Nathalie Bondil at the Golden Square Mile, Montreal

Photographs by Alexi Hobbs.
Cultural institutions give the Golden Square Mile neighborhood its heady buzz, but travelers are never far from the city’s wilder side.

“My parents believed that travel was an important part of my education. I am French, but I was born in Barcelona, where my dad represented a French bank. My family moved to Morocco when I was little, and later to Provence, France. I studied art history at the Louvre in Paris, and after graduation, work took me to Amsterdam and New York City. In 1999, I moved to Montreal, and even though it is a small city—an island, really—it is a true multicultural hub. That was a complete surprise to me.

At first I didn’t think I’d ever stay here, because I’m not a cold-weather person, but the people are so warm and hospitable that the city swallowed me up. In 2007, I was appointed chief curator and director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The museum is located downtown on Sherbrooke Street in a neighborhood called the Golden Square Mile. The area earned its name because this is where 70 percent of the richest families in Canada had their homes in the mid-19th century. Creativity is everywhere in this neighborhood. I find constant inspiration here. The museum is situated between the campuses of McGill University and Concordia University’s St. George campus, and we are close to other great cultural institutions, such as the Redpath Natural History Museum. I like to think we put on dynamic exhibitions. I am excited about the current one, dedicated to expressionism in France and Germany on the eve of the First World War. It runs through January 25 and explores how the two countries exchanged ideas through a time of conflict.

At the museum, I’m just a short way from Mount Royal, a gorgeous park that was conceived by Frederick Law Olmsted, the man who designed Central Park. Mount Royal is much wilder. Having lived for so long in Paris, when I spot a fox in a city park here—Wow!

Summer and winter are very different experiences. People who love sports will snowshoe or ski in the park. People like me, who do not do any sports, we stay inside. Come spring, everyone is tired of winter and flocks outside to festivals and food markets.

Montreal is a fantastic city for food all year round. In the Golden Square Mile, there’s a place for every budget. You can dine at the restaurants of international star chefs such as Daniel Boulud, whose Maison Boulud is in the Ritz-Carlton hotel, or eat for $5 and have great Ethiopian food. And even though I have lived in New York City, I think Montreal has the best bagels. We also have incredible farmers’ markets. Atwater Market is not far from the museum, and I go with my 15-year-old daughter to shop and eat. I appreciate how you can be in direct contact with the local producers, and I just love the delicious cheeses. I’m French, so cheese is very important for me. Maybe that’s why I feel so at home here.”

See Nathalie Bondil’s favorite spots here.

This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue.