canada. At the first Renaissance hotel in the province, design and art is ubiquitous. The rooms are spacious, sexy, innovative, stylish and urban while the lobby and common areas are brilliant, artistic and original. In season, you can enjoy a colorful rooftop terrace and an outdoor pool, which are rare to find in this city. The hotel qualifies itself as: “independent, intriguing and indigenous”. And it is absolutely true.

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In the morning: Bota Bota Spa

After a well-rested night in a funky but not over-the-top room designed and decorated with style and finesse and, most of all, a very comfy bed, I enjoyed a generous breakfast at the gorgeous on-site restaurant EAST. Afterwards, the only thing on my mind was to head to Bota Bota Spa, one of the most unique spa in the country if you ask me. Every time I go back to Montreal, a visit to Bota Bota is a must. The spa began its life on the water as a ferryboat before a Montreal-based family acquired the ship in 2008 with the crazy idea of transforming it into a spa. Bota Bota, spa-sur-l’eau officially opened its doors in Old Montreal in December 2010.

The spa consists of five decks which house the various installations: two saunas offering incredible views onto the river and the Old Port, two eucalyptus steam baths, three outdoor whirlpool baths, four cold showers and baths, relaxation areas, a restaurant, terraces and a garden. There is nothing more impressive than looking at the frozen Old Port of Montreal from the panoramic windows in the dry sauna. The spa offers various promotions and special packages, and, the day before Christmas, The Aurora Package was the ultimate delicacy. Including: water circuit access, a 60-minute massage, and a Bota Bota bathrobe for me to keep, it was the perfect pre-Christmas relaxation/gift idea.

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In the afternoon: Discover the “new” Saint-Henri

The neighborhood that is “oh so trendy” right now in Montreal is definitely Saint-Henri. Just a few years ago, it was an empty desert where tourists and Montrealers were nowhere to be found. But now, because it is so close to the Atwater Market and the rents are still affordable, independent coffee shops, bakeries and neighborhood restaurants are opening their doors in the new and now very hype “Saint-Henri”. At the corner of Atwater Street and Notre-Dame, you will find the hot spot Foiegwa, open for brunch on weekends and late at night for a fancy “diner” dinner. This sleek French Diner used to be a hotdog joint, and now, it is one of the hottest restaurant in the city. A little further west on Notre-Dame, you will find Rosetta Bakery, an Italian family-owned bakery and eatery where everything is made in house, mostly by the nonna, Rosetta. There you will find daily made sandwiches and pizzas, cakes and pastries, and you’ll even be able to shop house made and imported Italian products. Even more south on the same street, there is great finds like door-to-door Dalla Rose ice cream, Rustique Pies and Arthurs, a Jewish-inspired breakfast and lunch joint that is good, trendy and…always full.

Montreal, I miss your diversity, creativity and your great style. Keep up the good work.

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