In Search of Three Pines: A Fascinating Tour of Louise Penny’s Inspirations

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Garden with white chairs on lake - Three Pines Tour in Search of Louise Penny A Journey Through Louise Penny’s Three Pines I recently embarked on a self-organized tour of the sites that served as...

Garden with white chairs on lake- Three Pines Tour in Search of Louise Penny Garden with white chairs on lake - Three Pines Tour in Search of Louise Penny

A Journey Through Louise Penny’s Three Pines

I recently embarked on a self-organized tour of the sites that served as inspiration for Louise Penny's enchanting imaginary town of Three Pines. As an ardent fan of Penny's captivating murder mystery series, I've devoured all 18 books set in the fictional Eastern Townships of Quebec. Eager to uncover the real-life places that inspired Penny's vivid settings, I spent five incredible days in search of Three Pines. Along the way, I indulged in biking, brewery tours, and the delectable delights of French cuisine and wine.

Who is Louise Penny and Where is Three Pines?

Louise Penny, a Canadian author, is the mastermind behind the 18-volume murder mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. Many of these novels are set in the idyllic village of Three Pines, a place brimming with charming businesses, eccentric characters, and a picturesque natural backdrop. The town takes its name from three majestic pine trees that tower over its common.

Penny drew inspiration for her fictional locations from various sites in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. The Eastern Townships, comprised of ninety-five designated townships in southeastern Quebec, lie just an hour's drive east of Montreal, with Vermont's Northeast Kingdom bordering them to the south. The area served as a retreat for Loyalists who sided with the British during the American Revolution. Today, it continues to be home to several tribes of the Abenaki people, the land's original inhabitants. Abenaki names grace the lakes, mountains, and rivers of the region, offering a constant reminder of their rich heritage.

The Eastern Townships boast abundant opportunities for outdoor adventures, with rolling hills, forests, lakes, and rivers beckoning outdoor enthusiasts. The area is a paradise for cyclists, offering a plethora of road, gravel, and mountain biking trails. If you're looking for more suggested bike tour loops through fictional Three Pines, simply refer to the official Eastern Townships tourism site.

My Personal Three Pines Tour

My pilgrimage commenced at a gas station on the Vermont side of the Canadian border, where Québécois locals indulged in cheaper U.S. gas while exchanging news in their native French. Crossing the border, I noticed that the rolling hills seamlessly extended from the green fields of Vermont. Although the signs were in French, the landscape felt strangely familiar. Before long, I found myself in the quaint town of Sutton.

Sutton boasts a charming, diminutive library housing all of Louise Penney's books in English. There, I came across a vibrant map displaying the locations that served as inspiration for her novels. Armed with this map and another I obtained from Brome Lake Books, I charted my course through the places I yearned to visit.

While an official tour of the area, highly recommended by Penny herself, is available, I opted to design my own five-day journey. Reading articles and gathering ideas from the tour, I wanted to delve deeper into the sights that sparked Penny's imagination when creating the fictional Three Pines and other captivating book settings.

Exploring the Eastern Townships Through Three Pines Tour

Literary tourism offers a wonderful opportunity to immerse oneself in the settings of a particular area. As I embarked on my quest to discover the inspirations behind Louise Penny's Three Pines, I found myself traversing the Eastern Townships and uncovering its hidden gems. Biking, savoring delectable cuisine, and marveling at the region's natural beauty, I relished every step of my personal Three Pines tour.

Bistro Le Relais - (Olivier's Bistro)

Penny hints that Olivier's Bistro draws inspiration from any bistro in Knowlton. However, for me, Bistro Le Relais best captures the essence described in Penny's books. Its old-world interior, adorned with scattered antiques, exudes the coziness one would expect from a bistro in Three Pines.

Adjacent to the bistro lies Auberge Knowlton, a fine embodiment of Gabri's B&B in Penny's novels. This historic building, complete with a wide veranda, stands at the heart of the village and holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating hotel in the Eastern Townships. The façade proudly displays a list of former hotel names since 1849, offering a glimpse into the town's rich heritage.

I could easily envision Chief Inspector Gamache savoring a meal at Bistro Le Relais before ultimately settling in Three Pines. Imagine him, pipe in hand, discussing a case with Jean-Guy Beauvoir against the backdrop of this quaint establishment.

La Rumuer Affamee (Sarah's Boulangerie)

No Three Pines tour would be complete without indulging in the flavors described in Penny's novels. La Rumuer Affamee, a bakery in Sutton, provided a truly authentic experience. Here, you'll find delightful wheels of goat cheese nestled next to maple-infused ham. The old-fashioned wooden counters teem with eager employees offering mouthwatering treats. Local ciders and wines await in the back, while a wide array of fresh pastries and breads adorn the front of the store. Make sure not to miss the iconic maple pie of Quebec, the sugar pie.

La Rumuer Affamee perfectly embodies the charming inspirations found throughout my journey. I could envision Sarah, donning her baker's cap, passionately discussing the bread of the day with a loyal customer. The antique iron cash register displayed next to the entrance completes the ambiance one would expect in Three Pines.

J.B. LeBaron General Store (Monsieur Beliveau's General Store)

No visit to the quaint town of North Hatley is complete without stopping by J.B. LeBaron General Store, which serves as the inspiration for Monsieur Beliveau's general store in Three Pines. This iconic establishment offers an extensive range of products, boasting everything from dish detergent to fresh produce, cookware to books, candy to meats, and much more.

This country store is a one-stop-shop where the inhabitants of Three Pines could find everything they needed to host their next dinner party.

Brome Lake Books (Myrna's Bookstore)

Even without its uncanny resemblance to Myrna's bookstore in Three Pines, Brome Lake Books is a haven for book lovers in the Eastern Townships. With its airy, well-lit interiors, this bustling community gathering place entices both avid readers and those seeking a touch of Louise Penny's magic.

Within the bookstore, a shrine to Penny and her novels awaits, complete with a Louise Penny reading area, cozy chairs, and a wide selection of her books. A world map adorned with flag pins serves as a testament to the readers' origins. During my visit, friendly and knowledgeable staff served as informal tour guides, sharing insights into the area's bike trails and creating a warm and inviting atmosphere that resonated with the spirit of Three Pines.

Church of St. Adian (St. Thomas's Church)

Louise Penny drew inspiration from several churches when crafting the setting for St. Thomas's Church in Three Pines—a place where Chief Inspector Gamache's daughter, Annie, exchanged vows with his second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, in How the Light Gets In. St. George's Church in Georgeville on Lake Memphremagog was also a model for the fictional St. Thomas's Church.

The Church of St. Adian in Sutton Junction, adorned with its simple and charming rural aesthetic, adds to the tapestry of settings that inspired Penny. Built in 1909 and named after an Irish monk named Adian, the church is currently undergoing renovations, preventing me from exploring its interior.

Beyond Three Pines: Exploring Other Louise Penny Settings

As avid readers of Chief Inspector Gamache's adventures know, Louise Penny occasionally sets her novels outside the confines of Three Pines. After completing my Three Pines tour, I ventured to two additional locations that served as inspirations for Penny's novels.

Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac (Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups Monastery)

Nestled amid the green hills near Lake Memphrémagog lies Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, a Benedictine community of around 30 monks who live, worship, and work together. This tranquil oasis served as the inspiration for the Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups monastery in Penny's Beautiful Mystery.

From the outside, the monastery is reminiscent of a magnificent Gothic castle, complete with a pointed bell tower. The sound of the bell periodically calls the monks to their next engagement, whether it be mass, lunch, or work.

Passing through the arched hallway leading from the reception to the chapel, I encountered a cheerful rainbow floor beneath a yellow brick hall. The colorful arches, intricately adorned with woodwork, framed the vibrant passageway.

The monks lead a simple and silent life, centered around contemplation and prayer. A working farm and orchard provide an array of products available for purchase on-site, including cheese, ciders, and fruit preserves. I sampled the heavenly blue cheese and fontina, promptly including them as provisions for my bike trip.

Daily tours of the monastery, primarily conducted in French but occasionally in English, provide a glimpse into the monks' lives and the production of their food. These tours grant access to parts of the property not open to the general public, allowing visitors to gain insight into the abbey's rich history. Audio headset tours, available in French and English, provide interpretation for the public areas of the abbey. Meanwhile, signs along the rainbow hall recount the story of the monastery and its monks.

As I explored the abbey, the enchanting Gregorian chants of the monks filled the colorful halls, creating an unforgettable experience. Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac proved to be a heartwarming stop on my Three Pines tour.

Hovey Manor (Manoir Bellechasse)

Situated on the shores of Lake Massawippi, just outside the picturesque town of North Hatley, lies Hovey Manor, the inspiration for Manoir Bellechasse in Penny's gripping thriller A Rule Against Murder. Originally built as a summer residence for a southern U.S. businessman, the property was transformed into a hotel in the 1950s. Modeled after George Washington's Mount Vernon home, Hovey Manor is an award-winning inn that has hosted illustrious guests, including Bill and Hillary Clinton. In fact, Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton even co-authored a political thriller titled State of Terror, which, though not part of the Gamache series, is equally captivating.

As I strolled through the splendid gardens of Hovey Manor, I savored a delectable lobster roll on the open-air terrace of the Tap Room in the Carriage House. For the ultimate Louise Penny-inspired experience, consider staying at Hovey Manor. This luxurious resort offers suites, a cottage, and standard inn rooms, along with tennis courts, yoga classes, and equipment for kayaking and paddleboarding. The lakefront setting provides the perfect backdrop for outdoor activities or simply immersing oneself in Louise Penny's novels.

Saint-Armand

Saint-Armand, a small town on the Canada-U.S. border, served as a setting for the Amazon Prime television series based on Louise Penny's novels and featuring Alfred Molina. While some portions of the Three Pines series were filmed in Quebec, Saint-Armand was chosen for its stunning outdoor scenes.

I ventured to Saint-Armand near the end of my Three Pines tour to experience a fictional Three Pines come to life. There, I found the familiar location of Olivier's Bistro, nestled near the town center. Although the storefront was abandoned and up for sale, it looked exactly like the bistro depicted in the show. Myrna's Bookstore, another integral part of the television series, found its home in the building next door.

As I explored the town, I stumbled upon the town common, where three scrawny pine trees stood—a sight that brought to mind the grandeur of the pines of Three Pines. Saint-Armand exuded the same small-town charm I encountered throughout the Eastern Townships. Any of the towns I visited on my Three Pines tour could easily have served as the setting for the Amazon TV series. Unfortunately, the series was not renewed by Amazon after its first season, denying us a further glimpse into the magical world of Three Pines.

Indulging in the Food and Drink of Three Pines

cafe au lait and croissant Cafe au lait and croissant

lobster roll on white table with yellow flowers Lunch at Hovey Manor

dark beer A fine microbrewed stout

One of the delights of Louise Penny's series lies in her exquisite descriptions of food and drink. She takes readers on a culinary journey through French cuisine, akin to a protege of Julia Child. Through her prose, you can find yourself sitting at the characters' dinner table, savoring flavorful French fare, or enjoying a cup of café au lait by the fire at Olivia's Bistro. Penny's words transport you to a world where you tear open a perfectly crisp baguette and pair it with the finest Brie. It's a wonder that Penny's characters aren't a tad rounder from indulging in such richness.

Part of my personal Three Pines tour revolved around sampling the unique culinary delights of the Eastern Townships. A picnic comprising carefully selected treats from La Rumuer Affamee, Sarah's boulangerie in Knowlton, became one of my favorite lunches during the tour.

Sampling the Culinary Delights of the Eastern Townships

In addition to savoring the delectable cuisine, I took the opportunity to visit wineries and microbreweries scattered throughout the Eastern Townships. Biking my way to Sugar Hill from Knowlton, I delighted in a wine tasting at this charming boutique winery. The Eastern Townships offers a scenic wine route leading to 22 splendid wineries, making it a wine lover's paradise.

If beer is more to your liking, venture into the microbrewery circuit. I had the pleasure of visiting three of the 29 microbreweries in Quebec's largest brewing region. The craft beers I sampled, alongside the fantastic pub grub offered, left me yearning to explore more of these friendly establishments.

Not to be outdone by wine or beer, the Eastern Townships also boasts a cheesemaker's circuit. The blue cheese I sampled at Abbaye de Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, aptly named Bleu Bénédictin, left my taste buds tingling. Its sharpness gave way to a creamy, rich flavor that transported me to a culinary paradise.

Lastly, don't forget Chief Inspector Gamache's favorite candy—the licorice pipe—which can be found for sale at Brome Lake Books in Knowlton. Be sure to stock up, as they are quite addictive. I now consider licorice pipes a delicious contraband alongside St-Viateur bagels, cans of maple syrup, and coffee crisp bars that I can't resist bringing home.

Biking Adventures on the Three Pines Tour

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The Eastern Townships, with its tranquil country roads, extensive mountain bike trail networks, and dedicated bike paths, offers endless possibilities for cyclists from both Canada and the U.S. Lift-serviced mountain biking is all the rage in Bromont, while the hills of Mount Sutton boast 45 km of mountain bike trails. Gravel roads wind through the townships, taking bikers on a bucolic journey past farms, wineries, and forests. Scenic cycling circuits cater to a wide range of preferences.

Equipped with my trusty hybrid bike, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the stunning bike paths that crisscrossed the Eastern Townships.

Artria Cultural Loop

The Artria Cultural Loop, located in the Granby area, treats cyclists to a delightful journey through rural landscapes, waterfront views, and charming small towns. This paved bike path stretches for 34 km and is adorned with over 60 works of art by local artists. Each artwork surprises and delights as you pedal along. For those seeking a longer ride, an additional 21 km of gravel path through Parc National de la Yamaska offers access to the park's natural beauty. Convenient parking and amenities are available at Waterloo, Shefford, and Granby for easy access to the bike path.

For a shorter, family-friendly ride spanning 22 km, the Estriade Bike Path between Waterloo and Granby provides a gentle route with less than a 2% incline.

Lake Brome Bike Path

The picturesque walking and bike path that winds from Knowlton to Lake Brome is a perfect way to explore the area. Behind the Knowlton bookstore lies the starting point of the Coldbrook path, which meanders through the woods, eventually leading to Lake Brome. On this path, I encountered a forest adorned with colorful birdhouses and whimsical structures. After crossing the Coldbrook River twice, the path continues toward Lake Brome.

Joining the Lake Brome path, I reached Douglass Beach on the lake, a lifeguarded municipal beach complete with swimming facilities, picnic areas, and a playground. Continuing along the path, I enjoyed breathtaking views of the lake. Spanning over 11 km, the Lake Brome path concludes near Foster.

Logistics of the Three Pines Tour

To fully explore the Louise Penny inspirations, a car is essential, as public transportation in the Eastern Townships is limited. You can rent a car in Montreal or Quebec City, and I highly recommend using Discover Cars for the best rates and reputable rental companies. Discover Cars has consistently provided me with excellent rental experiences.

If a car is not an option, fret not! There are guided tours available, allowing you to visit some of the Louise Penny inspiration sites within a day. A day trip from Montreal will take you to these sites as well as other charming villages in the Eastern Townships.

Lodging Along the Three Pines Tour

While I chose to camp during my five-day adventure in the Eastern Townships, each charming town boasts comfortable and classic accommodations. Hovey Manor, situated in North Hatley, serves as the inspiration for Manoir Bellechasse in A Rule Against Murder. If you prefer to stay in the heart of North Hatley, consider Auberge La Chocolatiere, a chocolate-themed inn nestled by the lake, offering breakfast delights such as chocolate crepes or waffles.

Knowlton, a village in Lac-Brome that provided Penny with countless inspirations, features Auberge Knowlton, an establishment that bears a striking resemblance to Olivier and Gabri's B&B and bistro. If you seek beautiful spacious grounds with a refreshing pool, Domaine Jolivent B&B, a mere 10-minute drive from Knowlton, serves as an excellent base from which to explore the entire Lac-Brome area.

Sutton, yet another delightful town, offers a charming boulangerie—La Rumuer Affamee. With two microbreweries in town and several stops along the nearby wine route, Sutton presents an ideal location for exploration. Le Pleasant Hôtel & Café, a Victorian mansion converted into a hotel, stands in a perfect location within Sutton.

A Profound Journey Through Three Pines

Literary tourism combined with outdoor adventures proved to be the perfect way to explore the Eastern Townships. My search for Three Pines led me to some of the most breathtaking corners of this region in Quebec. As I indulged in the wine, cheese, microbrews, and farm-to-table cuisine, I felt as though I had journeyed to the heart of France.

If you've read any of Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series, I hope you find the sites that inspired her as captivating as I did. If you haven't yet delved into her works, I encourage you to start reading—prepare to be captivated. The Eastern Townships offer endless opportunities for outdoor exploration, and on my next visit, I plan to indulge in more biking, hiking, and paddling, knowing that my literary cravings have been satisfied. May your search for Three Pines be filled with unexpected joy.

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