Weekend away: Montreal in November

High season for tourists in Montreal runs from May through October, with the occasional skier passing through town in the dead of winter. Truth be told, most foreigners are too scared to visit Canada once the cold weather hits, and Canadians, who know how to cope, just don’t have Montreal on their November radar.

But that’s a mistake. Hotel prices are much cheaper at this time of year and there’s lots to do whether or not the weather cooperates.

Among other things, a new exhibit of  Impressionist masterpieces has just opened at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (mbam.qc.ca). And November 15th is Beaujolais Nouveau Day. No, it’s not an official holiday (yet), but it’s an event Montrealers love to celebrate,  with many restaurants following the French tradition of serving up the year’s first wine for several weeks following its release.

As always, Montreal is a top destination for foodies. And along with the Beaujolais Nouveau, November is when oyster season gets into full swing. The bar at Old Montreal’s Chez Delmo, once a hangout for lawyers and judges from the nearby courthouse, is a wonderfully atmospheric place to slurp them.

A Montreal visit in November will also give you the chance to get in some advance holiday shopping.  Simon’s, the Quebec department store known for its stylish and easily affordable clothes and accessories, has fashionable hats, gloves and scarves for stocking stuffers. You could also jazz up your holiday wardrobe here or in the boutiques of Old Montreal and St. Denis and St. Laurent streets, where mall culture most definitely does not rule.

On a more serious note, If you’ve got kids considering heading off to Montreal for university, November is the perfect time to see campus life in full swing and pick up information for all those January applications.

And of course if you’re a francophile, you can take advantage of theatre season

Weather The average daily temperature drops sharply  to 2.5 in November from 9.2 in October. The highest recorded temperature is 22 and the lowest -28. Extremes aside, if the sun shines many cafes will still have some tables outside where you can have a coffee or an apero in late fall’s warming rays. While you’re unlikely to face  a full-on blizzard, November does have an average  of 15 days with precipitation so  you should prepare yourself for the possibility of  rain or light snow.

Take Precautions Book a well-located hotel downtown or in Old Montreal. It’s nice to be central if the weather gods do indeed frown upon you. If the forecast calls for cold, wear a lightweight down coat or buy one in Montreal, where there’s plenty of selection. If it rains, invest in a good-quality umbrella and gloves. Bring extra footwear as there’s nothing worse than wet feet.

Why do it? Getting away for a long weekend in November is downright therapeutic and Montreal won’t break the budget.

Best case scenario It’s a sunny crisp weekend. You walk up the mountain, rent a Bixi bike to head over to St. Denis for lunch and shopping, stock up at Simon’s, taste the foie gras poutine at Au Pied de Cochon and enjoy lots of Beaujolais Nouveau.

Worst case scenario It rains so instead of strolling around town, you check out a museum or two and make a serious dent in the holiday shopping. It’s amazing how a little Beaujolais Nouveau and Quebec cuisine will make you forget about the weather.

More information www.tourisme-montreal.org

More off season If November doesn’t work for you, there’s always February when Montreal hosts the Highlights Festival including, a 10-day long gourmet event. There might be a little more of a hotel squeeze during this period so book in advance. December, January and march all have their off-season charms as well.

Recommended Transport As an alternative to the 401, try VIA Rail , which takes you from downtown Toronto to downtown Montreal in five hours. You can probably even walk to your hotel.

Mood reading Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler for the Anglo experience and The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy for the Franco point of view.

DINING Au Pied de Cochon began the gourmet poutine trend with its deservedly famous  foie gras version ($23). Most mains, including the eponymous pig’s foot, hover around $20 while appetizers and desserts are $6-8. Open for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday. Phone ahead to book 536 Duluth E., (514) 281-1114. Chez Delmo, or Delmo’s to the anglos, not only serves up oysters for about $30 a dozen at its landmark bar, it does weekday lunch (3 courses, $24.75), dinner (mains starting at $27) and a light late-night supper Thursday, Friday and Saturday (2 courses, $25.75) 275 Notre-Dame W. , (514) 288-4288.

SLEEPING Le Saint-Sulpice is an Old Montreal boutique hotel with expresso machines in every room and fireplaces in some. Rooms start at $166 this month: 414 St-Sulpice, (877) 785 -7423. Le Square Phillips Hôtel & Suites is a great find right downtown, five minutes from the train station and across the street from the Metro. Spacious suites are perfect for families. Rooms are priced from $129 this month including a small breakfast: 1193 Place Phillips, (514) 393-1193. The recently renovated Hotel Omni Mont Royal, kitty corner to the McGill campus, has rooms from $143. 1050 Sherbrooke St W., (514) 284-1110, omnihotels.com.

Here’s the version of this story that appeared in the Toronto Star.

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