When folks visit historic Quebec City, their itineraries are primarily comprised of a myriad of attractions, restaurants and sights within the walls of this lovely part of Canada. There’s so much to see, do and experience here but if you venture out a few kilometers east of Quebec City and across a photogenic suspension bridge known locally as the Pont de l'Île, you’ll find beautiful Île d'Orléans, also known as the ”Garden of Quebec.”
A quick history lesson before we get into how beautiful this island on the St. Lawrence River:
The island was one of the first parts of Quebec to be colonized by the French, and a numerous French Canadians trace their ancestry to early residents of the island.
Île d'Orléans was originally accessible only by ferry or by ice bridge during winter. An electoral promise made by Premier Louis-Alexandre Taschereau to Montmorency County for a job-creation project during the Great Depression led to the construction of this bridge in 1934. It was completed in 1935 and initially named Taschereau Bridge.
Thanks for the help, Wikipedia!
During a recent visit to quaint Quebec City, I had the option of toting around on a bicycle for an hour or so or embarking on an Agritourism tour on the island.
I semi-jokingly asked if the entire bike trip was going to be downhill…those that know me will (hopefully) understand.
So I opted for the island tour because, well, I like that kinda stuff and as I was there in the summer, I thought I’d see what the “Garden of Quebec” was like in their warmer season.
I was joined by an absolutely wonderful, charming and perfect tour-mate in Nancy Dacres, who knows a thing or few about Quebec City and the surrounding region.
We met just outside of the Chateau Frontenac where we boarded our bus provided by the tour operator, Quebec Bus Tours. Our tour was titled “The Taste Trail” and in a surprise to no one, it would be a food and drink sampling tour.
Once in the island, our first stop was the Chocolaterie de l'Ile d'Orléans, who’ve been serving decadent chocolate since I was 10 years old (1988 for those who now know my age.)
What makes them oh-so good is that they use only quality raw materials imported from Belgium and their end products comply with Canadian and International standards. So yeah, they take their craft quite seriously. When I was 12, they delved into the ice cream and sherbet world via in the European tradition which uses 35% cream, milk and purée of natural fruit. They’re serving up 24 fantastic flavours throughout summer…who says the magic ice cream number is 31?
Our second stop landed us at Vignoble du Mitan, a local winery who celebrated their 10th anniversary on July 7th of this year. Was it a bit early in the morning for wine tasting? Nah.
They offer 10 different wines with enough diversity that you can pretty much have one of their bottles for any food pairing of your choice.
Full disclosure: I’m really not that much of a wine guy but I can certainly appreciate this worldly beverage.
Having said that, the one that stood out to my palate was the Le Verglas, which is an ice wine made from the Vandal-Cliche variety and offers a balance of intense caramelized apples and citrus flavours.
There’s a gorgeous terrace where you can enjoy your wine alongside a beautiful view of the St. Lawrence and the neighbouring mountains and maybe read a digital version of Modern Mississauga on your smartphone.
Next up was one of my favourite stops called Le Relais des Pins, better known as a sugar shack. Open year round, it’s especially popular during Maple Syrup season (March and April) and they have a restaurant on-site if you’re looking to balance your maple syrup intake with other types of food.
They’re also able to host weddings, receptions and other events if you’re looking for a unique venue.
I was given (courtesy of a very large wall sign) a rundown of how maple reacts at different temperatures.
Nancy was kind enough to buy me a maple leaf shaped maple candy (how Canadian, eh?) and this Loonie-sized treat was “parfait!”
As an added bonus, the gal behind the counter played the spoons along with a song on the radio, of which there’s video below.
(Can’t guarantee that’ll happen every time but it was a sweet treat to see her do that for us.)
Our fourth stop was at the family-run Cidrerie / Verger Bilodeau where for the past 37 years, they’ve been growing apples and transforming into delicious ciders since 1995 (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) apple based products (jellies, butters, etc.) and maple products.
There’s beautiful artwork on the walls and the floors…there was even a vintage apple crushing machine on display for those (like me) who appreciate early rural technology.
The Bilodeau family has a “U-Pick” option as well for fresh apples and a great family/friend activity, where you can, depending on the time of year, pick from 11 varieties of apples.
With plenty of entertainment available, plus a stellar view, this lovely farm is a must-visit on the island.
Wrapping up the tour, Nancy and I popped in to Cassis Monna & Filles where we were immersed in all things black currant.
“Their self-description is bang-on: From field to bottle and jam jar, we cultivate the art of gourmandise.”
The very short history lesson here (full version via their website) is that they’re five generations deep of liquorists and do a damn fine job of being experts in their craft.
The building which offers a boutique, lower level restaurant and private upper level is picturesque and brimming with views of the island, water and mountains.
The place was buzzing with guests and diners in the early afternoon of a clear July afternoon and between the good sized lines for wine samples and the very smart do-it-yourself jelly/jam/honey samples, sisters and owners Catherine and Anne certainly have done an impressive job of building and maintaining excitement here.
What’s so good about black currants that five generations were able to thrive with it?
It’s loaded with vitamin C, an anti-oxydant, anti-inflammatory and contains polyphenol which has numerous virtues, including immune-system boosting capacities.
The short version? It tastes good and is good.
Oh, oh, oh! You simply must try the cassis ice cream!
Once we boarded the bus for the final time, my travel mate and I chatted about the beauty of the island, its natural charm and how I just may buy a summer house there (once those winning lottery ticket numbers come up.)
If you’re visiting Quebec City, block off a few hours to visit Île d'Orléans and experience it for yourself either through the good folks over at Quebec Bus Tours or as Fleetwood Mac says, you can “go your own way.”
While it may seem small at 34 kilometers long by 8 kilometers wide, this historic and inviting island has enough to keep you coming back for multiple visits.
Yes, the places I visited were wonderful, there’s plenty more great finds to be discovered on the island.
When you go, check out this site to familiarize yourself with their year round offerings: