Île d’Orléans: Parish by Parish

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One of Quebec City’s greatest pleasures is wandering around the Marché du Vieux-Port—nibbling on miniature chocolate and apple crepes, sampling wines from smiling vendors, and breathing in the bouquets of flowers lining the interior halls.

The charming downtown farmers market is just a 15-minute drive away from the source of many of its offerings: Île d’Orléans. With 7,500 residents scattered across six parishes on a rural wonderland twice the size of Manhattan, the island is an absolute must-see, especially in the summer, when it’s bursting with treasures from small-scale farms, wineries, and culinary artisans.

And though the island is nicknamed the “Garden of Quebec,” there’s a lot more to like about historic Île d’Orléans. “Just get to the island and work around it,” local tour guide Michelle Couture-Demers advised. “Each parish has something different going for it.”

Whether you book into one of the island’s many convivial bed-and-breakfasts or make it a day trip, you’ll have to cross a bridge to get there (making sure to make a pit stop at mainland Montmorency Falls Park first). Once you’ve made it over the Pont de l’Île, you’ll connect with the Chemin Royal, which will take you around the island’s 47-mile circumference.

Here are my favorite Île d’Orléans discoveries, parish by parish:

Saint-Pierre

Take a whirl around Espace Félix-Leclerc, the home turned museum of the late singer-songwriter Félix Leclerc. The creative polymath (Leclerc was also well respected as an actor, poet, and playwright) helped revitalize the Quebec folk chanson tradition and was a vocal advocate for Québécois cultural expression in its various forms.

A farmer picks berries on  Île d'Orléans, the "Garden of Quebec." (Photograph by Guido Cozzi, Atlantide Phototravel / Corbis)
A farmer picks berries on Île d’Orléans, the “Garden of Quebec.” (Photograph by Guido Cozzi, Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis)

Just across the street is Cassis Monna & Filles, where the specialty is crème de cassis, or black currant liqueur. In the summer, don’t miss sampling their sangria, made with house-made fruit wine, orange juice, club soda, and, of course, crème de cassis.

Continue the revelry at Isle de Bacchus, a vineyard that churns out some of the best ice wine in Quebec. Never heard of it? Canada (along with Germany) leads the world in producing the stuff—a sweet dessert wine painstakingly derived from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. (“You only get one or two drops per grape,” the owner told me.) Try a taste in the 300-year-old home located on the property.

Nearby, you’ll come across the oldest church on the island, Église St-Pierre. Step inside to see the timeworn altar and pews, and to browse quilts, paintings, and more at the small on-site store.

And don’t miss Bilodeau, a family-run apple orchard and cider mill. Sip the sweet and dry ciders, but also pick up some apple butter and sugar pie, a Quebec specialty that is similar to pecan pie, but without the nuts.

> Sainte-Famille

Stop at La Ferme d’Oc, a farm that is known for its foie gras. Even if that’s not your thing (it’s not mine), the grounds are beautiful and you can see the proprietor selling furniture on the side of the road.

At Les Fromages, you’ll encounter artisans who are resurrecting traditional methods of cheesemaking that date back to the early 1600s. Take a tour of their facility to see how it’s done. The cheeses made here are very hard to find outside Île d’Orléans, so be sure to stock up.

Skip ahead a century at Maison Drouin, the oldest house on Île d’Orléans, barely changed since 1730. Touring the home, which belonged to the Drouin family up until 1984, imparts a sense of 18th-century life on the island.

> Saint-François

Your first stop in Saint-François should be the lookout point and observation tower. Île d’Orléans is part of a small archipelago of islands in the St. Lawrence River (most of which are privately owned), and from here you can see nearly all of them.

Once you’ve gotten your fill of the view, continue along the Chemin Royal. As you curve around the island’s southern edge, you’ll come upon La Seigneurie, a stunning lavender farm that offers guided tours. On the premises is a small beach, a great spot to enjoy some of the treats you’ve picked up in an impromptu picnic.

> Saint-Jean

In the heart of this parish, you’ll notice a long row of stately homes that meld Canadian, Norman, and Brittany architectural styles. Many belonged to the river pilots who guided vessels through the perilous St. Lawrence navigation channel in the 19th century.

Across from the parish church is La Boulange, the best bakery on Île d’Orléans. Step out onto the property’s terrace to take in the wide view of the river and imagine what life must have been like for these intrepid navigators in the days before satellites and sonar.

Not to be missed: the delicious homemade berry jams at Confiturerie Tigidou. Owners Catherine Trudel and Vincent Paris, both natives of the island, share their organic recipes, which often include a hint of fresh herbs, like mint, and “plenty of lemon.” The inn above the barn is a great option for families looking to rent a home-away-from-home on the island.

Montmorency Falls is located just across the bridge from theMontmorency Falls, located just across the bridge from the Île d'Orléans. (Photograph by Steve Vidler, eStock Photo)
Montmorency Falls is located just across the bridge from the Île d’Orléans. (Photograph by Steve Vidler, eStock Photo)

> Saint-Laurent

As you drive, notice a string of small chapels along the road. These are often leased out to artists and can change hands (and personalities) frequently. Pop into a few to discover the art, clothing, and jewelry on offer. One of the better-known studios on the island, Kokass, belongs to an award-winning jeweler who works with silver, unpolished stones, and pearls.

Visitors can learn about the parish’s shipbuilding past at Saint-Laurent Maritime Park, but the real highlight is the picturesque picnic area and grounds overlooking the river. A recent addition here is a mobile outpost of Le Chic Shack, a local favorite for poutine.

> Sainte-Pétronille

Sainte-Pétronille may be the smallest parish on Île d’Orléans, but it is not without its highlights, including well-known inn and restaurant La Goéliche. With floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the St. Lawrence, this is an ideal place to stop for a sunset dinner.

If dessert is more your speed, Chocolaterie d’Orleans, housed in a beautiful Victorian home, offers more than 20 flavors of ice cream in the summer.

As you near the Pont de l’Île and approach the end of your full-circle tour, make time for a stop-off at Vignoble de Ste-Pétronille. The terraced setting is gorgeous, with views to Montmorency Falls. This is where most of the produce is sourced for Panache, Le Chic Shack, and other upscale foodie havens across the bridge in Quebec City.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Nat Geo Travel’s Urban Insider, exploring the cities of the world with style. Follow her adventures on Twitter @anniefitz and on Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.

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