By Caitlin Kelly
If you’re lucky, there are places you find in your travels that you enjoy so much you keep returning, sometimes for decades.
For us, since the year 2001, right after the attacks of 9/11 — which I wrote about and of which my husband edited horrific images for The New York Times — it’s been a town of 750 people about 90 minutes south of Montreal, North Hatley, Quebec.
I first came there in the mid 1980s with my first husband, back when we lived in Montreal and wanted a weekend’s break together. I went horseback riding in deep snow, galloping along in a black coat feeling like an out-take from Dr. Zhivago.
Jose, (my second husband,) and I came here after 9/11, desperate for a respite, a calm, beautiful place in which to recharge and flee the widespread fear we all felt then. A place we did not have to get to by airplane.
I like that we can drive to it easily, within about 6.5 hours from our home in New York.
I like that it’s in Canada, my home country.
I love hearing and being able to speak French, to read La Presse at the breakfast table, as well as my two former employers, the Montreal Gazette and The Globe & Mail.
I can buy items impossible to find in the U.S., like Mackintosh toffee or Shreddies cereal.
We stay in a resort that’s enough of a splurge we usually come every two years and stay for 3 or 4 nights. The place, Manoir Hovey, now owned by the second generation of Staffords, began as the summer home of an American businessman and later was turned into a hotel.
We just went for our seventh visit.
I love its sense of history and timelessness.
The walls of one public room are lined with a stunning array of artifacts — tomahawks and scythes and early ice tongs. A birchbark canoe made in 1923 hangs from the ceiling.
Two of its cabins are named for two of Canada’s key historical figures, Wolfe and Montcalm.
The wood paneled hallways, lit by stained glass lanterns, have photos of the Canadian ski team here — in 1959. There are early maps of the area and photos of women in white linen in canoes on the lake, probably from 1905 or so.
There’s an enormous bellows hanging on an exterior wall, a terrific artifact of earlier eras and a cosy pub area that feels like an out-take from a 1930s movie.
Like many of their guests, we keep returning, happy to see familiar faces and enjoy a place we know well.
I grew up in a family where, as an adult, my parents’ home wasn’t always open or welcoming to me and to my husband. We needed to find a place we loved and would want to return to whenever we could afford it; when the Canadian dollar drops to 74 cents U.S. (as it has now), that helps!
And so, over the past 14 years, we’ve been back in all four seasons, whether stumbling down the Manoir’s icy driveway in midwinter or kicking through autumn leaves. I’ve canoed here, even close to a few beavers.
We spent New Year’s Eve here once, and met a very dramatic red-headed ballerina, with hair to her waist, and with a house in the south of France some admirer — of course! — had given her.
Guests range in age from 20s to 70s, and conversations are in both French and English; I speak French, and love to hear it all around me. We chatted with a young couple celebrating their 10th anniversary, and he, an engineer working at Bombardier, regaled us with stories of their latest aircraft design.
Breakfast and dinner are included in the price, so you just settle in, whether beside the fireplace in the library in winter or a pale gray lawn chair on the dock in summer.
It’s my perfect combination: elegant but not stuffy, welcoming but not overbearing, timeless but refreshed as needed. (And no, no one paid me to say so!)
We do hope to hold a mid-winter workshop there in February 2016 — one for photographers and one for writers.
Details to come!
The town of North Hatley is tiny, but has two great grocery stores, a few good restaurants and an affordable antique store and barn so packed with treasures you can barely move; our apartment is filled with lovely things we’ve found there over the years, from a wooden-framed Mideastern mirror to a tiny carved wooden squirrel signed by its maker to a classically Quebec souvenir — a catalogne. Ours is pure white, and covers my desk.
If you know and love the Armand Gamache mystery novels written by Louise Penny, you’ll feel right at home in this gorgeous part of the world. She lives nearby and her books perfectly describe the area, known as the Eastern Townships or les Cantons de L’est.
Do you have a place you love to return to?
What draws you back?