Two great hotels in Montreal: Le St. James and Hotel Nelligan

This is from a hotel blog a couple years back in a world-class city…

MONTREAL – It’s good to get back to this city.

I spend a lot of time looking at travel stories from all over the world, and sometimes I get caught up in lovely photos of Tahiti or Africa or Europe. And I forget – I think we ALL forget – just how wonderful Montreal can be.

I spent two nights in Old Montreal on Sunday and Monday, checking out the Hotel Nelligan and Hotel Le  IMG_9708 St.-James. They’re both remarkable properties with tons of charm, and located in terrific areas.

The Nelligan (see photo above) probably gets the nod for streetside ambience, being located on narrow Rue St. Paul in the heart of the old town. It also has great rooms, with exposed brick walls from its pre-hotel days, a cool atrium and a nice, clean look to the rooms.

It’s a very solid deal, as I booked a room for $199 on Sunday night. Not cheap, but for a fabulous boutique hotel on a great street in a great city, it’s pretty good.

I sat down for dinner at one of their two restaurants, Verses, and enjoyed duck confit rolled up in small, crispy balls with spicy citrus and also a tender, moist serving of braised lamb that had to be a half-pound. I thought I’d woken up in Texas or something, the portion was so huge.

A very nice space it is, with a good wine list and friendly service. All in all, highly recommended for anyone looking for a boutique spot in Old Montreal.

(By the by, a new acquaintance I met for lunch at the cool-looking but not quite remarkable Gazette restaurant at the Westin told me he went onto hotwire.com and punched in a four-star hotel in downtown Montreal and got the lovely-looking Intercontinental for a ridiculously cheap $109. “I’ve used hotwire six times, I think, and asked for a four-star hotel in downtown Montreal. It’s come up with the Sheraton or the Intercontinental as the best deal each time.” So there you go.)

Le St.-James is, quite frankly, another category entirely. It’s a former bank and the public spaces,  IMG_9663 especially the insanely beautiful XO restaurant (see photo), are out of this world.

I somehow snagged a room on the Internet for $225, and I think that’s about half the price it normally would be. Rooms have lovely art work and antiques gathered from all over the world. There also are lovely baths with great Molton Brown products and all the attention to detail you’d expect of a place that has been home to everyone from the Rolling Stones to Leonardo DiCaprio, who is said to have once rented the penthouse suite (wow – it’s absolutely stunning and absolutely IMMENSE) for two weeks. They also have a CD in the room called Jean Robitaille Hotel Le St. James Sessions and I’ve been listening to it over and over and have fallen in love with it; old-time and new-age jazzy intermingled with some killer riffs and great mood shifts.

I had dinner at XO last night, with mostly good results. The main course was seared duck breast on a bed of cocoa bean (the waiter said) cassoulet with wild mushrooms and veal sauce (I do believe). It was outstanding; tasty and nicely presented.

The appetizer ($16) was a bowl of microgreens with sherry vinegar and olive oil. The sherry vinegar is said to have been aged five years in bourbon casks, and it was tasty. But it was a simple bowl of greens with no nuts, no fruit, no nothing. It tasted fine but there was no texture change and very little colour but deep green. That’s a lot for the price, even considering the beauty of the restaurant.

The only place I’ve seen for dining that’s quite as opulent is the wonderful Merchant Hotel in Belfast,  Northern Ireland; another hotel carved out of a hefty bank hall. Le St.-James is perhaps glitzier and better lit, but the Merchant had more cherubs and more gold.

Either way, both XO and the Merchant make a smashing spot for dinner. Or a drink, which wouldn’t be nearly as damaging to your wallet.

Older folks who like the elegance and antique look would prefer Le St. James. Younger, hipper types (or wannabe’s like me) might opt for the Nelligan. Both are solid choices, for sure.



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