It was on a “repositioning day” from Montreal to Whitefield, NH, in June of 2013 that for a second time I got well into the Eastern Townships of Canada. In that post I told you “… I cannot wait to get back. Some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen and most pristine properties. And then I got to my first Chemin Des Cantons – Knowlton, where I strolled around. Intriguing looking restaurants everywhere, shops… ” Well, I finally got back, on a mission with friends, and “I cannot wait to get back again.”
Several years ago Ms. T loaned me a bag of Louise Penny mystery books, but sadly I never got into them. Last year she and a friend journeyed overnight to Knowlton, vowing to return. A few months ago I was encouraged to pick up and read STILL LIFE. I have now found award winning Louise Penny a brilliant writer filling her tales with intriguing paths of learning and characters that are flawed. There is so much psychology revealed by her characters and you get to understand yourself and others better.
Set in Three Pines in the Eastern Townships, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is the quiet hero who heads murder investigations, and becomes good friends with the town’s residents. I became hooked, and in conversations with Tara, Carolyn, and Chris, we needed to search for Three Pines. But alas, Louise has created the town from an assemblage of places in the Eastern Townships all a short distance from Knowlton. Did you know you can get there in only three hours? We met briefly, reviewed the “inspiration” map below (which you can click on to enlarge), and booked our rooms.
Leaving early on Tuesday the 14th, we crossed a remote border spot (again, you know I love those) and headed to Sutton to have lunch, but also to see the inspiration Boulangerie (below) for THE CRUELEST MONTH.
Then we circled up through Cowansville, through Bromont, then east to Route 243 to head south to Knowlton, passing along the east side of Lac Brome. Lodging was booked at Auberge Knowlton, built in 1849, and the oldest continuously operating hotel in the Eastern Townships. Considered to be the B&B and dining room that Inspector Gamache stays at, Louise Penny is often to be found here. Our host said that the week before she had dinner three evenings there, and recently Louise’s good friend Hillary and husband Bill (along with a number of cloaked gentlemen) enjoyed the fare. Note the duck – more on that later.
and, a side view
and, where we spent our time, the second floor porch. Sitting with wine, cheese, and our new best friends (also on Louise Penny pilgrimages) along with our host. I never got to read a single page, or even have to recharge the battery on my laptop. We talked and talked – that is except when a 53 foot tractor trailer, or massive dump truck went by. Ends up this is the busiest intersection in Canada. Well, it seemed that way, we laughed about it, but never a sound was heard inside.
Before dinner we went for a walk, and YES, we had found THREE PINES.
Knowlton is the base camp for Louise Penny fans, and the bookstore (also to be found in Three Pines) the Center of the Gamache World. This building (on the site of an old mill) was built in the 1980s, but wonderfully done in the style of the Victorian village. One must remember, the Eastern Townships really only got populated in the late 19th century.
A nice bookstore, new books, but not many, it is probably the Gamache pilgrims that keep the shop alive. Here is the Louise Penny corner.
It was then dinner time back at the B&B, and I had (believe it or not) Duck Breasts (more on that later).
Wednesday and also Thursday mornings we walked around the corner, crossed Coldbrook, and took breakfast at the Star Cafe. Built as a tannery in 1843, a fire in 1903 left only the stone walls. Restoration in 2009 created this wonderful place to eat.
I did not get a picture of my colorful breakfast on Wednesday (just like in Deep River the week before), but did capture my French Toast on Thursday (just like in Deep River). The breads in the Townships are amazing.
Sometimes I (and this time we) have too much fun. Here is the smallest in Knowlton sitting in the largest.
If you only visit Knowlton for the day (possible from here), you have to visit the Brome County Historical Society, and its buildings and exhibits. I remember driving by in 2013, took a picture of the sign then, but we spent over 1 and 1/2 hours there – worth the trip.
Here are some images around the museum, and, as you know, you can click my “galleries” for larger images.
There is so much to see, and learn, but here are a few panels of information I need to share (and you can click and enlarge for larger type if need be).
This exhibit on bringing children to Canada from the British Isles was fascinating. Pondering why we (the US) did not do something like this, it hit me “Canada, a British colony, was solving a British problem.
RAY RECOMMENDS — Visit the Museum in Knowlton.
Touring the streets, here is some “street art.” How many handbills have been posted over time?
Remember I said I would be back to Ducks? Remember the duck on the Auberge Knowlton sign? Well, there are duck images on all the poles in town. Why you ask? Seems as though over 3,000,000 ducks are annually raised in town for human consumption. You see duck on every menu – not so in the states. We visited the facility, and below is some of what you can buy.
We then had lunch on a porch along the river. Just so relaxing here – I think I have another RLI and Stockbridge.
Walking around a tad — HERE IS WHY YOU VISIT
THE EASTERN TOWNSHIPS
There is a small gated bridge crossing the brook – crawling under the broken gate, here is looking to the mill pond, now filling in
and back to the “main drag” and bookstore
One of our party (remaining nameless) then retired for a nap, and the hardy drove on touring remote roads heading around Lac Brome clockwise. At the top of the lake was a visitor center in the original Foster Railway Station (moved to that spot) and I obtained great travel literature for upcoming adventures. Diner then was outside at the Knowlton Pub. Following was another amazing evening on the porch with our host, wine, Louise Penny aficionados, and trucks. “Throw me in that briar patch,” says RAY.
Thursday plan was to head further east, first to the Abbey de Saint Benoit du Lac (Cathy and I visited many times) where one of Louise’s books is set, and then to North Hatley and the Manoir Hovey, the setting of her fourth book – A RULE AGAINST MURDER – which I was reading at the time, and finished last night (late).
Built for the Robber Barons on Lac Massawippi, the hotel and grounds provide an early 20th century experience at a high end 21st century price. We took a look at the lunch menu in the tap room. It was not the price that kept us from staying – there was nothing intriguing on the menu. But maybe someday I will stay with someone.
but, the view onto the lake,
Here is a galley of views in the common areas we experienced. I have no idea why the books in an inn’s library are what I, as a bookseller, would be tossing to be recycled into new books.
And, then it was onto North Hatley. Just three hours from home by direct route (play with Google Maps), and I am ready to head back. What a perfect, lakeside, bucolic village, and attuned for visitors.
many places to eat, but we sat outside here
Again, amazing meals, and amazing presentation. Here is my Mexican salad.
For a day plus we debated how to cross back into the states. A friend recently told us he spent two hours awaiting customs returning from Montreal, but that was a Sunday, and on I-89. But here we were close to the I-91 crossing. Would it be as horrendous? But it was Thursday afternoon – let’s take a chance. I looked at the map. Route 143 would take us almost to the border at Derby Line. Let’s go for it, we decided. GOOD CHOICE – Route 143 from North Hatley to Stanstead has the most gorgeous vistas I have experienced. But, sadly in minutes we were at the junction with Canada Interstate 55. I hopped on, and before I could get up to speed we were at the border. Hours wait? NO, I was the second car in line, and we sailed through. Of course, I did get looks with a cargo of three ladies.
1 – Learn all you can about the Eastern Townships, and visit, and visit often
2 – You do not even have to get Canadian money. You can use a credit card for everything, and the best part — the EXCHANGE RATE. I can remember spending $1.20 US for a Canadian dollar, and I can remember times with an even exchange. BUT RIGHT NOW – 76 cents gets a Canadian dollar – I researched, but cannot find out why. What that means is that my two nights lodging and all meals for three days cost me $360 USD.
3 – Travel Route 143 from the Border to North Hatley
4 – Start reading Louise Penny mysteries
5 – AND, travel NOW to the Eastern Townships
I will head back soon, thanks for traveling with me, yours, RAY