Not a lot of downtown urban hotels can boast 2 1/2 acres of lush, landscaped gardens where guests can lounge on Muskoka chairs, listening to the sound of birds in the towering trees, and watching ducks paddle under walkways and around waterfalls. Even fewer hotels can say that their garden – and the hotel itself – sits 17 floors above ground, on an historic landmark with global bragging rights. Only the Hotel Bonaventure can offer all this and much more. Because as Henk and I discovered on a recent weekend stay, this is a Montreal 4-star hotel like no other.
History of Hotel Bonaventure and Place Bonaventure
The history of the Hotel Bonaventure dates back to 1963, when the Canadian National Railways company submitted a proposal to purchase the ‘air rights’ above their downtown Montreal railway lines in order to construct a massive commercial complex above them. Called Place Bonaventure, the new mega-building would host conventions with massive spaces for exhibitions and trade halls and function as a wholesale commercial trade centre for big name fashion brands, furniture and toy companies.
Completed just in time to welcome the world for Expo ’67, Montreal’s world fair, Place Bonaventure was a staggering 3.1 million square feet in size, making it the largest building in the world at the time, toppling the title previously held by the Empire State Building in New York. Taking up an entire city block, it’s no surprise that this massive structure was nicknamed by locals as “The Fortress”.
And sitting above it all was a multi-floored “penthouse” oasis: the Hotel Bonaventure, a prestigious hotel perched atop this downtown monolith.
A Brute or a Beaut?
Place Bonaventure was built in the architectural style known as brutalism, a modernist, non-conformist aesthetic that became popular in the late 1960’s and early ’70s whose look typically elicits a love-it-or-hate-it response from the public at large. (Usually hate.) Characterized by the use of concrete as the primary building material and simple, rectilinear shapes, brutalist buildings were popping up in other places in Montreal at the same time as Place Bonaventure, including the McLennan Library at McGill University and a world-renowned residential community close to the Expo ’67 grounds, known as Habitat 67.
Brutalism has its fans, and while I’m not a huge admirer of this particular architectural style, I did come to appreciate the beauty of its ‘complex simplicity’, especially after a visit to Habitat 67. But all that concrete can be imposing for most people, and by 1998 even Place Bonaventure needed a refresh: it was then that many more windows were added to bring more light into the interior, and mitigate its ‘fortress-like’ exterior.
Modern renovation with a nod to the past
Hotel Bonaventure, too, has changed since it first opened its doors, including a recent renovation by the Montreal firm of Lemay-Michaud. Great care was taken by the designers to honour the legacy of the hotel’s architecture, while giving it a contemporary update. The use of concrete is still present in both its exterior and interior spaces, as it was and still is an integral part of the hotel’s original brutalist design. But its effect is softened by the decor and the combination feels both upscale and welcoming.
A Montreal 4 star hotel with an unexpected surprise
When you arrive at Hotel Bonaventure, even the main entrance refuses to conform to a typical hotel. The entrance is an unassuming one at ground level, staffed by a doorman who greets you and directs you up a ramp and inside to the elevators that will take you up to the top floor. It is here that the real beauty of Hotel Bonaventure reveals itself.
Exiting the elevators, guests walk towards reception through a light-filled hall that feels more like a breezeway, with comfortable couches, hanging chairs that offer up a modern boho vibe and floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out onto a large pool on one side, and a lush garden on the other.
It is this unexpected green oasis atop and surrounded by all this concrete severity, that makes the Hotel Bonaventure such a delightful surprise.
The hanging gardens of Bonaventure
While not exactly the mysterious hanging gardens of ancient Babylon, the gardens at Hotel Bonaventure are without a doubt the hotel’s most surprising and unusual feature. Located 17 stories above the ground where you would least expect to find a garden, we aren’t talking about a few pretty planters, but a 2.5 acre mature garden with water features, lush plantings and large trees.
Accessed through doors in the hallway and common areas, the garden’s most striking feature is the babbling brook that winds throughout and even has several year-round resident ducks (thanks to a heater that keeps the water from freezing in the winter).
There are stone pathways and bridges and plenty of annual and perennial plants, including towering evergreens.
There’s even a quiet nook next to a waterfall that is the perfect place for reading a book or just enjoying the fresh air.
A downtown Montreal hotel with a rare, year-round pool
While not as quiet a place as the gardens, the Hotel Bonaventure’s pool is a huge draw for guests. Large and deep enough for grownups to enjoy a proper swim, the pool area is popular all year long, since it is heated and allows guests ‘in the know’ to enjoy a dip even in Montreal’s coldest temperatures (think of it as a mini nordic spa experience). Not many downtown hotels offer you that kind of winter treat!
Henk and I happened to be visiting during an unusually late summer heat wave, so we made sure to carve out some time to enjoy some snacks and adult beverages poolside. There’s a great BBQ/bar next to the pool that serves up grilled favourites and even pizza, and a great range of drinks to go with them.
TIP: If you need absolute quiet when you sleep, opt for a hotel room that does not overlook the pool as it can get very busy (and noisy).
Renovated, light-filled rooms
Hotel Bonaventure’s rooms, like the common areas, have been recently renovated, with contemporary, streamlined decor and all the usual amenities. I am always a fan of any hotel that offers cozy, plush robes and super comfortable mattresses and linens, and Hotel Bonaventure has all of the above.
Plus, large windows with a built-in bench seat mean there is plenty of light when you want it (despite the building’s ‘Fortress’ nickname) and nice views of either the city or the interior gardens.
Above all, super service
Beyond its rooms and amenities, the true hallmark of a great hotel stay is the service that the staff provides, and Hotel Bonaventure does everything possible to accommodate its guests with extra touches that make you feel welcome. (Hint: be sure to mention if it as special occasion during your visit!).
From the personable doorman who has worked here for an astonishing 40 years, to the front desk staff who checked us in, the Hotel Bonaventure made us feel both at home and spoiled.
But even Henk and I were surprised when we received a knock on the door after our visit to the pool to find a staff member delivering us a fresh pair of robes. We thought there might have been a mistake, and that the robes were being delivered to the wrong room. But when we asked the front desk, they explained that when we had signed our poolside snacks and drinks charges to our room, the staff knew we had been at the pool, and thought we would appreciate fresh, dry robes for our room. How is that for service!
We give our weekend at Montreal’s Hotel Bonaventure 4 stars!
Our weekend at Hotel Bonaventure gave Henk and I a taste for ‘penthouse living’ with the hotel’s notable architecture and design, private green oasis and happening rooftop pool scene. But above all, it was the service we experienced there that took our stay at the Bonaventure ‘up’ a notch. Seventeen stories up, in fact.
Special thanks to the management of Hotel Bonaventure who hosted Henk and I on our weekend in Montreal.
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR HOTEL BONAVENTURE:
Getting here: If you are arriving by car, speak with the doorman who can help you with self-parking. In non-Covid times, there is also valet parking available.
If you are arriving by train, the train station (Gare Central) is located right across the street.
Location: Hotel Bonaventure’s location right in the heart of downtown Montreal can’t be beat. It is only 1 km from Montreal’s entertainment district hub, the Quartier des Spectacles, where events like the world-famous jazz festival are held. The Museum of Fine Arts, McGill University and plenty of shopping near Sherbrooke Street are also just a short walk away.
Dining: Le Bisco restaurant was where Henk and I had our breakfast (with plenty of a la carte options included with our package). The restaurant has a more casual feel, many of the tables have nice views of the gardens and there’s even an outdoor patio. Or you can try the Le Kube resto-bar for more ‘grownup’ drinks and meals.
Covid Restrictions: Check with Hotel Bonaventure for their most current policies and requirements for guests.
Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established GrownupTravels.com in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.