Québecois Comfort, Just North of the Border
Wedged between the St. Lawrence River and the borders of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, Quebec’s Eastern Townships mix Québécois charm with a healthy dose of Anglo-Saxon culture, courtesy of the British loyalists who settled here in the 1770s and 1780s after fleeing the newly independent United States of America. The land is some of Quebec’s most beautiful, with tiny Victorian villages and resorts nesting among fields, orchards, lakes, and majestic mountains. It’s a popular holiday destination for Québécois, with numerous opportunities for outdoor sports in summer and winter and an autumn that defies description.
Ten-mile-long Lake Massawippi sits in the southeastern part of the Townships, less than a half hour’s drive from the U.S. border, and is its most desirable resort area, especially around the northern end’s North Hatley, a tiny town full of galleries, restaurants, and shops. Wealthy Americans began summering along the lakeshore in the early 20th century to escape the Southern heat, building grand homes that have in many cases been converted into fine inns.
Hovey Manor is one of these. Built in 1899 by Henry Atkinson, an Atlanta electricity baron who arrived every summer accompanied by eighteen servants and ten horses, it was designed in the style of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, with a broad, white-columned veranda. Outside, its 25 hillside acres feature English-style gardens sloping down to two small lake beaches. Inside, the inn is still appointed with many of Atkinson’s original antique furnishings. The inn’s award-winning restaurant (and wine list) delight year-round with dinners accompanied by classical music.
Even more acclaimed for its cuisine, the rambling, Colonial-style Auberge Hatley was built in 1903 by the Scotch-Canadian Holt family. Perched on a hillside above the lake, its twenty-five rooms are decorated with period French or English country pieces, and many have fireplaces, Jacuzzis, and lake-view balconies. In the dining room, waiters whisk away gleaming silver domes to reveal chef Alain Labrie’s innovative takes on traditional French cooking, created with herbs and greens from the inn’s own greenhouse. Those who wish to see how it’s all done can reserve the chef’s table, tucked into an alcove of the kitchen, where he prepares a special seven-course discovery menu accompanied by wines chosen on a pre-dinner visit to the 12,000-bottle wine cellar.
At the southern end of Missawippi, in the town of Ayer’s Cliff, Auberge Ripplecove (owned by Jeffrey Stafford, brother of Hovey Manor owner Steven Stafford), sits directly on the lake, a testament to its beginnings as a 1940s fishing resort. In its modern incarnation, Ripplecove is the most hotel-like of the Massawippi inns, focusing in summer on golf, watersports, tennis, hiking, and horseback riding, and in winter on alpine and cross-country skiing. The thirty-five rooms are uniformly warm, cozy, and charmingly decorated, about half with fireplaces, balconies, and whirlpools.