Feeling the call of the countryside? There’s a legendary island of orchards and fields just 20 minutes from Québec City. Grab a picnic basket, hop in the car, and head out along the St. Lawrence River to an island that’s a real breath of fresh air.
Across the bridge and up the hill, head left onto the road that runs around the island. Looking left to the mainland, you’ll catch a stunning view of Montmorency Falls and the hills of Côte-de-Beaupré all the way to the mountains of Charlevoix. Closer at hand, you’ll see apple orchards and vineyards perched high above the river, their fruits ripening in the sun. The first village on the island is Saint-Pierre, where you’ll find Cassis Monna & Filles. The Monna “filles” are sisters Anne and Catherine, the fifth generation in a family of French liqueur makers. In their boutique and artisan’s museum (économusée), black currant is revealed in its many forms as a true fruit of the gods. The taste adventure continues at La Monnaguette restaurant, where the sisters serve some of the best artisanal ice cream around.
When the noon bell rings, it’s time to head to Isle de Bacchus for a little nectar divine from the oldest vineyard on the island. And while we’re on the subject of cellars, there are heavenly ciders to be had at Cidrerie Verger Joe Giguère and fine cheeses at Fromages de l’isle d’Orléans. Their Paillasson—the first cheese made in North America—is sheer perfection when browned in a pan. As you travel down Chemin Royal, be sure to stop at one of the farm stands for some fresh fruit and vegetables to go with that wine and cheese. It’s a great chance to chat with a local farmer and learn a little more about life on the island.
To the Tip of the Island
Past the farm stands, you’ll reach the tip of the island, where you can tour one of the oldest schoolhouses in North America. Built circa 1830 and classified as a historic building, the Saint‑François schoolhouse is now home to Confiserie de la vieille école, a candy shop that makes fudge and other delightfully old‑fashioned treats. Enjoy your loot while sitting at the end of the nearby dock or walking along the sandy beach that runs for miles on this part of the island. Burn a few extra calories by climbing up to the top of Tour du Nordet tower for a breathtaking panoramic view of the nearby mountains and the St. Lawrence River.
The South Side
Saint‑Jean Village, with its ancestral parsonage‑style homes, is one of the prettiest spots on the island. Visitors like to sit and watch the ships sail near the shore as they travel up the channel. If anyone’s still snackish, La Boulange makes a fabulous brioche and has a gorgeous sun‑soaked patio, with wooden benches set in the shade of a charming red‑steepled parish church.
The People’s Choice Award goes to Vincent and Catherine, the “sorcerers” (the name given to Île d’Orléans locals) crafting magical jams at Confiturerie Tigidou. The couple’s heavenly preserves are made with local berries, fresh herbs, northern spices, and lemon juice.
A Pretty Pint
If you’d rather not drive around the entire island, you can cut across the middle on Route du Mitan. In the summer, the leaves on the trees along the road create a gorgeous green canopy above this nature‑lovers’ lane. And for beer lovers, the road leads to Pub Le Mitan, where you can sample the craft beers brewed at Microbrasserie de l’Île d’Orléans.
A Beautiful Finish
When you reach Sainte-Pétronille, don’t miss Panache Mobile. Parked between two rows of grapes vines at Vignoble Ste-Pétronille vineyard, this gourmet food truck/pop‑up restaurant is the perfect place for a picturesque meal paired with the fine wines of another magical couple, the Lane-Denaults. Take a tour through their little museum or pop into the shop for a wine tasting while your kids explore the vineyard. The view is majestic. (Although on Île d’Orléans that pretty much goes without saying!)
By Diane Laberge