Canada's Coziest Getaway Includes Fireside Chess, Hard Cider with Monks, and the Best Grilled Cheese
There is something magnetic in the air of Canada’s Eastern Townships region.
Located smack dab between Quebec City and Montreal, the area's French connection is vividly painted and the spirit of artisan entrepreneurship is palpable. It’s everything a quiet yet thrilling getaway should be and it all begins at an iconic hotel called Manoir Hovey.
Named one of the World's Best Resort Hotels in Canada by Travel + Leisure readers in 2018, Manoir Hovey is a rustic lakeside estate offering gorgeous rooms and suites with cozy fireplaces and balconies with scenic views of the surrounding woodlands. Book the Oriole Suite in the warmer months for its outdoor amenities and the Bellechasse Suite in the colder months for its central location in the main building.
While the hotel's impressive accommodations might have you reluctant to leave your room, the property is full of the details that will truly make your trip unforgettable.
For instance, surround yourself with century-old books in Manoir Hovey’s rustic library while sipping French-pressed, artisanal tea beside a roaring fireplace.
You can also nestle into the vintage teepee on site while drinking cordials and engaging in a fireside chess match. The teepee’s antique ambiance sets the mood for long conversations over Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, and the like.
These unexpected moments weave together to tell the story of Manoir Hovey's legacy. A Relais & Chateaux member, the hotel also serves as a cultural beacon of the Eastern Townships. This plays out beautifully at their signature restaurant, Le Hatley, where a seasonal tasting menu features the region’s diverse bounty of ingredients and makers.
Visit a Castle Monastery Where Gregorian Chanting Monks Make Hard Cider
Yes, you read that right. Both times I’ve visited the Eastern Townships, a trip to the Saint Benedict Abbey has been a standout. It’s included in the Manoir’s Chants, Cheeses & Wine tour, and whisks you into an architectural beauty that has been home to Benedictine monks since 1912.
Each day the monks hold a mass that is electrified with ancient Gregorian chanting. Though the chants are in Latin, it’s impossible not to feel the power that radiates from the chorus across the arched walls. After the inspiring service, an exploration of the grounds leads to mesmerizing hallways of multi-colored granite and fairy tale-like views of Lake Memphremagog.
The monks at Saint Benedict Abbey have invested in self-sustainment, which has resulted in the production of hard apple cider from its orchards and cheese from its cows. We picnicked on both in the monastery, but during warmer months you can enjoy them outside. The monastery also offers silent retreats, which some say completely changed the way they see the world. Reservations are required, and the wait list can be long.
Indulge in the Ultimate Cheese Experience
Fromagerie La Station is more than just a dairy farm, cheese factory, and sandwich shop — it’s a showcasing of real entrepreneurship. The business has been passed down by four generations of farmers, rapidly increasing in size and production. In 2019 the company is opening the doors to an onsite warehouse that will be storing 30,000 wheels of cheese.
Tours of the farm that bring to life the process from milk to cheese are offered daily, but just a taste of the cheese and one of their grilled classics is worthy of a trip in itself. While I was there, I created a sandwich I dubbed the "Eastern Township Grilled Cheese," which infuses one of La Station’s new cheese varietals with maple syrup. Trust me on this one.
Return Home With a New Signature Scent
The last thing I expected from this trip was to reshape the way I saw soap and perfume, but the purchases in my checked baggage on the way home said otherwise. From the magical scents at La Grange du Perfumeur to olive and coconut oil soaps at Savon des Cantons, I couldn't get enough.
La Grange du Perfumeur is helmed by perfumer Alexandra Bachand and her husband, Eric Delbaere. The pair are artists who have been able to craft poetry in motion within their self-dubbed “Barn of the Perfumer.”
The shop is the first perfume house open to the public in Canada. The standout was Bachand’s unisex scent, Dream in Paris. I wasn’t surprised to learn that her work will be featured in an art exhibition that explores historical aromas.
Those who appreciate artisanal soap should make the pilgrimage to Savon des Cantons, a boutique producer of pure olive oil and coconut oil soaps whose infusions range from lavender to coffee. I stocked up on their men’s scents, particularly the Blue Note and Viking. This would be a pretty dapper surprise for any guy who appreciates a high quality, artisan product.
Toast Regional Wine at Boutique Vineyards
The Eastern Township’s scenic Wine Route features 22 vineyards that can be explored by tour, car, or even bicycle. Wine varietals both unique and familiar will be found throughout the trail, which also boasts quaint villages to explore and restaurants to stop at and soak up all that wine.
It’s a Country Getaway You Won’t Forget
When you see the rolling mountains and flat country weave together throughout the townships, you’ll realize that you’re in a very interesting region of Canada’s countryside. Elevated accommodations, historical novelties and the spirit of boutique excellence are prime highlights of the region’s growing tourism scene. Though dotted with lively towns and villages, nightlife here is best served up next to a warm fire and cold whiskey.