A MOVABLE FEAST – This Winter Enjoy Quebec’s Cozy Eastern Township Inns

Flickering flames from the fireplace reflected off the crystal and silverware as we dined on foie gras glazed with wine jelly. Romantic piano music, fresh flowers and attentive service enhanced the ambience. Five more courses followed, each as delicious and exquisitely garnished as the first. The entree was pheasant breast, stuffed with ground pheasant, migneron cheese and apple cider. A poached pear with caramel, walnuts and mint sauce, banana cake filled with maple fudge, warm crème brulée, and chocolate mousse with fresh pineapple salsa formed a carrousel of tiny desserts on a plate Ripplecove Inn’s Gastronomic Menu was a meal to remember, but it was only the first of six memorable dinners that we experienced on the Movable Feast.

Just 12 hours southeast of Montreal (via Hwy. 10) in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, the three Inns of Lake Massawippi have joined their culinary talents to offer this inn-to-inn dining adventure. The package includes two nights at each inn, three six-course gastronomic feasts, three three-course gourmet dinners and six full country breakfasts.

All three inns are CAA/AAA Four Diamond Award winners. Their distinctive Quebecois joie-de-vivre atmosphere permeates the dining rooms. Menus change seasonally to include fresh local produce. Chefs coordinate menus to avoid duplicating items.

Wrapped in Phyllo

At Ripplecove Inn, Chef Marco Guay buys shrimp and scallops from Iles de la Madeleine, cheeses from the Saint Benoit-du-Lac Abbey and vegetables from nearby farmers. Our second dinner here featured an appetizer of shrimp in ginger and saffron, tossed with orzo (rice-shaped pasta) and a candied citrus accent. The entree was veal, spread with a mushroom duxelle, wrapped in phyllo, and served with sun-dried tomato and mango sauce.

The 26-room yellow clapboard inn is in Ayer’s Cliff, at the south end of Lake Massawippi. There are many activities in the area to help burn up calories. Innkeepers Debra and Jeffrey Stafford happily offer suggestions.

We would gladly return to nearby Hovey Manor just to enjoy its maple syrup-sweetened toasted hazelnut granola. The breakfast menu also offers other superb items like Brie and fine herb omelet and walnut pie, but it’s the granola that induces hunger pangs long after our visit.

The 41-room colonnaded manor house is on the north end of Lake Massawippi, near the village of North Hatley. We found it hard to pry ourselves from the comforts of our room: a fireplace, a king-size four-poster bed and a Jacuzzi-for-two, but we wanted to work up appetites for the evening’s feast. Innkeepers Kathy and Steve Stafford recommended a walk through North Hatley.

Chef Roland Menard enlivens Hovey Manor’s menus with fusion cuisine, which marries French techniques with exotic and local ingredients. The menu features Brome Lake duckling breast with rhubarb-ginger compote, Brie waffle and fine herbs. Menard smokes local salmon over hickory chips, and then serves it with roasted sesame seeds and balsamic vinaigrette over mesclun (assorted salad greens). Entrées include grilled veal loin with apricot-pine nut chutney, apple cider and St. Benoit ermite blue cheese sauce. Our only regret was not having room for the chocolate cake with almonds, honey and nougat ice cream.

Even after the gustatory pleasures of Ripplecove Inn and Hovey Manor, Auberge Hatley did not disappoint. The 25-room turn-of-the-century inn is a Relais & Chateaux property. Its cuisine features fresh herbs and edible flowers, grown in the inn’s own greenhouse, which owners Liliane and Robert Gagnon call their “secret garden.

Tourism 2000 Award

A starched pink tablecloth and a bouquet of fresh white daisies adorned our table. Soft music, impeccable service and good wine set the mood. We indulged in Chef Alain Labrie’s signature goat cheese and winter cress salad with a fresh basil, sherry wine vinegar and olive oil dressing. Scarlet and lemon-yellow nasturtiums and violets brightened our salads of crisp organic greens. Citronella flavored a sublime lobster strudel. Fresh rosemary accented roast leg of lamb and garlic polenta. Torn between a trio of crème brulées and a bittersweet chocolate mousse cake, we ordered both and shared.

While these three inns offer a convenient Movable Feast package, epicures can easily create their own inn-to-inn gourmet experience in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. We extended our dining adventure at two smaller inns, both within a scenic hour’s drive of Lake Massawippi.

Built in 1889, the cotton candy-pink Auberge Georgeville is Quebec’s oldest inn. Cordon Bleu-trained Steven Beyrouty, owns the inn with his wife, Megan Seline. When Beyrouty was invited to cook for la crème de la crème of the gastronomic scene at the James Beard House in New York, a couple of years ago, all 81 places sold out. Winner of the CAA/AAA Four Diamond award, four years in a row, and the Quebec Grand Prix de Tourisme 2000 award, the dining room also boasts a selection of 350 wines, 150 from California.

Dishes from the James Beard dinner are on the inn’s five-course menu, which changes every two weeks. Our meal began with twin tartlets of Warwick lake trout and Cookshire goat cheese. Roasted curried couscous and fresh dill garnished one, while sesame cooked wild rice, hazelnuts and pearls of salmon roe adorned the other. Surrounding pools of Gaspe crayfish bisque, with hints of vintage Armagnac and lemongrass added color and contrast.

$40 Feast

Eggplant, dragon-tongue beans, grilled chocolate peppers, yellow beets, and plum carrots (which look like tiny pumpkins) accompanied the entrèe: a perfectly spiced lamb loin with wild garlic, thyme, port, and cedar jelly. An imaginative salad drizzled with maple syrup and Meaux mustard vinaigrette refreshed our palates before dessert. Toasted almond biscotti and whimsical chocolate-dusted meringue mushrooms garnished a frozen Vahlrona chocolate mousse, paired with espresso English custard. A plate of butter sables, chocolate pistachio truffles, royal chocolate mint marquises and sugared orange lanieres concluded the dinner.

The entire feast costs only $40 a person. In Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver a similar meal would easily be two to three times that amount.

After such a repast, all one can do is waddle up the stairs to one of the inn’s 11 charming Waverly and Laura Ashley-decorated rooms and suites. Guests frequently request the large Dolloff Suite, with its queen-size bed, antique bathroom, fireplace, and private entrance.

Le Bocage is a hidden gem in Moe’s River. The name means “the grove.” (Tall trees separate the 174-year-old Victorian home from Route 208.) Fire crackles in the hearth. Candlelight sparkles on crystal.

Proprietors Francois Dubois and Patrice Larochelle offer two six-course menus each evening. Chef Melanie Martineau creates soup to sorbet from scratch. Her creative regional cuisine utilizes hand-raised ducks and partridges, fresh vegetables and herbs grown on the three-hectare property.

Our meal started with salmon gravlax with guacamole on wild greens and duck magret with mango salsa. After an intensely flavored coriander and spinach cream soup, we sampled mussels with vermouth cream sauce in puff pastry. Pink cranberry sorbet preceded an entrée of kid tenderloin with green pepper sauce. Dark and white chocolate pâté rounded out the meal. The tres romantique mood continued upstairs in four cozy rooms, one with a fireplace and one in a cathedral-roofed attic.

Jean Chretien, Jean Charest, Joe Clark, Pierre Trudeau, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Plummer, and Mordecai Richler have all dined at one or more of these Eastern Township inns. Considering their ambience and gastronomic excellence, it’s not surprising. Inn-to-inn gourmet dining guarantees everyone a Bon Appetit.

When You Go…

Leisurely Pursuits

In North Hatley, visit Galerie Jeannine Blais for colorful folk art. Shop for antique weathervanes, rocking chairs and teddy bears at Antiquites Emporium.

Drive to Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook to see the longest suspended bridge in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records (169 m), a covered bridge from 1887 and a replica round barn from yesteryear.

Learn about the history of the snowmobile at the Musee J.-Armand-Bombardier in Valcourt. On Feb. 16-19, 2001, enjoy festivities and snowmobile races at the Grand Prix de Valcourt

Relax with massages, steam baths and spa treatments at the Centre de Santè in Eastman.

Visit Saint Benoit-du-Lac Abbey, home to Benedictine monks who sing Gregorian chants and produce excellent cheeses and cider.

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