Vineyards, sugar shacks, quaint towns, houses with sloped Normady-styled tin roofs, chocolate-dipped cones, and more strawberries than you can possibly eat, these are just a few of the things awaiting you on Île d’Orleans.
One of the first settlements in New France, Île d’Orleans was once called Minigo, the enchanted island. In 1535 the island was named Bacchus Isle by Jacques Cartier, who renamed the island a year later to Île d’Orleans in honour of the Duke of Orleans (son of King François I).
In its 400+ year history, the island has seen wars and bloodshed (mostly due to conflict between the Hurons and the Iroquois), the establishment of the church in 1661 by Bishop François de Laval, and a military camp established by General Wolfe just prior to the conflict of 1759 (98% of the camp buildings were destroyed after Wolfe was defeated). But that was the Île d’Orleans of New France. Now the island is one of the most popular day trips in Québec, and not because of its history.
Located just 15 kms from downtown Québec City, there are three ways to explore Île d’Orleans, by renting a car, driving your own car, or hiring a tour guide for the day to give you a private tour. While hiring a tour guide is the best way to learn about the island and explore its nooks and crannies, exploring on your own can be fun as well. Why? Well, here are seven reasons:
1. Vignobles (Vineyards), Cidreries, and Brasseries (Micro-Breweries)
Ontario and British Columbia may be known for their ice wine, but Québec is know for it’s ice cider. What’s the difference? One is made with grapes, the other with apples, both are fantastically delicious. And don’t get me started on the beers that are brewed on the island (many of which can also be found in grocery stores throughout Québec).
Île d’Orleans is home to 4 Vignobles (Vignoble Ste-Pétronille, Vignoble du Mitan, Vignoble Isle de Bacchus, Vignoble Domaine de la source à Marguerite), 3 Cidreries (Domaine Steinbach, Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau, Cidrerie Verger Joe Giguère), and 3 Brasseries (Brasserie Berthilda Vandoren, Microbrasserie de l’Île d’Orleans, Pub le Mitan).
2. Orgasmically Good Chocolate and Ice Cream
If you are the laziest traveller on the planet and only want to make one stop on Île d’Orleans, then Chocolaterie de l’Île d’Orleans NEEDS to be your one stop. While the sandwiches are good, the chocolate-dipped cones are highly recommended, as are a box of chocolates. Note: it is entirely possible that you’ll have chocolate on your nose and chin while eating your ice cream, so grab some napkins and pray your friends are nicer than mine who let me sit with a chocolate covered chin for like 15 mins before telling me!
I am in love with the architecture on Île d’Orleans. I love the Normandy-styled roofs, whether they are wood, copper, or tin. I also love the various colours of the houses, and the little details in the porch balconies. Sure, there are some ugly-ass houses that were built in the 60s and 70s, but for the most part the houses on the island are classic and utterly charming.
And if I ever win the lottery I’m buying a fieldstone farmhouse on the island and living in it until the day I die.
4. Cabane à Sucre (Sugar Shacks)
If you’re looking for a true Québecois experience, then dining at a Cabane à Sucre is a must. The meals are hearty and kind of a like a brunch in that many of the dishes are consider breakfast dishes, that being said there are things like piping hot pea soup, and sweet locally produced maple syrup – which is so much better than the stuff you buy in the big chain grocery stores.
5. La Boulange a.k.a The BEST Croissants in Québec
La Boulange is like a crackhouse for pastry-loving foodies. While there are a couple bakeries on the island, La Boulange makes the BEST croissants in Québec (in my opinion). They are so delicious that I have been known to drive out to island just to buy croissants, instead of walking 5 mins down the street to the bakery near my apartment in Old Québec.
6. Stunning Landscapes
The best time to visit Île d’Orleans is summer as everything is open and the island is abundant with fresh fruit (strawberries are famous here), and of course, tourists. While the island is beautiful in spring and summer, it is simple stunning in autumn. In mid-September the trees on Île d’Orleans start to change colour, and soon the trees are a mixture of sunshine yellow, rusty orange, and deep green. Tip: bring lunch and have a picnic somewhere among the trees.
7. Highland Cows – Yes, SCOTTISH CATTLE!
SCOTTISH COWS!!!!!!!! As a Scot (by heritage), I was way too excited about seeing Highland Cows on Île d’Orleans and I have spent way too much time watching them graze. This is something I cannot quite explain. I think it’s like sitting and staring at waterfalls for hours and hours. Or is could be the fact that the long hair on the cattle make them look like cuddly teddy bears and I get warm fuzzies every time I see them.