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(2011 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: J.L.SCHARF

Although Québec’s turbulent 400-year history about the struggle between French and British occupation is legendary, it was Colonel Ebenezer Hovey, a native of Connecticut, who, in 1785, was among the first pioneers of the Hatley settlement.

I learned of Ebenezer’s story during a recent stay at Manoir Hovey. Following the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Crown granted Colonel Hovey a large tract of land directly across from Lake Massawippi. Henry Atkinson, then owner of Georgia Power in Atlanta, built “The Birches” as a summer home in 1900, which was inspired by George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Virginia. The home, broad of veranda and white of pillar, now lends its very considerable charm to Manoir Hovey.

Relais & Châteaux Member

Today, Manoir Hovey is a five-star member among the Relais & Châteaux properties, which are evaluated in accordance to the group’s traditional “five C” categories: character, courtesy, calm, charm and cuisine. Manoir Hovey excels in all five.

Our visit began with a leisurely drive to the Eastern Townships from Montréal. We left the bustle of the highway to wind along scenic roads banked by pastoral settings and lined with farmlands ready for harvest to Lake Massawippi. The Manoir is situated on 600 metres of lakefront property, set away from the shore, tucked in amongst trees and evergreens and surrounded by large fragrant English gardens. 

I love big old houses and, given the freedom to explore one so impressive, I was in heaven. Off the main entrance, I found the Atkinson Library, a charming room with an immense fireplace and home to an impressive collection of books by the original owner. Across from the library, the manor’s dining room, Le Hatley, has been completely reinvented to capture the natural light and splendid panoramic view of Lake Massawippi amidst the forest of white birch trees.

French doors opened onto the Hovey grounds where outdoor terraces and sculpted lawns offered places to sit and leisurely enjoy the garden and lake views. Beyond the main house, the Tap Room in the carriage house offered cocktails and a casual lunch menu, either outside on the wide veranda or inside where it was cosy and comfortable. For active guests, there were lighted clay tennis courts near the shoreline, two small sandy beaches, windsurf boards as well as canoes, kayaks and paddleboats for cruising the gentle Massawippi waters. In the barn, a fleet of 12-speed bicycles was ready for touring the manor lanes while an outdoor heated swimming pool nestled in a rock garden equipped with chaises longues, a refreshments bar and a towel station awaited those who preferred to relax poolside or dockside.

Categorized as a superior room, ours was situated on the second floor in the main building. It was spacious, bright, decorated with traditional Québec and Canadian antique furnishings and outfitted with the contemporary comforts of a flat-screen television, an espresso machine and available Wi-Fi. Further exploration brought me to a massage room, where I was tempted to make an appointment, and a fitness room where free weights and treadmills provided me the opportunity to shed the extra pounds I had gained in the dining room.

Elegant Dining

Local delights such as buttery croissants, fruit smoothies and crunchy almond-baked granola were a prelude to hot dishes featuring Eggs Benedict, omelettes, French toast and pancakes. On the veranda, lunch tables set with silver on white linen served as an elegant background for fresh homegrown salads, deluxe burgers and sandwiches. For more of a casual country ambience, one could also choose a box lunch to enjoy down at the docks.

The dinner menu was as varied as the season’s bounty. Fresh organic herbs and vegetables from the Manoir’s gardens were thoughtfully incorporated into new menus, highlighting the flavours of venison, duck, quail, beef and fish. A seven-course discovery menu with wine pairing presented by the Manoir’s sommelier was a true sampling of the fine cuisine for which the Manoir is renowned.

What stood out most was the high level of service from every member of the Manoir Hovey team. As guests, quite frankly, we fell under their spell and only once we had departed did we realize how pampered we had been. We were prized and welcomed from the moment we entered the Hovey world. Housekeeping was never seen, invisible gardeners watered and pruned, and the staff seamlessly catered to our every whim often without us knowing we even had one. The dining room staff performed a perfect ballet daily, hovering between tables, yielding to servers with a slight touch of hand and balancing courses with the orchestrated choreography of a prima ballerina and her attending troupe.

It must be the southern influence. Ebenezer would be proud.

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