Visiting the inspiration behind Three Pines

  • A Three Pines sign can be found at the park in Knowlton. Courtesy of Martie Majoros

  • A bench dedicated to Louise Penny’s husband sits in front of Lake Brome Bookstore. Behind is a painting of three pines, the name of her fictional town. Courtesy of Martie Majoros

  • A restaurant called A la Fontaine in Sutton is one of several in the area that fit the description of Olivier’s Bistro in the series. Courtesy of Martie Majoros

For the Monitor
Published: 11/17/2019 9:50:38 PM

Like many women of a certain age, I am completely enamored of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the main character in the Three Pines Mystery Series by Louise Penny.

Set in the fictional town of Three Pines Quebec, which is said to be located south of Montreal near the Vermont border, it is described in the books as being off the beaten track, where GPS doesn’t work and there is no cell phone reception.

“It is only ever found by people who are lost,” writes Penny.

A charming cast of characters run the establishments in town and their relationships, along with Gamache’s struggles with the “powers that be” in Montreal, are as central to the plots as the murders that need solving.

When a friend who lives in Burlington, Vt., suggested a trip to see some of the real places that inspired the settings in the books, who could resist?

It is an easy drive up Route 89 from Concord to Burlington and from there to St. Albans, Vt. Heading northeast on Route 105 we crossed the Canadian border in Richford, Vt., a small town where the crossing is quick and easy – just don’t forget to bring your passport!

A few miles down Route 139 we entered the town of Sutton. It boasts several places that figure prominently in the books and Penny is known to shop and dine there. At one time she rented a room downtown where she could write uninterrupted.

Make your first stop the Tourism Information Office where you will find lots of maps and a list of sites across the Eastern Townships that appear in Penny’s books. One is diagonally across Main St. from the Info Center.

La Rumeur Affamee – which is called Sarah’s Boulangerie in the books – is a step back in time to the 1860s. The wooden counters, shelves and display cases are packed with freshly baked breads, cookies, pies, and other desserts along with imported and local cheeses, meats, sausages and pates. They also make and serve sandwiches, soups and light lunches. Like Inspector Gamache, you can enjoy a thick maple-cured ham sandwich on a warm baguette.

Just south of the Tourism Office, a restaurant called A la Fontaine is one of several in the area that fit the description of Olivier’s Bistro in the series. It is a brick building and has the dark wooden tables with old chairs, sofas, comfy armchairs, and cozy fireplace portrayed in the books. Perfect for enjoying a drink or café-au-lait with a friend. Out front, a pergola-covered terrace is just the spot to sit on a warm summer day.

Heading north on Route 215 on the way to the next town, you’ll find the Church of St. Aidan located just off the beaten track in Sutton Junction on Chemin du Mont Echo. It is the inspiration for the St. Thomas Anglican church that sits on the hillside in Three Pines. A plain white clapboard church with Gothic-arch windows, it is small and unassuming in real life, but in the books it is not only the setting for weddings, baptisms and funerals but also armed confrontations.

Penny lives in the neighboring town, Knowlton, sometimes referred to as Lac-Brome, since it is located on the shores of Brome Lake. Take Route 215 to Route 104 or just stay on Chemin du Mont Echo, both routes will take you to the center of Knowlton where you’ll see the restaurant and hotel Le Relais, which is said to be the model for Gabri’s B&B and the bistro. The rustic inn dates from 1849 and the charming dining room has tall ladderback chairs around well-worn wooden tables, stained glass panels, a tall wooden bar, and multi-paned windows looking out on the center of town. Across the intersection is the Pettes Memorial Library. Opened in 1894, it was the first free public library in rural Quebec. No murders there as yet.

Just a few doors down from Les Relais is Brome Lake Books, the model for Myrna’s New and Used Bookstore. Local authors are displayed in their own sections and an entire corner is devoted to Penny, offering all her books – in French and English – along with Three Pines merchandise including pins, T-shirts, and mugs. How about a “What Would Gamache Do?” keychain or a licorice pipe?

Across the street from the bookstore is a small park with a Three Pines sign. Heading up the hill on the right is the Brome County Historical Society. You could easily spend a day here, looking at the collections of historical artifacts displayed in six buildings. A painting called “Still Life” used in the movie Fair Day – a made-for-TV version of Penny’s first book – can be seen here.

There are more sites scattered across the area such as the Cornell mill and schoolhouse in Stanbridge East, the General Store and Old Mansion House in Georgeville, and Epicier J.L. LeBaron and Hovey Manor in North Hatley but one location not to be missed is the Abbaye de St-Benoit-du-Lac, a Benedictine monastery built in 1938 on the west shore of Lake Memphremagog. The monks here make cheese from local milk and sweet and hard ciders from the apples in their own orchard. They have 5 liturgies a day – three in Gregorian chant – and a daily mass at 11 a.m. Characters in the books have made reference to their products, and the monastery itself, renamed Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, is the setting for murder and mayhem in the book The Beautiful Mystery.

If you do some shopping while in the Eastern Townships, be aware that the Canadian dollar is worth about 70 cents. Pay by card rather than cash to get the current exchange rate. For more information and background on the Three Pines series, go to gamacheseries.com.




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