A visit to Manoir Hovey in North Hatley

Photo: Photo provided by Manoir Hovey

Manoir Hovey is surrounded by beautiful English gardens in the summer and is shaded by many mature birch, maple and evergreen trees. Overlooking the 14-km long Lake Massawippi, the manor is an idyllic spot for a relaxing vacation at any time of year.

After a leisurely drive from Quebec City through the Eastern Townships to North Hatley, we arrived at the bucolic site of the Manoir Hovey on the shores of Lake Massawippi. Surrounded by birch, pine and maple trees, and, in the summer, a beautiful English-style garden, the manor boasts breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding countryside.

The Manoir has a long and fascinating history. "The Birches" was built as a summer home in 1900 by the president of Georgia Power, Henry Atkinson, from Atlanta. His lakeside retreat became "almost a summer camp for adults" according to the inn's executive director, Jason Stafford. With its broad, white-pillared veranda, the building's design was inspired by "Mount Vernon," George Washington's home in Virginia. In 1950 the property was purchased by Montrealer Robert Brown, who converted it to a prestigious country inn. Brown renamed it Manoir Hovey, after Col. Ebenezer Hovey, one the original settlers of North Hatley in 1785. The Stafford family have operated the inn since 1979.

This luxurious and well-appointed country manor is reported to be the favourite spot for well-known Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny to get away from it all. The hotel in her book The Murder Stone was inspired by Manoir Hovey. She and her husband frequently visit the "scene of the crime," so to speak, staying in a different room each time. The inn has 37 beautiful bedrooms and suites, each one individually and uniquely decorated, from traditional to contemporary.

Improvements have been made to the building continually over the years, but always with an eye to retaining the origins and ambiance of this very special place. Most rooms have private balconies and a panoramic view of the lake. Many contain antiques that were purchased by the original owner, Henry Atkinson.

A cozy library, with a large fireplace and a blazing fire, welcomed us. We discovered that many of the books in the library date from Atkinson's time, some with his signature in them. A guest from France who has been to the Manoir on several occasions said he felt "right at home" here. The Tap Room, a relaxing bar and lounge, was once the original coach house where Atkinson kept his collection of coaches. It boasts a vast fireplace, one of the 30 of various sizes throughout the inn. For safety reasons, propane, not wood, is the fuel used in the fireplaces in most of the bedrooms and suites. A large room suitable for receptions and conferences, with all the modern technological conveniences, adjoins the Tap Room.

Some of the Manoir's suites are ingeniously fitted into former servants' quarters, the ice house, pump house and caretaker's residence on the hillside surrounding the main building. Looking deceptively normal and even rustic from the outside, the inside is another world of jaw-dropping luxury. With plenty of room for family or friends, kitchen facilities if you wish to prepare your own meals, and your own private pool just outside, what better way to get away from the hubbub of city life.
Le Hatley, a CAA four-diamond restaurant in the manor, features fine regional cuisine and an extensive wine list. It is open to the general public as well as hotel guests. We enjoyed a selection of gourmet treats from the seasonal menu with wines selected by the sommelier, while feasting our eyes on the autumnal views of the lake. Executive chef Roland Ménard has been with the Manoir for 32 years. Ménard, chef Francis Wolf and sous-chef Andy Shun are all Quebecers with years of training and experience in reputable restaurants. Our delicious meal was beautifully prepared and presented by very professional staff.

Executive director Jason Stafford told us that he literally grew up in the Manoir; he was only six when his parents, Stephen and Kathryn Stafford, bought it in 1979. He is, in fact, the third generation of hotel keepers in the area. In 1945, grandparents Archie and Elizabeth Stafford built Ripplecove Lakefront Hotel near Ayer's Cliff at the other end of Lake Massawippi. Since the mid-1980s, that luxury hotel has been owned and operated by Jason's aunt and uncle, Debra and Jeffrey Stafford.

Manoir Hovey has much to offer in outdoor activities. Summer guests can enjoy a tennis court, heated swimming pool, beachfront and jetty on the lake with kayaks and rowboats, and cycling (bikes and helmets are provided by the hotel). In the winter there is skating, an introduction to ice fishing on the lake, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on the extensive property.

There is much to do in the surrounding area. In the autumn, there are guided cruises on the lake where you can enjoy the flamboyant scenery. In the village of Glen Sutton nearby, there is VéloVolant, an innovative activity where, if you are brave enough, you can "soar through the treetops" on a suspended recumbent bicycle. Once the snow is on the ground, which shouldn't be much longer, skiers can take advantage of several hills in the area at Mount Orford, Owls Head and at Jay Peak across the border in Vermont, just 30 minutes away.

Many enticing packages are available at the award-winning inn, including a four-course terroir dinner in Le Hatley dining room, a relaxing night's sleep in a luxurious room and a scrumptious country breakfast. Special packages include Christmas and New Year's dinners. Packages change from season to season.

The Manoir Hovey is a member of the Relais & Châteaux, an association of the world's finest hôteliers, chefs and restaurateurs that has set the standard of excellence in hospitality since 1941. Established in France, the association counts over 520 member hotels and restaurants around the world. There are only 13 in all of Canada, six in the province of Quebec, including the Manoir Hovey and the Auberge Saint-Antoine in Quebec City, which is owned and operated by the Price Family.

After a delicious country breakfast and a guided tour of the resort, we bade a fond farewell to the staff of Manoir Hovey. I am sure we will be back sometime soon.

For further details on the Manoir Hovey, visit http://www.manoirhovey.com/en  

Room rates vary from $95 per person per day for a standard room to $199 per person per day for a Luxury Suite. Package deals including lodging, fine cuisine dinner, gourmet breakfast, gratuities and on-site activities are also available for these and and other special suites and hillside cottages.