Culturally rich and full of historical charm, Quebec City, just like Banff is another Canadian gem. But more often than not, travellers will only make enough time for the Old Town.
Sure, the UNESCO Heritage sites of Old Quebec captivates with historical treasures around every corner and there’s something truly romantic about the steep cobble stone roads. But this part of town can also feel fabricated and touristy.
This is where the humble, yet peaceful Île d’Orléans comes in.
I’m actually glad not a lot of tourists make the short 15km drive to the island, allowing it to maintain its modest countryside atmosphere of farmlands and vineyards.
An easy day trip from downtown Quebec City, Île d’Orléans is made up of six small villages, each offering something a little different from the next.
Since the island is very manageable in size and the sights are limited, the best way to enjoy a visit here is to slow down the pace, breath in the crisp, clean air and just follow the flow of the island.
Also, come here with an empty stomach, because many of the attractions here includes indulging on locally grown and made delicacies!
Crossing the bridge on to Île d’Orléans (there’s only one access point onto the island), make a right turn at the immediate lights and head towards Sainte-Pétronille.
Many people tend to turn left and start at the first municipality of Saint-Pierre, but going against the grain can mean less traffic and crowds. I also prefer the flow of the island this way more!
There’s no better way to receive a welcome to the island than visiting the vineyard of Vignoble Ste-Pétronille first!
Perched on top of a hill, the vineyard offers a great view of the Saint Lawrence River. If you’re lucky, you can also spot Montmorency Falls in the distance too.
The vinery predominately produces white wines and they offer tours, wine tasting and there’s even a restaurant on-site to complement the experience.
But it’s best to save your appetite, since there’s a whole lot of eating still to be done!
Instead, try some wines and grab a table on the outdoor back patio. Absorb the view and start getting a sense of the laidback atmosphere of the island.
When you’re ready, continue down the country road for Chocolaterie de l’Ile d’Orleans. A homey café perfect for a bite to eat. But don’t get too carried away with the sandwiches and snacks, what you’re really here for is the chocolate!
Beside the café, you’ll find the chocolatier, where you can indulge in rich, decadent chocolates. But what really distinguishes this place is its chocolate dipped ice cream cones.
With a choice between dark chocolate, milk chocolate, milk caramel and maple, this café doesn’t mess around.
With dessert in hand, take it for a calming walk along the water where you’ll catch expansive views of the mainland.
Easily my favourite section of the island, driving to Saint-Laurent brought me to another place in time. The trees here are so large, they easily cover the skies above as the road.
Neatly maintained cozy cottages with perfectly manicured front gardens and modest town shops line the streets. Even the churches here are rustic and humble.
It made me think that somehow the modern technologies of the 21st century skipped this island, allowing it to maintain its historical culture, reminding everyone the value of simplicity once in a while.
Before going in the centre of town, take a small, winding road off the main highway and down towards the water. Here you’ll find Parc Maritime St-Laurent by the harbor.
It’s an interesting and interactive spot to stop. Learn how residents use to live on the island, take a self-guided tour of the shipyard or even participate in a workshop and learn some sailing techniques.
Continue onwards to the next township of Saint-Jean. Keep your eyes peeled for a sign and the hidden driveway of La Confiturerie des Sorciers Tigidou. This lovely farm-house slash confiturerie serves some of the most delicious organic jams and syrups.
Their tasting bar is a great way to get acquainted with the delicacies and the staff are extremely knowledgeable in providing great pairing ideas.
Take a break from eating and learn some history of New France and the island. Manoir Mauvide-Genest was built in 1734 by Jean Mauvide, a surgeon of the French army. This house is one of the few remains of the seigneurial regime of New-France.
The establishment offers guided tours and guests can even rent part of the house as event space.
Before leaving the township, make sure to make a stop at the delightful La Boulange for some fresh baked goods.
The mid-way point, Saint-François is a small township at the eastern tip of Île d’Orléans. Take time to walk off all the calories you’ve ingested from the previous towns and take a walk along the waterfront at Quai de Saint-François. Or make it to the top of the Observation Tower and get an expansive 360-degree view of the area.
La Seigneurie de l’île d’Orléans is another delightful stop to make. Known for its expansive gardens, visitors can also purchase lavender goats milk products.
Sainte-Famille is the oldest municipality on the island and is known for numerous vineyards, orchards, sugar shacks and of course, lots of farm land. Depending on the season you visit, fruit and vegetable stands might be visible from the side of the road.
If picking your own produce is your preference, visit Verger Laval Gagnon. Aside from an assortment of fruits and vegetables to choose from, the farm is also equipped with many family-friendly activities, such as picnic areas, tractor rides, playgrounds and animal area.
One shop not to be missed is Les Fromages de l’isle d’Orléans. There has been lots of sweets on this trip so far, and the perfect way to balance that out is with same unique savory cheeses.
Staff here are extremely knowledgeable and provides excellent cheese complimentary options.
To wash it all down, visit the one and only microbrewery on Île d’Orléans. The Microbrasserie de l’Île d’Orléans restaurant offers a lovely view of the lands around and serves a variety of stout and ales.
Now that you’ve made it full-circled back to the first township, there are several options to ending your day. Either at one of the notable ice wineries such as Domaine Steinbach or Vignoble Isle de Bacchus.
But I think , nothing is more traditionally Canadian than a stop at a sugar shack – a.k.a maple syrup!
Cabane à sucre L’En-Tailleur is the perfect stop. Visitors can enjoy a walk and tour the facilities or just relax in the dining room, enjoying a meal paired with the delicious, gooey goodness maple syrup.