Yannick Grandmont  /  Redux Pictures
Walking down St. Paul street in Montreal. Visiting Montreal is not like going to Paris. This cosmopolitan Canadian port city sings its own tune.
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Special to msnbc.com
updated 12/4/2006 11:03:45 AM ET 2006-12-04T16:03:45

Chic couples smooching on street corners. Cobble-stoned streets with bustling corner cafes. People actually wearing berets! It’s been said before, but it stands repeating: Montreal offers many of the charms of Paris, minus the hefty price-tag. Though it doesn’t have the overabundance of world-class architecture or superb museums of its sister city across the pond, it’s still a powerhouse for art, cuisine and culture. You’ll see what we mean with the following one-day itinerary:

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: More crispy than chewy, distinctively sweet and absolutely addictive—no, we’re not talking croissants. In Montreal, bagels are the breakfast bread of choice. Some diners even have the temerity to claim they’re better than those you’ll nosh on in New York. You be the judge. Follow your nose to St. Viateur Bagel where the sensuous aroma of the wood-burning stove is only topped by that first bite of the circular delights themselves. The shop serves just sesame seed and poppy bagels, but no one feels deprived.

9 a.m. - noon: Head next into a different eco-system. Four eco-systems, that is, at Montreal’s Sci Fi-esque Biodome . A zoo, aquarium and botanical garden all wrapped in one massive geodesic dome (the former Velodrome, built for the 1976 Olympics), the Biodome showcases the flora, fauna and varying temperatures of a rainforest, the Laurentian woodlands, the St. Lawrence marine system, and the chilly environs of both polar regions. More than 6000 creatures, some endangered, live out their lives in these edu-vironments. If you finish take in more lush nature at the nearby Botanical Gardens and Insectarium — a combination ticket will gain you entry to these two and the Biodome.

Morning Alternative
Get your Great Masters fix at the Musee des Beaux Arts .Rembrandt, Memling, El Greco, Breughel—Canada’s oldest museum has at least one representative work from every big name you studied in your college Art History 101 course. No slouch in the Modern department, either, the Musee has one of the best Impressionist collections in this hemisphere, plus works by Calder, Miro, Munch and a number of Canadian and Inuit artists. Many of the later works, plus temporary exhibits, are housed in the soaring, light-filled Jean Noel Desmarais Pavillion across the street, designed by noted Montreal architect Moshe Safdie. (Underground galleries with the museum’s African collections connect the two buildings).

Noon - 2 p.m.: Lunch at chic Boris Bistro which specializes in classic bistro fare, subtly updated with Quebecoise ingredients and smothered in butter and cream sauces—cuisine that’s definitely more sinful than sensible. Prime indulgences include the tourtiere, the region's famed pork-and-beef pie, done here with caribou and duck and sided by a scrumptious fruit coulis instead of the usual ketchup; and the veal blanquette smothered in a delightful dill sauce that tastes as green as a freshly mowed lawn.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Hit the cobblestones. Spend the afternoon strolling through Montreal’s achingly pretty, richly historic older quarter, Vieux Montreal. Start in the Place d’Armes where you’ll find the Vieux Séminaire de St-Sulpice. Erected in 1657, it’s the city’s oldest building. Be sure also to wander into the Basilique du Notre Dames; its Protestant architect was so moved by the experience of building this majestic church, he converted to Roman Catholicism. Walk through the rest of the quarter, pastthe 18th century, frou-frou-laden Hotel du Ville (Town Hall), the Chateau Ramezay (formerly the home of the governors of the province), the quaint Place Jacques Carteir with its buskers and street vendors (in the warmer months), and a number of other buildings, tracing the city’s 300-year long history. End your explorations at the Vieux Port (The Old Port). There will be many opportunities to shop, or simply contemplate life from a café table, along the way.

Afternoon Alternative
Prove your mettle with a hike to the top of Mont Royal . Okay, it’s not a huge mountain, but it inhabits a lovely park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the same man who did New York’s Central Park and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The climb’s a doable 1.3 miles, and the reward (along with the endorphins you’ll release) are spectacular views of the city below.

5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.: Named for the jaunty white hat that chefs wear, Toque! is a true foodie mecca, a restaurant where diners come to pay homage to one of the most celebrated chefs in North America, Normand Laprise. One of the first of the “foamers”—he has a habit of adding a cloud-like sauce to a number of dishes—Laprise is an original and a master at mixing luxe ingredients in surprising and pleasing ways. Pad your wallet, as a meal here will be pricey, but memorable.

8 p.m. - on ... Root on the Montreal Canadiens , the city’s down-on-its-luck pro-Hockey team. Though the team boasts 24 Stanley Cup wins, it’s been a while since the last one. That doesn’t dim anyone’s fervor for the game or their hometown team, however, and attending a game is an adrenaline-charged experience. If you’re here in summer, when hockey season’s over, take in a concert or show at one of the city’s many superb festivals. Click here for a listing of all the city’s major fests, from its internationally renowned Jazz Fest to its roundelay of Comedians.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

St. Viateur Bagel, 263 rue St. Viateur ouest, phone 514/276-8044; or 1127 Ave. Mont Royal est, phone 514/528-6361. Open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight.

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Biodome, 4777 av. Pierre-de-Coubertin, next to Olympic Stadium, phone 514/868-3000;www.biodome.qc.ca. Open daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., most months of the year (check the website as the Biodome does close some Mondays in the winter months).

Admission is C$12 (US$9.60) adults, C$9 (US$7.20) seniors and students, C$6 (US$4.80) children 5-17, free for children under 5.

Jardin Botanique, 4101 rue Sherbrooke est, opposite Olympic Stadium, phone 514/872-1400; www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/jardin.  Admission prices vary by season. From May 15 to October 31 to outside gardens, greenhouses, and Insectarium the cost is C$12 (US$9.60) adults, C$9 (US$7.20) seniors and students, C$6 (US$4.80) children 5-17, free for children under 5. From November to May 14 C$8.75 (US$7) adults, C$6.75 (US$5.40) seniors and students, C$4.50 (US$3.60) children 5-17, free for children under 5. Combination tickets for Botanical Garden, Insectarium, Olympic Tower, and Biodôme (good for 30 days) is C$29 (US$23) adults, C$22 (US$18) seniors and students, C$15 (US$12) children 5-17, free for children under 5. Like the Biodome it’s open daily (with some exceptions) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (check the website before you arrive just to be safe).

Musee des Beaux Arts, 1379-1380 rue Sherbrooke Ouest  at rue Crescent, phone 514/285-2000; www.mmfa.qc.ca.  Open Tues-Sun 11am-5pm; Wed 11am-9pm (open daily in summer). Admission is free to the permanent collection, with charges of about C$15 (US $12) on average to the special exhibitions (if you haven’t been to this museum before, simply visit the permanent collection—there are enough treasures in it to hold your interest for several hours). 

Boris Bistro, 465 rue McGill, phone 514/848-9575, www.borisbistro.com/.

To climb to a good lookout on Mont Royalyou can either head north on Rue Peel, which will lead to a stairway and then a trail of switchbacks; or take the steps that lead up to the terrace of the Chalet Mont Royal.

Toque, 900 place Jean-Paul-Riopelle near rue St-Antoine, in Vieux-Montreal, phone 514/499-2084; www.restaurant-toque.com/. Reservations required.

For information on the Montreal Canadiens, go directly to their website www.canadiens.com/. You’ll find information there on how to buy tickets; games do sell out, so purchase far in advance of your visit.

For a calendar of Montreal festivals go to www.montreal.com/tourism/fests.html.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

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