Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
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Toward the end of this summer, I realized I had a bundle of expiring American Airlines AAdvantage miles that I needed to use before September. More pressingly, I was out of Montréal bagels.
I took my family to the 5-star hotel Le Mount Stephen in Montréal’s Golden Square Mile for 3 nights. This hotel is in a historic part of downtown Montréal and a member of The Leading Hotels in the World (LHW), an association of independent luxury hotels with unique features.
Le Mount Stephen was the home of George Stephen, once the richest man in Canada and one of the country’s industrial and philanthropic giants. The first Canadian to attain peerage, Stephen was also known as Baron Mount Stephen. He commissioned Le Mount Stephen, an Italianate mansion, in 1880, and it was completed in 1883. The 2-story limestone edifice dominates its block in this central spot of the City of Saints.
After the Stephen family sold the property in the 1920s, it became an influential private gentlemen’s club, the unofficial headquarters of Montréal’s most powerful anglophones, and a hotspot for visiting dignitaries, including Princess Margaret, Elizabeth II’s hard-partying sister.
Officially listed as a historic monument by the government of Canada, the building opened as a hotel in the mid-2000s with 90 rooms. It features the biggest hotel suite in the entire city, 10 onyx-and-marble fireplaces, a grand staircase illuminated by stained-glass windows, and a popular restaurant and bar on the ground floor.
Since opening its doors as a hotel, Le Mount Stephen has perennially reached local and international lists of Montréal’s most romantic places and top places to stay for couples. Naturally, my wife and I brought along our 5-year-old.
I booked a Double Queen Room at Le Mount Stephen on AAdvantageHotels.com, spending 126,200 miles for 2 nights. I paid cash for an extra night, which cost $324.89 with fees and taxes, using my Chase Sapphire Reserve®. This card offers a $300 annual travel credit and 3x points on travel, including hotel stays.
The hotel would’ve normally charged CA$439 (about $325) per night for the days we stayed, so the redemption came to about 0.52 cents per mile. That’s far less than our current valuation of 1.4 miles per point for AAdvantage and more in line with a typical redemption from a hotel loyalty program. But all those points would’ve been worth zero cents when they were set to expire a couple of weeks later, so I’m still racking it up as a win.Hot Tip:
There was no mistaking when we’d arrived at Le Mount Stephen in the Golden Square Mile. The neighborhood in the commercial district was once home to Victorian Montréal’s wealthiest and most connected people. It’s now home to many museums, fine-dining restaurants, and high-end shops. And a Tim Horton’s donut shop.
We’d driven to Montréal from New York City, and it was not far from Boulevard René-Lévesque. If we’d flown into Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL), it would’ve been a 15-minute cab ride with good traffic (about CA$40, or $30) or 35 minutes from the airport by Metro (CA$3.75, or $2.80, for a one-way fare).Hot Tip:
You do not have to drive to Montréal. Read our guide to flying to Canada with points and miles.
Instead of immediately confronting a hotel check-in desk after we’d mounted the front steps of the hotel, we found ourselves at the foot of the grand staircase that looked like it hadn’t been altered since Queen Victoria was in mourning clothes.
The host stand for the hotel’s restaurant, Bar George, was just beyond the stairs and preceded the hotel check-in. Check-in was down a hallway to the modern wing of the hotel, where most of the guest rooms were.
The hotel lobby was all bright lights and sharp lines, a dizzying contrast to the warm, burnished woods of the old foyer of the mansion. It was as if we’d jumped straight from a brooding interior study by Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner and landed in a print by Patrick Nagel, that inescapable illustrator of the ’80s.
The front desk receptionist was all smiles as he checked us in quickly and efficiently. He and the other staff continued to greet me by name every time I left or returned to the lobby throughout our stay.
At the end of our stay, when I mentioned I’d had to work through most of my stay, he commiserated with the exactly appropriate level of sympathy. He somehow balanced that with the perfect emotional distance and respect for privacy — and aversion to anything actually personal. In other words, he was the consummate front-of-house hotel employee and also about as Canadian as you could get.
Other LHR properties brag about unique features like being on an African game reserve, but the highlight of Le Mount Stephen is the mansion itself.
The hotel staff welcomed us to explore every part of the hotel, including up the central staircase, framed by those stained-glass windows that made me feel guilty that I wasn’t out searching for the Holy Grail.
The second floor mostly consisted of rentable meeting rooms. We were allowed to linger and explore as much as we wanted — soaking in the history was a feature of the hotel.
There were additional rooms on the ground floor. We didn’t have time to form a cabal of billionaires to secretly control the destiny of Canada, though.
I mostly worked inside our room during the day during our stay, and the free hotel Wi-Fi was easy to use, fast enough to work with relatively large files like high-resolution RAW photos, and consistent — I only got knocked off once. We never streamed videos, though, so I’m not sure how it would’ve handled truly huge files.
There was a small gym in the basement that had the requisite fitness equipment but was unremarkable, as well as a spa that I never got a chance to tour.
The common washrooms were down here, too, and they were kept clean and always smelled like when you first open a tin of Altoids.
There was a nominal business center on the mezzanine overlooking the lobby. It included 2 desktops with monitors and a printer, but it didn’t appear comfortable enough to get in an 8-hour workday. It was more like a place to frenziedly print out your plane tickets 2 hours from takeoff while trying to cram some reasonably healthy breakfast down your children’s gullets.
We parked our car at the hotel’s self-parking underground (CA$35 per night, or about $26) with in-and-out privileges. The parking spaces were tight (like Paris tight) with inconveniently placed structural columns that made some of the spots unusable for all but the narrowest cars.
Our room was on the hotel’s sixth floor, down a dark hallway that continued the lobby’s aesthetics. I wouldn’t have been shocked to run into Grace Jones on her way to buy a late-night Coffee Crisp.
Though we ran into occasional guests (none of whom had ever been in a James Bond movie or put out a New Wave album, as far as I could tell), the hallways were always quiet, and we never had any complaints about noise.
The room continued the clean lines and airiness of the modern lobby without any hint of ’80s garishness.
It was immaculate.
The usual television, coffee maker, narrow desk, and ottoman-cum-luggage rack were there, of course. There was plenty of drawer space for a full week’s stay.
The bottles of water, which housekeeping replenished daily, were free, but the snacks weren’t — they generally ran CA$5 ($3.70). Though they’d stocked Canadian snacking staples like Maynard’s wine gums, the hotel had somehow dropped the ball with barbecue-flavored potato chips instead of ketchup-flavored. Embrace your Canadian-ness, Le Mount Stephen snack-picking guy!
The bathroom was perfectly clean, the terrycloth robes (and slippers) comforting and fluffy, and even the boxes of tissues had been primped to look like gentle, white rose blooms begging you to wipe your noses on them.
Housekeeping replaced all the Italian-made Acca Kappa amenities each day.
There was no bathtub in this room, but the rainfall shower was almost bigger than the bedroom in my first Manhattan apartment. It came with a lighting element that let you change the color of the frosted glass wall that it shared with the bedroom.
I imagine this feature is a big hit with couples. It was definitely a great hit with our kindergartner, serving nicely both as a makeshift nightlight and an incentive to wash up. We had to institute a 2-showers-per-day limit, because this is a hotel bathroom, not a water park, kid.
The toilet had a built-in, electronically controlled Japanese bidet that we decided was the best thing to happen to rear ends since Kim Kardashian circa 2007. And, yes, everything about it fascinated our son to the point that we had to institute a potty limit, too.
If, for some reason, you have to go to Montréal for a work trip and your employer books you and a colleague a room at Le Mount Stephen, you must know this:
Airplane seats can be romantic, too! Seriously. See our recommendations for the best first class seats for couples.
Speaking of work situations, there were USB-A, HDMI, and Ethernet ports on the wall behind the desk.
One of the downsides of Le Mount Stephen was that it didn’t offer a free breakfast, so to eat at the hotel we had to get a table at its only restaurant, Bar George, which wasn’t cheap. My full English breakfast came to CA$29, or $21.
Bar George encompassed both a bar and a restaurant that served food inspired by modern British cuisine. It was evidently a popular place with locals for dinner and drinks.
The bar was a gorgeous space in the old mansion that included cozy sitting rooms and spilled out into an outdoor area in front of the hotel.
I’d made a reservation for breakfast one morning. We probably didn’t need one, though, as the restaurant wasn’t packed around 8 a.m.
The restaurant was separate from the bar. Still, it felt like an extension of the bar and foyer, with coffered ceilings, firework chandeliers, and paintings of Very Serious Personages Who Probably Disapprove of Your Second Cup of Coffee.
The English breakfast was thoroughly satisfying, though the streaky bacon was basically standard American pork belly bacon. It’s hard to beat a properly crispy strip of American-style bacon.
However, the most notable thing with the fry-up was that the beans sat at about 1 o’clock on my plate rather than dead center. I’ve heard from various Brits that the beans are central to the idea of an English breakfast, acting as the figurative (and sometimes literal) glue that holds all the disparate elements together.
Here, though, the eggs, which I admittedly ordered too hard, were supposed to be the star, but I instead ended up marching through each of the parts of the meal one by one. It was like when you’ve brought your darts to the bar and are itching to play 501 or cricket, but everyone else will only play around the world.
Placement and bacon concerns aside, it tasted good. I would order it again, just with runnier eggs. I even liked the black pudding, in which the subtle mellowness of the oatmeal came through instead of being overpowered by the metallic earthiness of the blood.
We also tried the omelet forestière with mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onion, and cheddar. It was nicely fluffy and came with a sumptuous side of duck fat potatoes.
The lightest dish we ordered was a scone with butter and jam. It was thankfully not too sweet.
In the evenings, both the restaurant and bar were consistently packed. When I tried to get into the bar for a cocktail one night, the hostess said there was no room for me but that she could put my name on the waitlist and ring our room when space opened up. I demurred.
If we’d been fancying breakfast in bed, we would have been out of luck. Like at many hotels these days, room service has taken a back seat to maintaining everything else at Le Mount Stephen, and we found neither a room service menu nor mention of room service anywhere else. Instead, we were encouraged to make a reservation at Bar George. There were plenty of places for a quick (or slow) bite within a stone’s throw of the hotel. That included a Tim Horton’s, of course.
From check-in to checkout, the service was extraordinary, perfectly treading that fine line between attentiveness and hovering. I was always addressed by name, necessities were taken care of quickly and with no fuss, and the word “no” had seemingly been banished from the hotel vocabulary. At the same time, no one overdid it by being too solicitous, and everyone gave us the space we needed when we needed it.
Look, I know our stay at Le Mount Stephen won’t win me the Alex Miller 24-Karat Gold Trophy for Best Points Redemption (which I’m just now realizing isn’t a real thing and that I may have been pranked). But it was a memorable stay at a superlative hotel that I expect I’ll always recall fondly.
The service was attentive but never cloying; the room was comfortable and attractive enough that it was sometimes genuinely hard to leave it; and center beans or no center beans, the breakfast was the best I’d had in weeks anywhere. So whether it’s with points or not, I’ll try to stay at Le Mount Stephen again.
Also, I got my bagels.
There’s a lot, but, in a nutshell, it was a home built by one of Canada’s most important people in the 19th century, became a famous private club, and is now a hotel.
Yes, there is on-site parking at Le Mount Stephen. Self-parking costs CA$35 per day (about $26) and includes in-and-out privileges. Bring your smallest car.
No, breakfast is not included with a room at Le Mount Stephen. You can reserve or usually walk in for a table at breakfast at the hotel restaurant, Bar George, which serves modern British cuisine. Rooms come with snacks you can purchase, like CA$5 (about $3.70) barbecue potato chips. There’s also a Tim Horton’s around the corner.
No, Le Mount Stephen does not have a pool. But rooms come with rainfall showers that small, imaginative humans could pretend is a water park.
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Michael Y. Park is a journalist living in New York City. He’s traveled through Afghanistan disguised as a Hazara Shi’ite, slept with polar bears on the Canadian tundra, picnicked with the king and queen of Malaysia, tramped around organic farms in Cuba, ridden the world’s longest train through the Sahara, and choked down gasoline clams in North Korea.
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