Neighbourhood Guide: Île d’Orléans, Québec City
Dubbed “Le jardin de Québec” (Québec City’s garden), agrarian paradise Île D’Orléans has become an agrotourism hub known for its rich soil and richer heritage. Hugged by mountain ranges—the shadowy Laurentians and Appalachians etched in the distance—the island is only a 15-minute drive from the city, but it has a climate and culture all its own: the air’s a little crisper, the people a little warmer, and, given there’s only one stoplight on the island, the pace is a whole lot slower.
“It’s not far, but it’s another world,” says Caroline, our guide from Tourisme Québec. She recounts how she once fell asleep stargazing in a field and woke up beside grazing cows.
Before making the drive over the Pont de l’Île from the mainland to the island, you’ll pass Montmorency Falls —a waterfall taller than Niagara Falls. For the brave, a zipline slices across the gorge, metres away from the waterfall. For the not-so-brave, a safely enclosed cable car takes you up to the top, where you can cross a suspension bridge. Catch a glimpse of the rushing water through the slats, and descend on the other side where a 487-step staircase takes you down to the misty base. Bring a raincoat if you want to get close (it’s worth the ensuing bad hair day—when the light’s just right, you’ll spot rainbows in the droplets).
We cross the St. Lawrence River and beeline for Cassis Monna et Filles, a farm, restaurant, and shop that’s become a local culinary hotspot (a chef friend shoots me an exclamation-point studded message after I post on Instagram, gushing about how much she loves their products). “Cassis” means black currant, and it’s in everything the Monna family makes—the tangy, tart taste infuses everything from the sangria (dangerously drinkable), the soft-serve (a sweet-and-sour swirl of cassis and buttery vanilla), to the gravy slathered over my poutine (decadent and surprisingly savoury). Save time for a cassis wine tasting in the cellar, and lounging on berry-purple bean bags overlooking the field below.
The next stop is the Cidrerie Verger Bilodeau, a second-generation orchard that specializes in ice cider, made from the frozen apples that cling to the trees in wintertime (the deep-freeze concentrates the fruit’s sugars, which produces a higher alcohol content—it gives you a warm buzz after a few taste-tests). Go the DIY route and fill up your basket with the 10 varieties of apples grown in the orchard, or pick up a bottle of the signature cidre de glace and a jar of creamy apple butter from the counter inside.
We end the trip wandering along the shoreline at low tide, watching the ferries and sailboats drift past (and breaking into our souvenirs early).
Bucolic has never tasted so good.