Island of Culinary Treasures
Quebec City is one of my favourite cities to visit in Canada, or anywhere else, for that matter. Most deservingly, it’s consistently rated one of the top Canadian destinations for both Canadian vacationers and worldwide travellers alike. As it is one of the oldest cities in North America, it has much going for it — breathtaking scenery, awe-inspiring architecture, a culture of fine arts and incomparable cuisine. What a myriad of gastronomic delicacies there are to be had!
But for all the previous times I visited, it was while on my most recent excursion that I was fortunate enough to be pointed in the direction of Île d’Orléans. And now that I’ve had a taste of what this captivating island has to offer, I have all the more reason to return and explore further.
Located a mere 15 minutes from downtown Québec City, picturesque Île d’Orléans is steeped in a long history of agricultural production and artisan food creation. Known as the Garden of Quebec, the region provides fresh produce, fine wines, cheeses, fish, game meats, ciders and maple syrups to nearby restaurants and markets. But while all this is just a stone’s throw from the city, until less than 80 years ago the island was, well … an island, with access via boat only across the St. Lawrence Seaway, and only when weather conditions allowed. In 1935, the one and only bridge connecting the island to the mainland opened, but thankfully, the island’s charm, longstanding rural tradition, peaceful image and rich cultural heritage have remained intact. Lucky us.
Cassis Monna et filles to sample their ambrosial black currants, made into fine blackcurrant liqueur, wine, crème de cassis, port and other berry-packed products.
Next stop, Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau to sample old world-style apple ciders and ice ciders, apple butters, jellies, mustards, and syrups. Seafood fans should make a beeline for Poissonnerie Joseph Paquet for smoked salmon, trout, sturgeon and a specialty of the island, smoked eel.
The next municipality along the road is Sainte-Famille, with the island’s oldest parish and Maison Drouin – one of the earliest 17th century houses. The area is also home to the not-to-be-missed Au Goût d’Autrefois – an organic farm, shop and enchanting restaurant where Chef Jacques Legros is passionate about ethically raising various flocks of game birds, including ducks, geese and turkeys.
Les Fromages de l’isle d’Orléans to taste a modern-day recreation of the first cheese made in the region, circa early 1600’s. The history and story behind how this cheese came to be is fascinating, which you can hear all about while being nibbling on samples served by farmstead owners dressed in 17th century period garb. I would be remiss to not mention Microbrasserie de l’Île d’Orléans — some mighty fine selections of barley brews are to be had here.
You’ve reached the far eastern point of the island, Saint-François, which is where you’ll find the region’s 18-metre tall observation tower. Climb on up and take in the panoramic views, landscapes and nearby islands of the archipelago. Besides, you’ll need some exercise after all that duck, cheese and cassis.
Circling back along the southern side, Saint-Jean offers a wide array of gift and antique shops, galleries and cafés. La Boulange is a picturesque bakery specializing in croissants and coffee, freshly baked bread and pizza, while Les Saveurs de l’isle d’Orléans has a wide range of homemade spreads and preserves, jellies and syrups made from locally grown produce.
The island is known for their celebrated strawberries, with many of them grown in Saint-Laurent. Keep an eye out for berry-filled fields and roadside farm stands selling plump, juicy and fragrant fruit when in season. This area is also known for its shipyards. Drop by Parc Maritime de Saint-Laurent to learn about the history of traditional boat building. Weary travellers can rest their heads at Le Canard Huppé — memorable for both fabulous accommodations and superb cuisine.
With so many features, highlights and destination points along the roadway, culinary and otherwise, drive and discover what 7, 000 year-round residents and 600, 000 visitors each year already know – that Île d’Orléans is an island rich with a treasure trove of majestic scenery, an abundance of regional cuisine and lodgings ranging from quaint and cozy to spectacular and luxurious.
Explore Canada all week long in an end-of-summer salute to the ultimate holiday destination: home.