How could you visit Montréal and not visit its name sake – the Mont-Royal? 🙂 But there are many more reasons why it is worth your time and effort to go up the hill. Learn more about this intriguing place and reserve a few hours on your Montreal itinerary!
What is Mont Royal?
Well, obviously, it’s a mountain. Or, rather, a taller hill. It is only about 200m high above the sea, but because of the striking contrast with the rest of the city, it seems much higher. Geologically, this hill is volcano-related, a deeply eroded result of a million-years-old eruption.
The name was conceived by the first European who climbed the mountain – Jaques Cartier in 1535 – to honor his king (and sponsor), Francis I of France.
Today, the whole mountain is part of Parc du Mont-Royal. The Park was established in 1876 to stop the mass cutting of trees on the slopes of Mont Royal. The task of landscaping was given to Frederick Law Olmsted of the New York City’s Central Park fame. Unfortunately, his plans could not be fully carried out, mostly because of the financial crisis of the mid-1870s.
What is interesting, the lack of thick forests in today’s Mont Royal Park is not only the fault of 19th c. unregulated cutting. During the morality-obsessed 1950s, many trees were cut down to “discourage immorality” as many couples used the bushes and trees to hide for some love-making in the open.
On the top of Mont Royal
Most people who get to Mont Royal, go directly the Belvédère Kondiaronk, one of two belvederes built there. This is a huge plaza from which you can admire a stunning view of downtown Montreal and St. Lawrance River. I could hardly stop myself from taking dozens upon dozens of photos here, where the changing conditions and light provided new opportunities. Just look at the views!
Right at the top of this lookout is Chalet du Mont-Royal, an impressive villa used for concerts and art events.
A visitor can find many hiking trails and quiet spots to enjoy the 200 hectares of the park. People come here to cycle, run, walk or, in winter, cross-country ski or to toboggan with friends. It’s a perfect destination for a picnic or… a photo session. A big man-made Beaver Lake is also to be found at the summit. In winter it becomes a big skating rink.
If you have a few hours in your schedule, grab some snacks or a full picnic basket, comfortable shoes and spend the time walking and relaxing at the top of Montreal’s jewel.
The Cross of Mont Royal
On your way from the Kondiaronk Lookout to the Eastern Belvedere, you pass a famous cross. It is worth making a slight detour to come to its feet. The first cross at this spot was set by Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, as a fulfillment of his vow to the Holy Mary. In 1643 the city founder expressed his gratitude to God for saving the city (well, a village back then) from a massive flood. The cross we see today comes from 1924 and is lit during the night.
A lookout to the East
The much smaller but still worth seeing lookout is known for a spot to take your loved one to. It’s popular with couples for a romantic rendezvous. From the Observatoire de l’Est you can see clearly the buildings of the Olympic Stadium. Not far from this spot you can find one of four cemeteries of Mont Royal. The biggest one is Catholic, then there is one non-denominational and two small Jewish ones. If you like graveyards they might a great destination for a lovely walk.
Practical information: how do I get to Mont Royal?
There are many ways to choose from. If you want to walk, simply go in the direction of the hill from any place in the city and you will eventually get there. I used the very popular path leading up the stairs to the Kondiaronk Lookout. The climb is steep and tiring.
You may instead choose to go by a winding road zigzagging the slope. If you don’t feel like getting up all on your own, you can use public transportation. The easiest way is to catch the bus #11 from the Mont-Royal metro station. The bus stops opposite the main Catholic cemetery, close to the Eastern Lookout. If you have a car, you can drive on the Côte-des-Neiges and the Voie Camillien-Houde roads and park at one of a few well-marked parking lots on the top. From here, there is just a short walk (about 30 min) to reach the Kondiaronk Lookout.
Have you been to Mont-Royal? Which was your favorite spot?
Do you have any tips for first-time visitors? Share below!