Jacques Cartier named it the Island of Bacchus for the profusion of grape vines he found when he first visited. Today the Ile d’Orleans is still a very rural agricultural area. No major development has been allowed to mar its bucolic beauty.
The island, which sits just east of Quebec City in the St. Lawrence River, is 21 miles long and a little over a mile wide at it widest point. The island is divided into six parishes, St. Pierre, Ste. Famille, St. Francois, St. Jean, St. Laurent and Ste. Petronille. Only one bridge connects the island to the mainland and that is on the north side. As you cross the bridge, you get a spectacular view of Montmorency Falls.
The island was settled very early and many French Canadian ancestors had their beginnings here. The island offered some safety from the constant attacks by the Iroquois, and also the land was fertile and much easier to clear than the virgin forests of the inland.
Even today, 27 percent of the potatoes grown in the area of Quebec are grown on the Ile d'Orleans and 50 percent of the strawberries. Most of my ancestors moved on to bigger holdings within 20 years or so, but many of the original families are still in the area. A genealogy center on the island documents the 300 families who have their roots here.
The Royal Road circles the Island for 40 miles. It takes you through all the parishes.
From Ste. Famille you have a wonderful view across the St. Lawrence to Ste. Anne de Beaupre. I love to stop and walk through the old cemeteries and also to visit the churches if they are open. There is a narrated tour that you can pick up at the visitor center in Ste. Petronille. The attraction of the island is its lack of major attractions. You come here to enjoy the bucolic beauty, the wonderful roadside stands, the historic houses and churches and the lovely statues dedicated to the favorite saint of each parish.
Ste. Petronille has a vineyard and a tasting room and as of 2013 a restaurant where you can enjoy the wine with your meal. If you prefer chocolate, the Chocolaterie de l'Ile d'Orleans is also in Ste. Petronille and their shop and restaurant are another of our favorite stops for ice cream and chocolate.
There is some very fine dining on the island, though I have never gone to any of the fancy restaurants. I usually stop at a small restaurant (which also has an outside Casse Croute) called Buffet Orleans. When you come over the bridge you just drive straight up the hill and it's on the left. They serve traditional Quebecois food, (meat pie and shepherd pie, which for some reason is called pate Chinoise in Quebec) and also usually about five or six freshly baked pies. I come for the raspberry, it’s excellent.
There is a campground in St Francois Parish and several bed and breakfasts scattered around the island. The Old Rectory (le Vieux Presbytere) is a charming choice in St. Pierre, with a gourmet restaurant and even a family bedroom. We stayed here with our grandson and he was made very welcome.
You can spend the better part of a very relaxed day enjoying the Ile d’Orleans. If you enjoy the charm of yesteryear, this is the perfect place to discover it