When presidents, Hollywood movie stars, Nobel Prize winners, musicians and best-selling novelists come and stay at your hotel you better bring your A-game. For concierge Marc-André Blais of Manoir Hovey, providing exceptional and personalized service is his raison d’être. Not only for those VIPs, but for anyone staying at the property.
Tucked snuggly along the northern shores of Lake Massawippi, minutes from the village of North Hatley in Quebec’s Eastern Townships lies the award-winning Relais & Châteaux property Manoir Hovey. Built in 1900 and described as “the quintessential Anglo-Saxon resort,” its architectural pedigree derives from George Washington’s Mount Vernon home in Virginia with large verandahs and pearl white columns.
Named as the second Best Resort Hotel in Canada and the 17th Best Hotel in the World by Travel & Leisure for 2020, the property features 37 individually appointed rooms including eight suites and a separate, spacious Dragonwatch Chalet. Quebecois culture and cuisine blend harmoniously with old Southern charm and hospitality.
Born and bred in the town of Stratford, Quebec in the Eastern Townships, concierge Blais started his career at a boutique hotel near London, England and even worked at the Disneyland Hotel in Paris. This experience at Disneyland Hotel served him well later when he became Manoir Hovey’s concierge in 2003 and knew how to service the needs of both couples and families the resort receives. One of those families includes that of former U.S. President Bill Clinton who stayed at the property for a week in August 2017 with wife Hillary, daughter Chelsea, her kids and husband.
“The Clinton family appreciated the property as a whole, be it the fine dining, warm welcome and comfort of the inn,” says Blais. “I would say they appreciated the courtesy of our team and other guests in regards to their privacy.”
Blais has also had the privilege of assisting guests like former French President Jacques Chirac, movie stars Nicole Kidman, Johnny Depp and Anthony Hopkins, the band U2 and many influential people, from Nobel Prize winners to world-renowned doctors.
Blais sets himself apart by “always going above and beyond expectations.” He cites a typical request where a guest may ask for his recommendation on a local winery to visit. Besides providing a winery recommendation, he will also suggest the most scenic route to take, a nearby cheesemaker, as well as a bistro or café so it becomes a culinary, cultural and more memorable experience.
Blais’ vast knowledge of the Eastern Townships area has helped during the COVID pandemic. He can accurately advise guests what tourist activities, attractions, restaurants and shops are open. No matter age or background, Blais is ready to respond to their requests and as he says, “Ensure that they have the most enjoyable experience.”
Here are Blais’ recommendations for what to see, eat and do in the area.
La Grange du Parfumeur: Visit this perfume house located in a century-old barn where the owners offer a unique olfactory experience demonstrating how perfume is produced.
Round Barns of the Southern Townships: These barns, popular in New England, began appearing in the 20th century, but only a few remain today. Visitors can discover the fascinating history of their unique design.
The Pioneer Trail: Step back in time and learn about important historical figures from the Coaticook region. Audio commentary accompanies life-size silhouettes of the figures and you can walk, ride or drive the route, which is surrounded by picturesque valleys and streams.
Sherbrooke Murals: In the nearby city of Sherbrooke, take a walk along the Circuit des Murales and admire a range of murals which trace the roots of local art, culture, neighbourhoods and people.
Aerial views: Take a seaplane tour of the Eastern Townships for spectacular lake, mountain and countryside views.
Local products: Visit local wine and cheesemakers such as Domaine Bergeville and La Station Fromagerie.
Abbaye (Abbey) de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac: Thirty monks still live in the Abbey and guided tours are available where you can take in a church service, hear Gregorian chants, hike trails, pick apples from their orchards and even buy homemade cheese, cider, apple butter and other products.
Enjoy the summit drive between Mont Mégantic and Mont Ham during the fall foliage season for colourful and stunning views of beautiful lakes, mountains and charming towns.
Head to Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook with its canyons, forest trails and one of the longest suspension footbridges in North America. Another suggested walk with your loved one is Le Marais de la Rivière aux Cerises.
Best authentic Quebecois restaurants
Le Hatley (Manoir Hovey): The award-winning restaurant offers local and seasonal cuisine with a focus on vegetables, proteins, cheese and fruits from only the best local farmers and fishermen. Enjoy the 8-course tasting menu.
Minton Restaurant: Anyone in search of a romantic gastronomic experience should visit Minton Restaurant for top-quality ingredients and a setting both rustic and refined with a contemporary touch.
Restaurant Pinocchio: Located in the town of Magog, this is an unpretentious French bistro-like restaurant with a magnificent terrace, offering up unique and creative dishes and a wide selection of wines by the glass.
Best patisserie and café
Saveurs et Gourmandises: This wonderful patisserie in North Hatley is one of the finest coffee shops in the Eastern Townships.
La Station Fromagerie: A four-generation family-owned business, La Station serves excellent grilled cheese sandwiches and also produce their own maple syrup.
For more ideas and inspiration for a trip to Quebec, check out:
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