From five-star chateaux in the south of France to ice-bound ships in the Arctic Circle, I’ve stayed in all manner of accommodation during 30 years of off-and-on travel to far-flung destinations worldwide.
And, like most travellers, I know from bitter experience that “what you see” is not always “what you get.” Far from it!
Apparent “diamonds in the rough” may prove pale imitations of their advertised selves thanks to the transformative magic of clever photographic angles and Photoshop-ed images. I remember being amazed to find a major thoroughfare between a boutique hotel I once booked and the lake upon which it was touted to have sat! There wasn’t a hint of a highway in the online ads…
(Note: I personally took the pics for this article with my iPhone, and I haven’t a clue how to use Photoshop.)
Such disappointments, however, make it doubly rewarding when one discovers a true gem like Gîte La Marmotte in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. (A “gîte” is a hostel/guesthouse/B&B, and “marmotte” is French for groundhog.) If anything, this little getaway’s website undersells the high-quality product on offer, possibly due to its relatively recent arrival on the B&B scene.
Semi-retired couple Marcelle Leclair and Jean-Guy Couillard bought a ramshackle 19th century ancestral farmhouse in Eastman, Quebec, in 2010, and, over the next year, retooled it into a welcoming “home away from home” for touring cyclists, international visitors, and even the occasional local “escapee” such as me.
Though neither Leclair or Couillard had previous hospitality industry experience, they’ve taken to the business like proverbial ducks to water.
“At first I thought about opening an art gallery,” Leclair smiles. “But then I changed my mind. Somehow a bed and breakfast had more appeal, and I’m glad we made the choice we did. Jean-Guy took charge of the renovations, and I turned my hand to the interior design. It was a lot of work, but we’re really pleased the result.”
So, clearly, are La Marmotte’s patrons, myself included. The house has seen a steady increase in occupancy since it opened in 2010, and its guest book brims with grateful comments.
Both the building’s exterior and interior have been fully renovated to preserve its old-style charm; and a new addition maintains its architectural integrity. As an aficionado of all things cozy, quirky, and quaint, I fell in love with La Marmotte’s décor the minute I walked through the door.
The finishing and fixtures are stylish and new, while the furnishings, though equally chic, are mostly “recycled.” Leclair has outfitted the gîte almost entirely with estate sale discoveries (classic pieces and folksy antiques, as well as more modern finds), which she has artfully combined to create at an atmosphere that is at once classy and country.
Each of the five spacious bedrooms is differently “themed” and named: Bonheur Total (Complete Happiness), Douce Matinee (Gentle Morning), La Seductrice (The Seductress), L’Orchidee Rouge (The Red Orchid) and La Marmotte Suite (you can probably figure that one out for yourself!), and each has its own large and beautifully appointed bathroom (the suite’s focal point is a gorgeous claw foot tub, and The Douce Matinee on the main floor sports a tiled “roll-in” shower and above-average-height toilet for wheelchair accessibility.)
Three of the rooms are designed to accommodate more than two people (with extra beds and pull outs), for a total combined house capacity of 15 – perfect if you want to rent the whole place for an intimate group get-together, smallish family reunion or even a weekend workshop. (At the time of writing, the full house price is an unbeatable $500 – $615/night depending on the season.)
Attention to detail and small, but significant, amenities make La Marmotte special. The common area on the main floor, for example, is equipped with a slightly-bigger-than-mini-bar-sized refrigerator, a microwave, wine glasses (and corskscrew), as well as a drawer full of cutlery and plastic tableware for anyone who might wish to use the gas barbecue, picnic table and fire pit out the back.
The B&B’s walls are tastefully adorned with colourful prints and paintings (a few of which are Leclair’s own), there’s high-speed Internet on tap via Wi-Fi, and you can even watch TV on a widescreen, although why one would want to when countless outdoor activities beckon is beyond me.
Eastman itself is not much more than a village, but is nevertheless home to several good restaurants, a small supermarket, a liquor store, a smallish Home Hardware, a summer theatre, and an art gallery (this year exclusively featuring the work of female artists and artisans!).
If sport is your thing, you may swim or kayak in nearby Lac D’Argent, or cycle, golf, or hike, facilities for which are all close at hand (find a more complete list of cool stuff to do in the environs here).
Foodies will be delighted with La Marmotte’s healthful, homemade breakfasts (no cereal buffet here!) served in the sunlit dining space. I thoroughly enjoyed both the crepes and the “croque matin” during my first two-night stay.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating of course, and for that you must visit yourself. But the image at right (as well as those in the gallery below) should give you an idea of what you can anticipate – nomnomnom 🙂
There’s also an espresso machine in the common area for those who fancy a coffee during the day: I accompanied mine with the to-die-for chocolates from Chocoalaterie Vanden Eynden left on my side table as a welcome gift.
As if all of the above weren’t enough to tempt me back, Leclerc has promised to share some of her favourite breakfast recipes with me next time around…stay tuned!
Comfortable country chic in my corner of Quebec
About 75 miles / 110 km southeast of Montreal (local map here)
Rates from CDN 105 / night (discounts for multiple-night stays)