A picturesque place to savor daily bread and lay down to sleep.
Text and Photos by Julia Bayly
As a product of a parochial education, I have to admit the idea of staying in a converted convent while on vacation was a bit, well, daunting.
Would I have to dig out my old school uniform? Would there be invoked periods of silence? What if I got caught passing a note? Would I be made to go to the blackboard and diagram a sentence?
At Domaine de Vieux Couvent, none of that was an issue. Instead, the biggest challenge was selecting between the lobster omelet or fresh bread French toast at breakfast.
The current structure was built in 1914, replacing the original buildings erected in 1825 for the purpose of training young girls to teach on the islands.
Today the hotel is run by two couples: Reginald Poirier and Evangeline Gaudet and Henry Paul Bernard and Francine Leroux.
Each brings his or her own skills to the business. Gaudet is the chef responsible for the mouthwatering dishes that stream endlessly from the kitchen. Leroux is the organizer of staff and logistics as is Bernard who networks contacts in Montreal. Poirier is the man on site and is one of those people who seems to be everywhere at once from answering the phone to attending new arrivals.
Of course, with a staff of 40, he has plenty of help.
Busy as he is, Poirer still has time to sit over a cup of coffee and talk about the hotel and the renovation project.
“People told us we were crazy to do this,” Poirier said with a smile. “I guess they are right, you do have to be a little bit crazy.”
All the windows in the three-story building were removed and replaced with energy-efficient replicas hand-crafted by a local carpenter. Every square foot of hardwood flooring was pulled up, sanded, cleaned and re-used.
Guest rooms were given a complete overhaul and the owners managed to maintain the unique character of the old building while infusing a generous amount of modern luxury.
“We really wanted that balance of the old and new,” Poirier said.
The classrooms and dormitory on the second and third floors have been transformed into 10 guestrooms. Instead of numbers, the rooms have names like La Mere Superieure, la Maitresse d’ecole and Les Vallons d’Acadie each handwritten on old writing paper and placed on the doors—complete with red-inked correction markings.
Bureaus in the rooms are made from the old cloakroom doors and hardware. Each is furnished with a modern phone and music system, but don’t look for a television. The views of the ocean are more than enough entertainment.
The wooden stairs (there is no elevator in the building) tell the tale of hundreds of students from years ago with treads deeply worn by the pounding of all those feet.
The ground floor, which once housed the chapel and office, are now dining rooms featuring nightly menus inspired by local seafood and produce.
While supper at Convent is not exactly inexpensive, it’s worth the splurge. I had steamed mussels which were so good on their own they really did not need the blue cheese and cream sauce served on the side. My husband, who had long claimed not to be a fan of seafood, could not get enough of the baked haddock served in a remarkable fennel sauce. A salad of fresh local greens served with a raspberry vinaigrette of Poirier’s own recipe accompanies each meal.
And of course, no meal on Iles de la Madeleine is complete without fresh bread with the famous Pied-de-vent cheese produced exclusively by a creamery a mile or so from the convent.
Meals at Convent are relaxed and unhurried with the dining staff taking the time to converse with guests to share local stories or their insights on the night’s specials.
It was a great place to relax and soak up the island atmosphere—no uniforms or lesson plans required.
Read the companion story: Iles de la Madeleine
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.