With many visits to Montreal under our belt, we’ve either stayed in auberges in the Laurentians or in modern city hotels outside the cobble-stoned old port area.
Without a car this time and primarily here to experience “Nuit Blanche” french style, we decided to immerse ourselves totally in the “old port” experience for 5 days.
“Montreal en Lumiere” gave us the perfect opportunity to visit a Montreal frosted with snow. And to explore on foot (and by a metro transit system identical to that of Paris) its wonderful museums; truly atmospheric restaurants; chic coffee bars and famed jazz scene – from our base “Hotel Pierre du Calvet”.
The Calvet house was built in 1725 under the French regime literally under the city’s fortified walls. It is the oldest historical house open for public accommodation in Montreal.
This place defies description.
Leaving the snow and ice encrusted street you enter the Hotel and open the door into the warmth of a different century.
Some quick word pictures to convey the rapid-fire impressions that blew my mind on my first visit:
2ft thick stone walls pierced by S-shaped metal ties and embedded with massive wooden door lintels.
Blood red beamed ceilings
Panelled wood and shuttered casement windows.
Swathes of brocaded velvet, satin and lace at the windows.
Faded tapestry bedspreads and table linen.
Moroccan rugs playing footsie with each other – tassel to tassel on giant flagstone floors.
An airy mirrored conservatory iced with decorative mouldings and crowned with glass; framed with floor to ceiling mirrors that give the room the illusion that it goes on forever – reflections reflecting upon each other.
In true Victorian style, cages housing exotic birds in a mirrored corner – a giant turquoise cockatoo perched on top of his palatial cage adjacent to an overstuffed sofa and empire coffee table chest strewn with French newspapers.
Dodge his tail feathers as you move towards the rows of cages housing doves and other exotic birds.The entire hotel resonates with the cooing of 6 doves and the cheeky “hellos” and wolf whistling from two cockatoos. It feels like Singapore.
The building has been modified with outside walls incorporated into the fabric of the hotel. A labyrinth of narrow stairs, creaking floorboards and areas that widen into lounging enclaves lead you to your room.
Initial impression of room – whoa – dark, dark , dark. When your eyes get used to the dimness, the blurred edges of huge pieces of gilded empire style furniture start to emerge from the gloom – a massive Armoire; a tiny luscious en-suite, a lounge area; antique bloomed mirrors everywhere. Best of all a four poster bed fit for ‘Napoleon himself – you need to use the steps at the foot of the bed to climb into it.
Once under the sheets you get the impression of being cocooned in a fire- lit gilded cavern with the rest of the timber ceilinged room barely visible. A strategically placed fireplace mirror and ambient lighting gives a conflicting sense of never-ending space and claustrophobia.
Back downstairs the smell of the wax of a thousand candles pervades the air and adds another layer to the latent atmosphere of three hundred years of history.
It doesn’t appear to be haunted but it is exactly the sort if place that should be. A team of “ghost hunters” have expressed an interest in doing an investigation here!
The current owner Monsieur Trottier has lived in the building since 1962 during the time the environs of Old Montreal were destined for demolition.
Thanks to a forward thinking group of Montrealers – the Trottiers included – that didn’t happen and the wonderful 300 year Old Port area in all its original glory still exists today.
A little slice of Europe in this vast country.
One of the unusual aspects of staying in the Port area this time – a chance to experience bleeding ears when every ships and boat in the harbour – that had a horn – took part in a carefully orchestrated “Ship Horn symphony”. All the different tonal ranges producing a head-splitting cacophony of strident sound that continued for about 45 minutes.
Loud enough to wake the dead – the ghosts of Old Montreal.
Over and out