Hi Frugalistas! While I’m definitely a city girl, I do love getting away from the city and enjoying the countryside. Researching my trip to Quebec City led me to the Ile d’Orleans. Just a few kilometres from central Quebec City, the Ile d’Orleans is an easy way to visit the Quebec countryside without going too far from town. A day trip to Ile d’Orleans is a wonderful way to explore the history and artisan food culture of the Quebec region.
Starting your day trip to Ile d’Orleans
Best explored by car or if you keen, by bicycle, the Ile d’Orleans is mere minutes from central Quebec City. Situated on the St Laurence River, the Island was originally only accessible by boat (in summer) or by sleigh (in winter). Courtesy of a bridge built in 1935 heading over to the island is now a dream. With my guide, Sharon, at the wheel we make a brief stop at the nearby Montmorency Falls before heading across the bridge and onto the island.
What to see and do on a day trip to Ile d’Orleans
For me, the Ile d’Orleans is about three things: the magnificent views, the food (and drink), and the architecture.
While the island was originally inhabited by native people, it was settled by the French as an early outpost of New France in the early 17th Century. There are only 6 villages on the island, and many early architectural examples dating back to the 18th Century remain. Note the red roofs that are typical of the island. Aren’t they pretty?
While it was still early in the season we did find some places to visit, that were on “my list” – I wanted the chance to try some cidre glace (iced cider) and also some crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur that I love as a kir when I visit France).
First up it was to Cidrerie Bilodeau for some ice cider. The Bilodeau family are traditional family producers, and it shows in their presentation. The lovely Charlotte has so much fun and takes such pride in explaining the ice cider and their other apple related products. I taste plain ice cider, sparkling ice cider (that I love) and flavoured ice ciders. Then there’s ice cider mustards, apple butters, maple syrups and maple syrup flavoured products. We taste, we laugh, and Sharon mops the floor….. because it’s just that sort of place…….
Now the crème de cassis. I love crème de cassis. I like it neat as a liqueur. I like it with white wine as kir, and for a treat as a kir royale served with sparkling wine. I’ve only ever tasted French crème de cassis (which is quite sweet), so I’m intrigued to try its Canadian cousin. We arrive at Cassis Monna et Filles (Monna & Daughters). Unlike the Bilodeau family, the Monna family are part of the “new wave” of Ile d’Orleans producers. Arriving from France in the 1970s Monsieur Monna was the first crème de cassis producer in Quebec. What is it like? Distinctly black currant, but also quite tart compared to the French brands I am more familiar with.
I’m thrilled when I go to dinner at Le Clocher Penche in town that night. As a treat I order a kir royale. The crème de cassis? Cassis Monna bien sur. The exact same one I tasted earlier that day. My waitress was delighted when she showed me the bottle and I told her I’d been there and had a tasting during the day.
When to make a day trip to Ile d’Orleans
The Ile d’Orleans is very seasonal from a tourist perspective. Even in the first week of May, a lot of businesses were not open. Most of the trees were not yet in leaf, and the grape vines were dormant. The upside of that was that there was almost no traffic, and businesses we did visit were not crowded. It was almost like being on our own private island. Regular readers will know how much I love that.
For me, the other exciting thing was that late April and early May brings snow geese on their annual migration. They literally only stay overnight before pressing onwards, but come in such numbers they make a truly impressive sight. We were fortunate to see thousands feeding on the river as we crossed.
Summer and autumn (fall) are busy. Locals and visitors compete for parking at pick your own strawberry and apple farms, roads are clogged. The traffic onto the island backs back onto the bridge, and even to the highway.
The Ile d’Orleans is one of those great places to visit. Enjoy the sunshine. Try some delicious new foods. Feel the history. Pick some apples or strawberries. Laugh with the locals and admire the view. Take a deep breath and feel the terroir of one of the cradles of French civilisation in Quebec.
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Author’s note: I was a guest of Quebec Tourism on my trip to Quebec and the Ile d’Orleans. Thanks to my guide Sharon for making my visit such a special one.