Bristol Street Art: so much more than Banksy

“It’s a bit like Bristol really, you’re either clinging on by your fingertips or looking out to a bright future!” Well, perhaps Banky’s Bristol mural, The Well Hung Lover, is a metaphor for life in the city, as suggested by our street art guide Tina Altwegg of Where the Wall street art tours. Apparently Bristolians approach them all the time during their tours, and this was just one interpretation of the Banksy piece, given to them by a passer by on a previous tour. Our street art tour started and ended with a Banksy, but as we discovered there’s a lot more to the Bristol street art scene than the city’s most famous and mysteriously anonymous street artist.

Street art in Bristol Photo:

Street art in Bristol

As we walked down the steps to view the Banksy mural from below, Tina fed us annecdotes about the art and artists we were passing. This Banksy was created at a time when Bristol City Council was whitewashing street art as fast as it could be created, but since it was painted in a very visible but inaccessible position, on the side of a building owned by a friend of Banksy, no-one could touch it. That didn’t stop it being targetted by taggers launching blue paintball splodges which have only partially been removed. Perhaps the theme of betrayal was inpired by the bust-up Banksy had with his manager, or perhaps it’s a reference to the sexual health clinic that once occupied this building.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

A little further we came across one of my favourite pieces of the tour by JPS – two cute children doing The Big Deal. The artist from Weston Super Mare uses stencils in a way that is reminiscent and even inspired by Banksy. The Queens Shilling, an LGBT nightclub it’s next to, liked it so much that they asked him to create another piece just around the corner.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

This Spartacus mural by JPS is a tribute to the actor Andy Whitfield who was in the TV series but died of cancer. Apparently it’s a favourite photo spot for hen parties – can’t think why!

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

We moved across the centre to the Radisson Hotel Blu Hotel, not the most obvious location for street art – but here was a piece by Cheo that recreates the local Aardman characters of Wallace and Gromit as cool dudes from the hood. The first mural was created when the Shaun the sheep statues were scattered around Bristol but it became such a talking point that the hotel asked Cheo back to create its partner.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

In Corn Street Tina pointed out the The Hatter Cafe who had commissioned a piece by Nick Walker using his familiar character in a bowler hat which we spotted again later along Nelson Street. There are an increasing number of businesses around Bristol that tap into the talent of Bristol street artists – you can stay in a room at the Mercure Holland House inspired by Bristol Street art or sip your cocktail on the Urban Roof Terrace of the Marriott City Hotel.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

Turning off Corn Street through Leonard’s Lane was a revelation, with the murals visible at the entrance of this dark passage only hinting at the menagerie of creatures and stencil, mosaic and 3D pieces to be found by those venturing down the alley. Take a look at my photo album for a taste of some of them.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

We emerged blinking into the daylight from the passage, at the old old city walls with the spire of St John in the wall above us and the unicorns and lions from the city’s coat of arms decorating the old stone archway – for unicorn chasers there’s also one inside the church.

Now we were on Nelson Street, one of the key street art areas of Bristol. Most of the uninspiring concrete buildings were painted with huge murals as part of the See No Evil Street Art Festival in 2011 and 2012. Look up to find the Madonna-like piece by El Mac based on his girlfriend and baby, using a shading technique created by chilling down the aerosol paints in a bucket of ice. Next to it Nick Walker’s bowler hatted man is painting the town red. A little further up the road, the wolf by Aryz and stick figure by the artist of the same name Stik brighted up the most unremarkable towerblocks. Nelson Street is now under development with a large building site, so some of the smaller pieces from the festival have been lost, but it’s still well worth visiting for the larger murals that remain. The festival was a predecessor of the Upfest festival that now takes place in South Bristol, hosting 300 street artists and 30,000 visitors last July.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

As Tina tells us the story behind each piece, I sense a theme emerging. Some of the artists like Stik and JPS had been depressed or homeless and found a way forward through street-art. Others have been honing their artistic talent in Bristol for many years, since John Nation, now a tour guide for Where the Wall, started a street art project at the Barton Hill Youth Club. Artists like Nick Walker and Cheo started painting there before Banksy and, as Rob Dean, the founder of Where the Wall explained, if they have now found success, it’s not before time.

“The artists are now getting recognition for what they are doing rather than lurking in the shadows, which is fantastic – the people who have been doing it for 20 years need to become household names. It’s not so much commercialism as the recognition that they deserve for the hours they have put in.”

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

The Street Art tours are becoming increasingly popular with school groups, both in Bristol and from abroad and Tina runs the tours in French and German when required. Sometimes the tour is combined with a creative spray session at the end, so that the kids can give it a try for themselves. Art teachers find that it’s a great way of getting teenagers excited by the medium – perhaps inspiring the next generation of street artists.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

We move on towards Broadmead past the old police station, now a youth centre and gallery with all sorts of artistic stuff going on. As Tina  points out, there’s an irony in the place where they took arrested  graffiti artists now being a hub of creativity. On the grimy stonework there’s some ‘Clean’ or reverse graffiti by Moose, created with sturdy stencils and a jet wash.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

Heading through the underpass of the Bearpit, we see panels where artists can create murals in an ever changing gallery. This is the starting point for Stokes Croft, the road leading from the city centre which is seemingly one long street-art gallery. Businesses along here regularly commission work from the top street artists, like the Man in the Moon piece by Cheba that we see on the wall of the Full Moon pub and backpacker’s hostel. Tagging and spray-can graffiti is common, but the more respected artists or commissioned pieces stay free of it for a little longer.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

We meander through the back alleys parallel to Stokes Croft, as Tina points out some of the more unusual pieces like a paste up piece at kerb level. It’s literally a painting pasted to a wall so it might stay anything from 1 day to 6 months before it’s torn off.  At the top of Stokes Croft is the Carriage Works, an old shell of a building where the panels between the arches are a popular canvas for street artists.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

Bristol is so well known for street art that many of the top international artists come here to create a piece over a weekend, to make sure they have Bristol on their creative CV. However, even the best pieces may only last a few days before they are painted over by someone else –  only remembered on Facebook or Instagram.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

Now our tour is nearly at an end as we meet up with Where the Wall founder, Rob Dean who tells us of his plans for the future. The company has recently started a Banksy tour which is proving a hit, even though there are only a few pieces by the artist remaining throughout Bristol. It complements the main street art tour we’ve just done and is an opportunity to give visitors a bit more context about the history of the city. Rob tells us, “I see the street art tours as a great way to go straight into the middle of the creative contemporary culture of Bristol, without having to spend days finding it, or missing it completely.”

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

The tour company also tries to help local street artists get more benefit from their work, by ensuring it is correctly attributed and that their intellectual property rights are not trampled upon. Last year Where the Wall worked with a calendar company on a project that saw a number of local artists being paid to create murals in the Cabots Circus Shopping Centre, which were then photographed for a Bristol street art calendar.

We discover that our guide Tina Altwegg is also an illustrator and artist, as she shows us her Dancing Polar Bear mural in the underground cycle park of Hamilton House, where she has her artist’s studio. She tells us how she wanted to imagine the polar bears dancing and having fun as a counterpoint to all the depressing news about climate change.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

After a coffee in The Canteen, we check out a couple more pieces on the walls of the neighbouring buildings. The break-dancing Jesus is an iconic mural that’s become well known in Bristol and was created by artist Cosmo Sarson following a competition to decide who would paint this very visible space on Stokes Croft. It was inspired by a news story the artist had seen about Pope John Paul II inviting a group of Polish break dancers to perform for him in the Vatican.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

On the opposite wall we finish as we started with a Banksy, one of his earliest surviving pieces in Bristol – The Mild Mild West. This one was created in 1999 before the artist moved into a more detailed style using stencils and stopped signing his work. Because it’s a simple black and white piece, painted by hand, it’s been easy to touch up every time someone tries to tag it or send a few paintballs in its direction. Since the mural was painted there have been protests and riots in this part of Bristol so it seems to always have a relevancy in the theme. We Bristolians may be cuddly and easy going but there’s an undercurrent of anti-establishment feeling here too.

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour Photo:

Street art in Bristol on Where the wall tour

Take the Where the Wall tour and as Rob says, even if you’re here for just a day, you’ll get straight to the heart of contemporary culture in Bristol and enjoy some great street art from Banksy and many, many more.

Where the Wall Street Art Tours cost £9.20 and there are 3 tours – The Bristol Street Art Tours, The Banksy and Harbourside walking tour and the Bedminster Street Art Tour.

Website – Twitter – @Wherethewall | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Thanks to Where the Wall for providing me with a free tour as part of a Bristol Bloggers and Influencers Event.

More Art in Bristol

Inspired by Bristol Artists at the Affordable Art Fair
Stokes Croft – a hidden gem of Street-Art Cool in Bristol
Is Bristol the Street-art capital of the World?

What the other bloggers said

Travel to Recovery – Bristol Street Art Tour
New Mum Online – The Street Art Where the Wall Tour and Colour that Inspired Aeron
Natacha the Franglais – And if we talked about Street Art

Looking for somewhere to stay in Bristol?

Here are some of the Hotels in Bristol that we recommend, which are close to the neighbourhoods that have street-art.

Budget Accommodation in Bristol: YHA
In the harbourside area, the YHA is in an old waterfront grain warehouse with 133 beds in a range of dorm and private rooms, some of which are en suite.

Boutique Guest House in Bristol: Brooks Guest House
Tucked away in a courtyard in the heart of the old city, with 23 stylish and compact bedrooms and retro rocket caravans on the roof which you can stay in.

Luxury Hotel in Bristol: Hotel du Vin
Set in an 18th century sugar warehouse with exposed brickwork and 40 loft style bedrooms, leather sofas in the sugar bar and a French Bistro style restaurant.

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Over the pass in the Dolomites: Hiking in South Tyrol

October 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Europe, featured, Italy, Leisure, South Tyrol, Walking

Our first day of hiking in the Dolomites had been relatively easy, as we scaled the gentler slopes of the Rosengarten range in South Tyrol.  But Day 2 proved a lot more challenging, as we scrambled over the Coronelle pass and slithered down the treacherous scree slopes on the other side. Pushing on through a surreal lunar landscape, we finally arrived at our next mountain hut and enjoyed a well earned beer on the terrace, as the evening sun turned the mountains pink. Read about our first day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Hiking in the Dolomites

Our day begins at KolnerHütte

Our first night at KolnerHütte had been convivial, with a hearty supper in the cozy dining room, surrounded by Tyrolean decoration and red checked tablecloths. A plate of pasta followed by gammon and potatoes, then tirimasu was washed down with beer, before we retired early to our bunks in the 8 bedroom dorm. I can’t say it was the best night’s sleep ever – not being accustomed to sleeping so close to 6 middle aged Belgian men, who heartily wished each other good night, like a chorus from The Waltons.

Dining room at kolnerhutte in South Tyrol Photo:

Dining room at kolnerhutte in South Tyrol

Yet here we were in the early morning with our rucksacks packed and poles at the ready. From the terrace of the Rifugio, I watched the grey silhouettes of mountain ranges, layer upon layer, with the pink glow of sunrise at their back. The air was cold as the sun gradually lit up the valleys below, a dense blanket of forest parting to reveal patches of lighter green with a sprinkling of houses.

Sunrise at Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol Photo:

Sunrise at Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol

We climb over the Coronnelle Pass

I have to admit that I was nervous about the next section of the route. In order to avoid a two hour detour around the Rosengarten range, we had chosen the shorter but steeper route over the Coronnelle Pass. Immediately above the hut was a 20 metre section where we had to climb hand over foot, using the metal cables and footholds fixed in the rock. It reminded me of my very first Via Ferrata on a previous visit to South Tyrol, only this time we had no helmet, no harness and no karabiners to secure us against a missed footing or a tumble down the mountain.

 Climbing up the Coronelle Pass Photo:

Climbing up the Coronelle Pass

After the initial section the path got marginally more secure, winding upwards through a rocky landscape, but I could see no way over the massif. Ahead appeared to be only a vertical rock face, which I prayed we wouldn’t need to climb. A turn in the path revealed a break through to the top, the way secured by wooden logs and more metal cables and toe holds. An hour of climbing and we suddenly emerged at the top of the pass with a whole vista of valleys and peaks spread in a panorama before us.

View from the Coronelle Pass

View from the Coronelle Pass

Resting a while on the seat, we had an eagle’s eye view of our next stopping point at Rifugio Vaiolet. Although it looked almost close enough to touch, it was another hour and a half of narrow paths and slippery shale before we reached the Rifugio and installed ourslves on the sunny terrace for a cool lemon soda.

Rifugio Vaiolet in South Tyrol Photo:

Rifugio Vaiolet in South Tyrol

Into a rocky lunar landscape

From our viewpoint on the terrace, we could see what looked like a line of ants – people coming up from the valley where there must have been a point to be dropped off by bus or cable car. As we continued our hike above the refuge, the path broadened and we walked up through a craggy lunar landscape that was grey and barren with only the smallest patches of grass. The rocky peaks all around us had a pink hue which would turn even more rosy when lit by the setting sun. Their name of the Rosengarten comes from the rose garden owned according to legend, by King Laurin, king of the dwarfs who ruled over this kingdom of quartz.

Hiking in the Rosengarten Photo:

Hiking in the Rosengarten

Lunch at Grasleitenpasse

Now I was wondering again which direction we would follow, as all I could see was a narrow trail high up above us leading towards another pass on our right. On the rock above we saw a flag and  turned the path to see the refuge of Grasleitenpasse hanging on the side of the mountain below it. We gratefully shrugged off our rucksacks, to settle on the wooden benches for lunch, although the air was cool at this altitude as we sat in the shade of the mountain.

Mountain huts in the Dolomites

Grasleitenpasse in the Dolomites

Despite the remote location, the food was excellent here and I ordered a hearty bowl of vegetable soup while my friend Julia enjoyed the cheesy polenta with ham and rocket salad. A helicopter circled overhead and then flew into the next valley, so that I wondered whether they had been sent to rescue someone. Some of the more remote refuges in the Dolomites can only be reached by walking or by helicopter for supplies and emergencies.

Lunch at Grasleitenpasse in South Tyrol Photo:

Lunch at Grasleitenpasse in South Tyrol

From the Rifugio, the path continued downhill into a bowl in the mountains filled with rock and not a leaf or blade of grass to be seen. The scree was very slippery and we had to go carefully to avoid dislodging rocks into the path of walkers coming up the slope. Down the side of the mountains were rivers of scree left by rockfalls and jagged peaks above the moraine where a glacier must have passed through many millions of years ago.

Hiking through a lunar landscape in the Dolomites Photo:

Hiking through a lunar landscape in the Dolomites

Arriving at Grasleitenhütte / Rifugio Bergamo

From the bowl in the mountains we came to an opening where we could just glimpse the green valley ahead of us. The path wound along the side of the mountain with a stream rushing between the grey rocks coloured by patches of sulphur yellow lichen. Before long we could spot our next refuge below us,  a large yellow building set at the head of the valley with a few cute goats grazing below it.

Hiking in the Dolomites Photo:

Hiking in the Dolomites

We received a friendly welcome as we arrived at Rifugio Bergamo, which in the last century had served as a base for gentleman mountaineers. The dining room was very atmospheric, with wooden panelling and old climbing photographs, and we had a cute room of our own (sheer luxury!) with wooden beds and check duvets. Before supper we sat on the terrace basking in the last of the evening sun, with a beer among the boxes of bright red geraniums, and a glimpse of the valley where we would be heading the next day.

In my next article I’ll be writing about our walk to the next hut along a grassy plateau and our precipitous descent to the valley again for a welcome return to the lovely Hotel Cyprianerhof. If you are considering hiking in the Dolomites and have any questions please do leave them in the comments for me to answer.

Read about our previous day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol Photo:

Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Where we stayed in South Tyrol

To compare prices and book Hotels in South Tyrol check out my hotels booking page powered by HotelsCombined

Night 1 – Hotel Cyprianerhof

Website: A luxurious 4 star hotel in St Cyprian with extensive facilities for wellness and activity excursions. The hotel’s philosophy is to offer guests the full experience of the Dolomites, allowing them to recharge and clear their minds through hiking in the mountains, combined with relaxation in the spa and sauna facilities.

Hotel Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol Photo:

Hotel Cyprianerhof in South Tyrol

In summer there is a programme of hiking as well as climbing and Via Ferrata, while in winter guests can try snow-shoe, ice climbing and cross-country ski. The hotel is affiliated to the Wanderhotels group of hiking hotels with hiking and snow-shoe excursions included as part of the half board package that includes breakfast, afternoon tea and evening meal. The food here was excellent using local and seasonal produce. Half board package including activities from €156 per person per night

Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol Photo:

Kolnerhutte in South Tyrol

Night 2 – KolnerHütte / Rifugio Fronza alle Coronelle Website:

Cost: from €52 per person for half board (evening meal and breakfast)

The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms, with 60 beds in total. Blankets are provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There is 1 hot shower which costs €3 to use. The Refuge can also be reached from St Cyprian by a bus to the foot of the Laurino chairlift, then take the chairlift up to KolnerHütte. Many people use the chairlift to reach KolnerHütte quickly and then walk the higher mountain routes from there.

Inside Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol Photo:

Inside Rifugio Bergamo in South Tyrol

Night 3 – Grasleitenhütte / Rifugio Bergamo Website:

Cost: from €52 per person for half board (evening meal and breakfast)

We received a warm welcome at this family run Rifugio that was built in the last century as a base for wealthy mountain climbers and still has an authentic Tyrolian atmosphere with wood panelling, old pictures and maps. The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms with duvets provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There are 2 hot showers which cost €3 to use. The refuge has a charming traditional feel and is family run with friendly owners and excellent cuisine and wine.

Our bedroom at Rifugio Bergamo Photo:

Our bedroom at Rifugio Bergamo

Night 4 – Schlernhaus / Rifugio Bolzano Website:

Cost: from €39 per person for 2 bed room including breakfast. Meals can be ordered from the modestly priced menu and half board is available for groups of 8+ people.

The Refuge has both 2 bed rooms and dorm rooms, with 120 beds in total. Duvets are provided but you need to bring your own sheet sleeping bag. There are no showers, only a washroom. The refuge is large with a traditional wood pannelled dining room and panoramic views of the mountains as well as friendly staff. The Refuge seemed to be a favourite with families and several people had dogs with them.

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol Photo:

Rifugio Bolzano in South Tyrol

Night 5 – Return to Hotel Cyprianerhof (see above)

Read about our previous day’s hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Getting to South Tyrol

South Tyrol is the north-east corner of Italy, bordering Austria to the north and Switzerland to the west. We flew to Venice Marco Polo Airport and hired a car to drive to the nearest village of St Cyprian, which took around 3 hours. Alternative airports would be Milan Bergamo (2 hrs 50 mins), Innsbruck (1 hr 50 mins), Verona (2 hrs), Venice Treviso (3 hrs). For those using public transport, trains and buses are available from most airports to Bozen/Bolzano and there is a bus (number 185) running from Bolzano to St Cyprian which stops ouside Hotel Cyprianerhof, running around once an hour (journey time 50 mins). The taxi from Bolzano to St Cyprian would take around 30 mins. To compare prices and book Hotels in South Tyrol check out my hotels booking page powered by HotelsCombined

What language are we speaking?

In South Tyrol both German and Italian are widely spoken, since the province was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until 1948, then became part of Italy after WWI.  In the Dolomites we found that German was more commonly used although most locals will easily switch between Italian and German. English is less widely spoken although you will not have a problem in larger hotels and in mountain huts there is generally someone with a little English. Because of the dual languages all towns, villages and mountain huts have two names – both German and Italian. For simplicity in this article I may use just one of the names.

Plan your hiking routes

A good resource for planning your hiking routes in the Dolomites is the website and the South Tyrol Tourism website also has plenty of information to plan your holiday in South Tyrol.

You will find timings for walking routes on the Sentres website. However, be aware that these are times for fit walkers without any stops for rests or photographs. In our experience we found that for each 2-3 hours of the ‘official’ time, we needed to add 30 mins to allow for being less fit and 30 mins for a drink stop in a refuge. So overall we would add 1-2 hours to the times given per day.

We used the Tappeiner 1:25.000 Map No 29 Schlern – Rosengarten – Sciliar – Catinaccio – Latemar – you can order it on Amazon and a similar map was for sale at Cyprianerhof for €9 and probably other places locally. We could not find an English guidebook to the routes we were walking but we found we could navigate fine with just a map as the paths were well marked.

Hiking in the Rosengarten Photo:

Hiking in the Rosengarten

Here are the routes and timings we took

Day 1 – Cyprianerhof to KolnerHütte

  • Official time: 4 hours
  • Actual time without stops: 4 hrs 30 mins
  • Actual time with stops: 6 hours
  • Our route was: Cyprianerhof – Nigerhütte 2 hrs / Nigerhütte – Messnerjoch hütte 1 hr / Messnerjoch hütte – KolnerHütte 1 hr 30 mins

Read about our Day 1 hike – Hiking in the Dolomites – a tour of the Rosengarten

Day 2 – KolnerHütte to Grasleitenhütte

  • Official time: 5 hrs 30 mins
  • Actual time without stops: 6 hrs
  • Actual time with stops: 7 hrs 30 mins
  • Our route was: KolnerHütte – top of Coronelle Pass 1 hr / top of Coronelle Pass – Rif. Vaiolet 1 hr 45 mins / Rif. Vaiolet – Grasleitenpasse 1 hr 30 mins / Grasleitenpasse – Grasseleitenhutte 1 hr 30 mins Warning: very steep climbing with cables over Coronelle Pass

Day 3 – Grasleitenhütte to Schlernhaus

  • Official time: 4 hrs
  • Actual time without stops: 5 hrs
  • Actual time with stops: 7 hrs 30 mins ( we made a 40 min detour to Rif. Alpe di Tires)
  • Our route was: Grasleitenhütte – Rif. Alpe di Tires 3 hrs 25 mins / Rif. Alpe di Tires to cairn at start of plateau 1 hr 20 mins / Cairn at start of plateau to Schlernhaus 1 hr 30 mins. Warning: very steep climbing with cables on final part of route 3 up to Rif. Alpe di Tires

Day 4 – Schlernhaus to Cyprianerhof

  • Official time: 4 hrs 30 mins
  • Actual time without stops: 6 hrs
  • Actual time with stops: 8 hrs
  • Our route was: Schlernhaus – Junction of route 3 & 7 1 hr 50 mins / Junction of route 3 & 7 – Turning to route 7B 1 hr / Turning to route 7B – Tschafonhutte 1 hr / Tschafonhutte – Cyprianerhof 2 hr

Thanks to the South Tyrol Tourism board who hosted my walking tour of the Dolomites.

Hiking in the Dolomites Photo:

Hiking in the Dolomites

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How to spend a perfect day in Montreal

Our Explore Canada Road trip had taken us from Toronto to Montreal, but now we were at journey’s end. Dropping Monty the RV (our recreational vehicle, named after our final destination) back at the Cruise Canada depot, we headed into the city, to enjoy our final day exploring Montreal. In one short day, we fell in love with the charming bilingual Montrealers, discovered something of the city’s history and ate our way through Montreal’s lively food scene. Of course we didn’t see everything, but all the more excuse to return – so here’s our version of a perfect day in Montreal.

How to spend a perfect day in Montreal

Like most visitors to Montreal, we started our day in the old quarter of Vieux Montreal, wandering along Rue Saint-Paul, where funky clothing boutiques mixed with stylish cafés. Meandering through cobbled pedestrian streets, we reached the tourist hub of Place Jaques Cartier, an open square that looks towards the port on one side and the Town Hall on the other.

Vieux Montreal

Vieux Montreal

Spotting an open gateway at the side of the square, we ducked through explore and found a haven of calm in the Governor’s garden behind Chateau Ramezay. The walled garden was laid out as an 18th century style potager, with flowers, vegetables and medicinal herbs, in formal beds enclosed by box hedges. The garden here today is only a small part of the garden that once surrounded this grand house and would have been used as a source of food and healing, as well as genteel relaxation by the first colonists of ‘New France’.

Governor's garden in Montreal

Governor’s garden in Montreal

After soaking up the peaceful atmosphere, we visited the house of Chateau Ramezay, which was built in 1705 by the Governor of Montreal. Despite being one of the oldest and most historic buildings in the city, the the house fell into disrepair at the end of the 19th century and was only rescued from demolition by the efforts of an antiquarian society. We very much enjoyed our visit to the house with its beautiful panelled rooms and interesting displays that told the story of Montreal’s colonial past.

If you go: Chateau Ramezay: 280 Rue Notre-Dame Est, Montréal. Entrance Adults $11, Garden Free.

Chateau Ramezay in Montreal Photo:

Chateau Ramezay in Montreal

Bagels and brunch in the Jewish neighbourhood

From Vieux Montreal, the Boulevard Saint Laurent took us north through some of Montreal’s most interesting neighbourhoods, such as Plateau and Mile End which were home to the Jewish, Portuguese and Greek communities. While many of the old residents have moved out, you’ll still find the ethnic flavour in some of the city’s best loved food institutions. Now there’s a hip and trendy feel as the neighbourhoods have become gentrified, with cool bars and cafés catering for creative types working for the software and video game companies that have replaced the garment industry.

Smoked meat sandwich in Montreal Photo:

Top: Smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz Deli Bottom: St-Viator Bagels in Montreal

Bagels are big in the Jewish neighbourhood with the specialist bakeries of Fairmount and St-Viateur found within a few blocks of each other.  There’s a friendly rivalry with New York over whose bagels are best, although they are quite different to the Montreal bagels, which are baked in a wood fired oven with a sweet maple glaze and more compact texture than their puffy cousins from NYC. We stopped by both bakeries where I can confirm that the warm-from-the-oven bagels are equally delicious, although for visitors I’d favour St-Viator which has a larger shop where you can easily see the bakers at work and the bagels piled high, making it easier to take photos.

Beauty's Bagel in Montreal Photo:

Smoked Salmon Bagel at Beauty’s in Montreal

We stopped for brunch at Beauty’s (93 Mont-Royal West), a classic Jewish diner with blue banquettes and an open kitchen, where they serve smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, as well as sandwiches, pancakes and salads. The restaurant opened in 1942 and is now run by the third generation of the Sckolnick family, with grandfather Hymie who is in his 90s still coming in each day to keep an eye on things.

In the same neighbourhood is Schwartz’s Deli (3895 Boulevard St-Laurent), another Montreal food institution known for their smoked meat sandwiches. At lunchtime the queues stretch down the street, but there are no frills here – you’ll get a mountain of tender smoked salt beef that’s barely contained by the soft fresh white bread and garnished only by a squirt of mustard.

Discovering Montreal’s street-art scene

Coming from Bristol where we have murals by some incredibly talented street artists, I had to stop for a look at some of the street art in Montreal. Every year in June they hold the Mural festival when a parking lot off Boulevard Saint-Laurent is taken over by music and artists creating new works from high up on their cherry-pickers.

Street art in Montreal Photo:

Street art in Montreal

The festival is now in its fourth year and started as a way to encourage regeneration in the area and provide a showcase for some of Montreal’s talented urban artists. Founder André Bathalon told me “our goal is to bring people to the area and they take from it what they want. They might enjoy the mural on the wall but if they want to learn more about the artists, the techniques or particular styles, they can also do that – it’s accessible 24-7 and its free.”

In the area we saw work by local artist Roadsworth whose large scale pieces cover roads and pavements, and Italian Pixel Pancho whose mural was one of the key pieces from this year’s festival. It reminded me so much of the building size pieces that are created in South Bristol for our Upfest festival. Check in at the MURAL offices (3527a Boulevard Saint-Laurent) to pick up a map of the street art locations, book a 2 hour street art tour with Spade & Palacio or  find some of the best urban artists on show at Station 16 Gallery. There’s also the Under Pressure festival in August which has been going for 20 years and focusses on graffiti artists.

Street art in Montreal, Canada Photo:

Street art in Montreal, Canada

Colourful fruit and veg at the Jean-Talon Market

Heading a little further north on Boulevard St Laurent, we reached the Little Italy neighbourhood and the Jean-Talon Market, the largest fruit and veg market in the city. The market is a riot of colour, especially in summer when the freshest local produce is on display. This is a shopping paradise for foodies and chefs and it’s all beautifully presented with each heirloom tomato, rosy radish and even humble potato polished to perfection.

Jean Talon Market in Montreal

Jean Talon Market in Montreal

The punnets of strawberries and soft fruit looked so sweet and tempting and I enjoyed chatting to producers of  specialist products like the ice cider that’s made in Quebec. Since the climate here is too cold for vines, the first French settlers planted apple orchards instead, pressing apple juice and making cider. Like ice wine, the fruit is picked after a frost to intensify the flavours and made into a sweet cider with a concentrated flavour that’s perfect served with blue cheese or fois gras. Of course, thinking of my Christmas menus, I had to buy a bottle to bring home!

If you go: Jean-Talon Market: 7070 Avenue Henri-Julien, Montréal – there is parking but it’s oversubscribed to best to take the metro to Jean-Talon stop.

Jean Talon Market in Montreal Photo:

Jean Talon Market in Montreal

Discovering Montreal’s food truck scene

The late afternoon found us returning to the Entertainment District of Montreal where the Just for Laughs comedy festival was joining forces with the BouffonsMTL food truck festival. Food trailers were arranged around an open courtyard and featured many of Montreal’s top restaurants, who offer street-food versions of their signature dishes at affordable prices. Montreal restaurateur Jorge da Silva works with Michelin star chef Carles Abellan at Tapas24 and told me how he liked to bring his most popular dishes, such as the Cartalan-style paella to the festival, as a way of meeting food lovers and reaching out to a new clientele.

“Montrealers are so proud of their cuisine, when I travel everyone knows Montreal for the food. You have your food institutions but you also have your star chefs. They are competing  but all offering something different and in a nice environment, so that’s where the friendship comes in with all of us.”

Enjoying Paella at the food festival in Montreal Photo:

Enjoying Paella at the food festival in Montreal

We enjoyed a dish of the paella, yellow with saffron and packed with juicy prawns and mussels, finishing with an ice cream from Monsieur Cremeaux, owned by TV chef Martin Juneau. Although I’d have loved to have tried the signature dish of fois gras poutine from the Au Pied de Cochon van, by that time I just had no more space to eat another mouthful.

At the food truck festival in Montreal Photo:

At the food truck festival in Montreal

The BouffonsMTL takes place in July but there are many food festivals in Montreal, so look out for the Montreal a la table restaurant week in November and First Fridays at the Olympic Village where food trucks gather on the first Friday of each month from May. You’ll also find lots of different food trucks at individual locations around the city during the summer months.

Maple Syrup: the sweet taste of Montreal

Québec province produces over 90% of the maple in Canada, so this was top of my list to bring home from Montreal as a souvenir of the trip and pour over my pancakes for that authentic Canadian breakfast. We found a great range of maple syrup and other maple products at Delices Erable & Cie 84, rue St-Paul Est in Vieux Montreal. I loved that they allow you to taste everything on sale, with maple fudge, ice cream and cakes at the take out counter or to eat in their cafe. There are also excellent maple products at Marché Bonsecours, a domed heritage building full of stores selling unique gifts and crafts from Québec, an essential destination for the stylish shopper in Montreal.

Maple syrup in Montreal Photo:

Maple syrup in Montreal

A culinary adventure in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood of Montreal

As evening approached we followed a whim and a recommendation, jumping in a cab for a 10 minute ride to the Little Burgundy District, one of the trendy up and coming neighbourhoods we’d read about. The place we’d been recommended, Joe Beef, was shut but we spotted a taco bar across the road called El Gordo and loved the casual but buzzy atmosphere with a pared back industrial decor, perked up with colourful glasses and Mexican murals. They have an Italian restaurant and pizzeria next door called Gepetto’s which also looked super-popular.  Here’s what we ate: A flavoursome gaspacho with tomato and watermelon $8, a tasy and colourful advocado and tomato salad $12 and a plate of Tacos each 3 for $8-12 washed down with a mojito $10 and beer $6.

If you go: El Gordo 2518 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest. Montreal

Dinner in Montreal Photo:

Dinner in Montreal

The night is still young in Montreal

Using the metro to return to Vieux Montreal, we took one last wander around the old city where many of the buildings were lit up at night. At Place d’Armes, the Notre-Dame Basilica was beautifully illuminated with details picked out in turquoise and midnight blue and a street musician strumming a guitar in the warm night air.

Cathedral in Montreal Photo:

Cathedral in Montreal

The City Hall that we had seen earlier opposite Chateau Ramezay was bathed in pink and nearby we noticed a film of rebellious beavers being projected onto the old stone walls of a building in Place Jacques Cartier. It seems that the ghosts of the past come back to haunt corners of Old Montreal as part of the Cité Mémoire project where dream-like tableaux are projected onto the buildings near where the stories happened. Download the Montreal en Histories app for a guided walking tour of all the different sites around Vieux Montreal – there’s free wifi provided too at information points along the route.

Montreal at night in Canada

Montreal at night in Canada

Where to stay in Montreal

For our last night in Montreal at the end of our Canada RV trip we stayed at the Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel in the heart of downtown Montreal. The hotel is located on a busy avenue in the business district and our room gave us a morning view over the Montreal skyline towards Mont Royal, the park that offers panoramic views over the city.

View from Le Centre Sheraton Montreal and from Mont Royal Park across the city Photo:

Top: View from Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Below: View from Mont Royal Park across the city

The hotel is large (825 rooms) with comfortable, modern bedrooms and ideal for business or leisure travellers who like staying at an international hotel with a wide range of services and amenities. The hotel was a 30 minute walk or 10 minute cab ride from the waterfront and heart of Vieux Montreal. As is the norm in Canadian Hotel there is an additional charge for breakfast unless you book a Club bedroom in which case you have access to the Club Lounge where complimentary buffet breakfast is served as well as snacks and drinks throughout the day.

If you go: Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel, 1201 Boulevard Rene-Levesque West, Montreal

Bedroom at Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Photo:

Bedroom at Le Centre Sheraton Montreal

I hope that I’ve tempted you to visit Montreal, which was certainly one of the highlights of our RV trip. There’s so much to see here that I’m sure you will find whatever makes your perfect day in Montreal.

Read More about Canada’s cities

Vancouver – Three wonderful reasons to visit Vancouver
Calgary – Enjoy 24 hours in Calgary Alberta
Toronto – Waterfront Toronto

Information for Visiting Monteal

You can find more information to plan your visit to Montreal on the Tourism Montreal Website, the Quebec Original Website and also on the Explore Canada Website covering all the things to see and do in Canada.

Our RV (Recreational Vehicle) for the two week Explore Canada Road Trip was provided by Cruise Canada.

To compare prices and book for hotels in Montreal, visit the HotelsCombined website where you can find the best prices from a range of different booking sites.

My visit to Montreal was part of the Explore Canada Road Trip, a project with Travelator Media and Explore Canada

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