It’s called the “Garden of Quebec”, “Treasure Island”, and the “Cradle of French Civilization in North America”. Located minutes outside of Quebec City, the picturesque Ile d’Orleans makes for the perfect full-day or half-day trip. You can easily combine a visit to the island with a trip to Montmorency Falls, which lies directly across the way from Île d’Orléans, or venture a little farther outside of town to see Canyon Sainte-Anne.
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How to Get There
You must travel by car to reach Ile d’Orleans. Once outside of Quebec City, you drive across the Ile d’Orleans suspension bridge, which is a part of Quebec Route 368 and is connected to Autoroute 40. Once you cross the bridge, you are faced with an environment completely opposite to the bustling urban life of Quebec City. The main road in town is called Chemin Royal, which forms a complete loop around the island. You are free to drive or ride your bicycle around the full loop that will take you back to the bridge when you’re done. We drove counter-clockwise around the Chemin Royal.
Ile d’Orleans was one of the first places in Quebec to be colonized by the French, giving it the title, “The Cradle of French Civilization“. A large amount of French Canadians can trace their ancestry to present and past residents of the island. Prior to colonization, the island was inhabited by indigenous tribes. Many people were attracted to live on the island due to its fertile soil, providing the perfect conditions for farming and agriculture. The island remains devoted to farming and agriculture, and has become a popular destination for those interested in tasting local products and regional cuisine. As there is such a bountiful harvest there, it has been referred to as the “Garden of Quebec” or “Quebec City’s Cornucopia”.
The Six Municipalities
Ile d’Orleans is divided into six municipalities, each with its own beautiful scenery, farms, parks, and local businesses: Sainte-Pétronille, Saint-Laurent, Saint-Jean, Saint-François, Sainte-Famille, and Saint-Pierre. By driving along the Chemin Royal, you’ll be able to explore all of the municipalities with various points of interest along the way. If you see a produce stand, a shop, a restaurant, or a particularly lovely view as you’re driving, you can easily stop and spend some time there. You don’t need to enter the island with many plans, but here are some places that you may choose to explore on your journey.
Viewpoint in Sainte-Pétronille
We saw a sign noting a scenic viewpoint when we started our drive in Sainte-Pétronille. There were many spots to park the car, so we got out of the car to discover this new landscape. There were great views of both Montmorency Falls and Quebec City from here.
Locally Made Jam In Saint-Laurent
We saw some signs for preserves and condiments made from freshly grown produce on the island, so we had to stop to take a look. At Les Saveurs de L’Isle d’Orleans, there was a huge wall of jams and jellies and you could try a sample of any of them (or all of them!). We ended up coming away with strawberry rhubarb jam and raspberry jam, but it was a tough decision. This was also a great place to purchase gifts for our family members back home. In addition to jam, there were syrups, vinegars, dressings, ice cream and sorbet to try. We walked around the property to discover a huge farm out back where they grow all of the fruit for their products.
Scenic Lookout In Saint-François
Taking a right hand turn down Chemin du Quai, we found a small parking lot where a few people gathered to check out the beautiful views. This type of gorgeous natural scenery wasn’t something that we expected to see on our Quebec City trip. The sandy and rocky terrain of the land connected with the calmly flowing St. Lawrence River. We could see some quaint cottages and a church off in the distance. I felt very calm and relaxed here, completely absorbing my surroundings.
This particular farm we stopped at, La Ferme de Liz Ouellet, specialized in growing blackcurrants, raspberries, and asparagus. Blackcurrants are known as being one of the island’s specialties as they are rarely grown in Canada compared to other crops. The majority of blackcurrants are grown in parts of Europe and Northern Asia. This farm had a little stall arranged outside of their farmhouse with their available products. We got to sample anything that we liked, and tried a variety of fruit wines made using blackcurrants and raspberries. Justin and I both enjoyed the blackcurrant liquor the best, named “L’Incognito.” It was 22% alcohol and could be added to white wine as an extra flavor, poured over ice cream, or sipped on its own. A bottle of that came home with us!
Lunch In Saint-Pierre
At the very end of our journey, we had driven a full loop of the Chemin Royal and reached the restaurant where we wished to dine, the Resto-Pub L’O² L’ile. Quite the interesting name, isn’t it! This place was very busy when we arrived, as it seemed to be a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike. Our server seemed very rushed off her feet as she tended to tables in half of the restaurant. She also didn’t communicate very well in English, and I actually felt bad that we couldn’t speak French at that moment. So, we tried our best to place our order and thankfully, most of it arrived correctly. We successfully ordered a cheese-less vegetarian pizza made vegan, and two side salads to start. Well, it got lost in translation that we wanted two salads as our waitress brought us only one side salad to share. She rushed off to help the other tables and we didn’t really have the heart to tell her that we required another salad. Justin and I shared the small salad together. It was very fresh and delicious, even though we both only got to try a small portion. We actually were very hungry and ate it before I could snap a picture. As for the main course, we shared this amazing pizza…
The pizza was absolutely covered in so many delicious vegetables of all kinds! We were really pleased with how it tasted and ate every last bite! Even though service was a little bit slow here, it was definitely worth the wait. As we finished our meal, the amount of customers in the restaurant had definitely decreased. We must have arrived during a lunch-time rush. I would highly recommend coming here for a meal, although you definitely won’t have a difficult time finding places to eat on this island. Between the restaurants and local produce stands, it might be hard narrowing it down to just a few places. There were also other wineries and brewpubs where we could have stopped. We’ll just have to save that for next time.
- You will have to drive a car to get to Ile d’Orleans. It is possible to ride a bike across on the bridge, though it could be quite dangerous as the bridge is fairly narrow and only allows for one car on each side.
- Once you’re across to the island, it is the ideal place to go bike riding. We saw many cyclists riding around Chemin Royal. Vehicles are driving fairly slowly here, so you won’t have to worry about the ride being dangerous.
- You don’t need to plan anything out to come here. I tried making lists in advance of places to stop, but we ended up quickly abandoning the list as we drove around. Most places are accessible from the main street (Chemin Royal) and there are signs for businesses, lookouts, parks, and points of interest.
- Plan to come here in the morning or afternoon. It is definitely a sleepy kind of place, and I could see most stores and stands shutting down around dinner time. With that said, I’m sure that many bars and restaurants stay open a bit later than that.
- Feel free to drive around Chemin Royal clockwise or counter-clockwise. We drove counter-clockwise as it seemed every other car was going in the opposite direction, so it worked to our advantage that no one seemed to be around when we were visiting places.
- You can stay at a Bed & Breakfast on the island if you’re looking for a quiet retreat away from the city.