Originally named the Island of Bacchus (because of the profusion of wild grape vines) by Jacques Cartier, the modern-day Ile d’Orleans is still very much a farming 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 34 km long and 7 km wide at it widest point. The Island is divided into 6 parishes, St. Pierre, Ste. Famille, St. Francois, St. Jean, St. Laurent and Ste. Petronille. There is only one bridge to the Island and that is on the north side. As you cross the bridge you get a very nice view of Montmorency Falls.
The Island was settled very early and many of our 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% of the potatoes grown in the area of Quebec are grown on the Ile d'Orleans and 50% of the strawberries. Most of my ancestors moved on to bigger holdings within 20 or so years but many of the original families are still in the area. There is a genealogy center on the island that 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 rural beauty, the wonderful roadside stands, the historic houses and churches and the lovely statues dedicated to the favorite saint of each parish.
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 its on the left. They serve traditional food, (meat pie and shepherd pie(which for some reason is called pate chinoise in Quebec) and also usually about 5 or 6 freshly baked pies. I come for the raspberry, it’s excellent. You can spend the better part of a very relaxed day enjoying the Ile d’Orleans. It is very much like taking a trip back to yesterday.