Montreal: Bonjour, hi!

Formula One is a harsh mistress, a sport of relentless pace, intense pressure to perform, and one in which the demands on body and mind are extreme.

Ok, yes, the racing bit is quite hard, but on this occasion the intensity comes from heading into the back end of the traditional double header formed of Monaco and this weekend's race, the Canadian Grand Prix.

It's one of the thoroughly admirable, if a little painful, peculiarities of the F1 calendar that for as long as anyone can remember, the world's most famous street race and its Canuck cousin (the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is effectively run on public roads) have been paired together in a helter-skelter fortnight in which the glamour of the Principality is swiftly followed by the full-on festival feel of Montreal.

The Quebec city has been almost ever-present on the F1 schedule since 1978 (this will be the 38th race at the Ile Notre Dame) and over the decades it has successfully expanded the grand prix atmosphere beyond the race's island home to encompass a huge week-long party wholly focused on racing.

From Crescent Street and its F1-themes parties, which now see the surrounding streets closed off to traffic for events linked to the race, to the Old Town and beyond, the city centre buzzes with grand prix fervour, with concerts, displays of supercars and any number of pop-up bars and food stands celebrating Formula One's first seasonal trip to North America.

It's not just the race parties that make Montreal special, though. There's an easy charm about the city that makes it a great race destination, a French-Canadian attitude of laissez-faire 'whateverness' that chimes perfectly with more routine North American service culture. It's a place where the multi-culturally cheery "bonjour, hi" that comes with your morning coffee is more often than not delivered with real intent, rather than in a manner other than something learned from a customer service chart. It's a town of superb restaurants, great nightlife and buzzing districts such as the Old Town, the hipster hangouts of Mile End and Mile-Ex, leafy Plateau and Little Italy.

Of course there are downsides and hazards to Montreal being a city full of places where one can while away the hours engaging in keen-edged social discourse over a refreshing beverage or 11. It's also a place where that sort of activity will inevitably lead to the dark underbelly of the city's culture – yes, we're talking about the Montreal madness that is poutine.

This is the Quebecoise equivalent of a deep-fried Mars bar, the sort of thing that seems like great fun at three in the morning as you fall out of a bar but which ... well, it just isn't. Essentially it's chips, smothered in something called cheese curd (the sound of those words alone is enough to make you run screaming) and then slathered with gravy of unknown provenance. "Hello, waiter, I'd like a lot of fried potatoes, some thick, white cheesy stuff and lashings of brown glue, please. Oh, yes, and could you also please point me in the direction of the nearest defibrillator?" You have been warned.

What about the circuit? First and foremost: it's easy to get to, as the subway goes straight there from the centre of town. Secondly, it's a cool circuit. As mentioned, it's pretty much a street circuit in that the grand prix weekend is the only time it's used for racing and we're on the roads of the Parc Jean Drapeau.

It's got plenty of thrills too. The hairpin, framed by close, tall grandstands that provide a fantastic atmosphere, is always the scene of great overtaking moves, and of course there's the infamous Wall of Champions, the exit of the final chicane that frequently brings the most elevated stars crashing to earth.

There are changes afoot, however. The fact that 2017's cars are so much faster than their predecessors has meant that changes in the name of safety are inevitable. This is largely down to having to recalibrate distances a car might travel off track and the angles that departure might take. The result is that gravel traps will be replaced with asphalt run-offs. Thankfully, the circuit layout is not set to change, meaning that in large part the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve will remain the same high-speed, heavy braking, close-walled challenge it was when the man whose name it bears first raced to victory here almost 40 years ago.

There isn't much more to say. Montreal is one of the season's great race destinations, featuring a circuit that harks back to the golden age, a city that provides a vast and varied playground and racing that is often right at the edge of human and mechanical limitations. It's an easy cross, really. Boxes ticked, flight booked, "bonjour, hi!"