A Charming Canadian Escape
Story by Ruth J. Katz
Photographs courtesy of Manoir Hovey
you've traveled along the River Road in Louisiana, visiting restored
plantations and learning about the Civil War from a Southerner's point
of view, then you've listened to the period-costumed guide-interpreters
more often than not refer to the Civil War as "that recent unpleasantness."
Here it is, 150 later, and Southerners still seem to be harboring a
grudge. Well, if that is fact, then you can just imagine how those who
resided south of the Mason-Dixon Line way back when felt
after the war.
It is likely that in 1900, Henry Atkinson, owner of
Georgia Power in Atlanta, still felt a little of that antipathy toward
the North when he was looking for a cooler, seasonal destination for
his family; he decided to bypass Yankee Land and made a beeline for
Canada, to the environs of North Hatley, in the Eastern Townships of
(Although it is perhaps apocryphal, it's said that Southerners of that
period, who journeyed northward toward Canada thankfully bypassing
New England would lower the shades of their private railway cars
as they wended their way through the North.)
North Hatley itself was first settled by British loyalists
who had abandoned New England after that other "unpleasantness,"
the Revolutionary War. It was Colonel Ebenezer Hovey, one of these early
settlers, who was granted a large tract of land by the Crown in 1785.
A prime site in the settlement would become "The
Birches," Atkinson's home, which was modeled after George Washington's
stately Mount Vernon. By the 1940s, the Atkinson family stopped vacationing
in North Hatley and the property was sold. Montrealer Robert Brown purchased
the estate in 1950 and converted it into a gracious inn and in 1979,
Kathryn and Stephen Stafford assumed ownership.
They have transformed it ever-so-handsomely into a truly
fine, restful Relais & Châteaux retreat, Manoir
Hovey. Situated on Lake Massawippi (meaning an abundance of clear
water), it is an ideal site for a serene sanctuary. (And it's worth
noting that it is a mere twenty minutes over the border from Vermont
and six hours' driving time from New
As with many properties that are owner-operated (the
Staffords are on premises along with their son, Jason, the general manager),
Manoir Hovey is a reflection of its dedicated, very hands-on owners.
Each room has been lovingly furnished and no two are alike. There are
some slightly more modern-influenced chambers, some that evoke Provence,
others that make an Early American statement, and some a little contemporary,
but not edgy.
There is so much charm here, you'll want to come back
many times to experience the many rooms and there are 30 of them,
along with seven suites, so you'll have plenty of reasons to sign that
guest book several times. A favorite for honeymooners is the Cartier
Suite, a discrete jewel, in a private little cottage, at the water's
edge, with a short dock stretching out onto the lake.
Rooms along the lake side on the second floor of the
main house, all have a capacious balcony and many rooms have a fireplace
or a whirlpool tub, and just about every room sports a view. You will
invariably want to spend your time on the tranquil grounds, idling away
hours, fixated on the scenic lake. With nearly 2,000 feet of lakefront,
exquisite English gardens that provide a swath of rainbow tones, seductive
cuisine, and water sports (kayaks, paddleboards, canoes, and lake cruises),
you may not want to leave the premises' 35 acres. If you do want to
venture forth, but not go too far, the staff can provide you with a
12-speed bike and picnic fixings. There is a tennis court on the property
and a golf course is less than 30 minutes away.
Should you decide you want a more serious outing, Montreal
is about an hour-and-a-half away, but short of that, there are a few
sights within a stone's throw. One you'll certainly want to visit is
the Parks of the Coaticook
River Valley. Among destinations within the park is the longest
suspended footbridge in the world-over 550 feet end-to-end and nearly
175 feet high up. There is horseback-riding as well as pony rides, and
mountain-biking in the park; in the winter, there is snow-tubing, ice-climbing,
and snowshoeing. There are three main loops with trails and the views,
particularly in autumn, are stunning.
Also near Manoir Hovey is the Abbey
of Saint-Benoit-du-Lac, founded in 1912 by French monks. Located
on Lake Memphremagog, the Abbey is assuredly worth a visit, but first
check the schedule for the times when the monks will be in the sanctuary,
intoning ethereal Gregorian chants. The monks also produce cheese, cider,
cider vinegar, apple treats, and chocolate, so visit the shop before
If you are interested in more cheese, then it's worth
a trip to La
Station de Compton, fine cheese-makers for four generations. Here
you can sample some truly delicious local favorites, including Raclette
de Compton, Comtomme Signature, Chemin Hatley, and Alfred le Fermier.
And what would cheese be without wine? There are a dozen
(!) wineries to visit within the area, and the newest among them is
Bergeville, opened in 2014. It is just five minutes from Manoir
Hovey and is the only winery in Quebec producing sparkling wines only.
Not parenthetically, if sampling wine and cheese and listening to Gregorian
chants appeal to you as the perfect activities for an ideal day's jaunt
, then you are in luck, as Manoir Hovey has created a
value-oriented package that includes all three, along with an enticing
room rate, and some meals; additionally, there are other interesting,
activity-oriented, hotel-cum-attraction packages.
Feeling more adventurous? Try the Velo
Volant, a dare-devil's bicycle jaunt through the canopy of tree
tops. It is a recumbent bike on a zip line that transports you through
the foliage as you pedal 100 feet above the ground. This is one of only
three in the world and it presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
to fly through the greenery!
If, after your meanderings you want a little pampering,
Manoir Hovey's magician of a concierge can set up a date for you at
one of several local spas. If you're too content to venture anywhere,
then the concierge can arrange for a massage therapist to come to you
for a treatment in the hotel's massage chamber. You'll want to finish
up your daytime activities in time for dinner, as the food here is absolutely
Be sure to visit the vegetable and herb gardens on the
property, where you'll likely see half of what will ultimately become
your dinner. Chef de Cuisine Francis Wolf has been wielding his whisk
here for over a dozen years and is in charge of the on-premises restaurant,
Le Hatley. He has spent time in some of Gotham's top kitchens, including
those of Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, and Charlie Palmer; additionally,
he's worked for San Francisco's Gary Danko.
I found the salads (consumed al fresco on the
lovely veranda), so beguiling with all their fresh ingredients, edible
flowers, and local poultry, I ate two a day; expect wonderful delicious
fresh greens, radishes, green beans, celery, almonds, and a few surprises.
More hearty fare includes duck sausage with braised purple kale, parsnips,
mooseberry, mustard, and wild chervil; or, a bolete-mushroom and chicken
ballotine, with corn, white turnips, wild mushrooms, all in a creamy
white-wine sauce. The desserts are all tempting, but I was completely
blown away by the milk chocolate and praline entremets, with hazelnut
crumble, strawberry jelly, a hint of vinegar, honeycomb, and toasted
ice cream. Ummm-ummm good!
If none of this appeals to you, in the wintertime you
can actually have gourmet pizza out on the frozen lake! When the ice
is thick and solid, there is a pizza oven out on the ice and if you're
out there taking a complimentary ice-fishing lesson, a tasty slice or
three of pizza and a warm toddy will feel just right. Additionally,
there are ice-wine tastings and sleigh rides in the winter.
Could you possibly ask for more from such an enchanting
destination? Award-winning Manoir Hovey is, indeed, a revelation, discreetly
tucked away in a bucolic setting. I have never been disappointed in
any Relais & Châteaux property, and Manoir Hovey not only
surprises and delights, but moreover, surpasses the high Relais &
©Ruth J. Katz 2015 All Rights Reserved
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