The Best Things to Do in Île d’Orléans, Quebec

La Seigneurie de l’Île d’Orléans has 75,000 lavender plants
La Seigneurie de l’Île d’Orléans has 75,000 lavender plants | © Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Emily Paskevics
25 September 2020

Île d’Orléans lies in the Saint Lawrence River, near Quebec City. Originally inhabited by the Huron, it was one of the first hubs of French colonization in the province, and many French Canadians can still trace their origins back to the first families that settled on the island. With just 7,000 residents living across six villages, Île d’Orléans has maintained a charming pastoral and agricultural character that will draw you away from the city. Here are some of best activities to experience here.

Enjoy a slow afternoon at a vineyard

Wine Bar, French, Contemporary, Wine
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Ice wine degustation on the side of the Isle de Bacchus vine, at the Orleans Island.
© Francois OZAN / Alamy Stock Photo

Île d’Orléans boasts several wineries, all serving up grape varieties that hold up to Quebec’s notoriously cold climate. Jacques Cartier himself referred to the island as the “Isle of Bacchus” in 1535 because of its abundance of wild vines. In this spirit, Isle de Bacchus Vineyard offers a personalized wine-tasting experience enhanced by scenic views of the St Lawrence River and the surrounding landscape. Operating since 1982 and comprising 27 acres (11ha) of vines, it offers the perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Explore a restored 1700s manor house

Historical Landmark
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Wherever you happen to go on the island, you’ll see and feel a living sense of history; it’s part of Île d’Orléans’ charm. If you’re interested in deepening your understanding of local heritage and culture, including the importance of the seigneurial system under the French regime, the restored 18th-century Mauvide-Genest Manor is well worth a visit. Designated a national historic site in 1994, the stone house and its rural outbuildings lie on a slope on the island’s south coast. You can book a tour and explore the fully furnished manor, from the basement to the attic.

Relax in a charming country garden

Botanical Garden
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From July to October, you can enjoy the sweet-scented lavender fields – boasting 75,000 plants – against the backdrop of the St Lawrence River at La Seigneurie de l’Île d’Orléans. You can also wander through its other picturesque natural spaces, including a fruit garden, a Zen garden and the Garden of the Five Senses. You will come across hidden statues and an arched stone bridge, medieval-style towers, the remains of a sawmill, a vineyard and a 70ft (21m) waterfall.

Visit a quaint historic church

Church
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Church of St. Francis de Sales, Ile d?Orleans
© Jim Kidd / Alamy Stock Photo

There are several historic churches to visit on Île d’Orléans, each with a unique history and local influence. With a view of the river, Église de Saint-Laurent is a small but impeccably maintained church with a smooth stone exterior and intricate interior woodwork. If you’re driving around the island, it’s a great place to stop for a quiet moment along the way.

Go berry picking at a local farm

Farmers' Market, Eco-friendly, French
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The majority of Île d’Orléans is devoted to agricultural or horticultural activities, so it should come as no surprise that plenty of the farms have affiliated markets, restaurants, cideries and other delights of regional agro-tourism. In particular, the Ferme Guillaume Létourneau offers berry picking throughout the first half of the summer and apple and pumpkin picking through late summer and autumn. Alternatively, you can make a quick stop at the stand out front to pick up some fresh produce, maple syrup that is also produced on-site and home-made goods, including a surprising range of jams and jellies – from cucumber to maple.

Meander along the Chemin Royal

Historical Landmark
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Although it’s little more than a two-lane country road, the Chemin Royal is the main route that loops around the entire island, offering a scenic experience of the surrounding landscape and six villages. You can explore it by bike, motorcycle or car – it’s especially stunning during autumn when the trees display brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red. In any season, the views along the Chemin are spectacular, and it has plenty of interesting stops along the way.

Explore French-Canadian heritage

Historical Landmark
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La Maison de nos Aieux Information Centre, Sainte-Famille, Ile d'Orleans, Quebec, Canada
© Perry Mastrovito / Alamy Stock Photo

Île d’Orléans is deeply embedded in the province’s broader French colonial history, being the landing place of the so-called “300 founding families” of Quebec. In turn, the Maison de nos Aïeux (House of our Ancestors) is the historical center of the island, and it’s a great place to explore the particularities of local heritage and ancestry. Depending on your interests, you can access genealogy tools, a scale model, exhibits, guided tours and more. The scenic setting also includes the historic Maison Drouin, built around 1730, which is the island’s only typical habitant (the term used to refer to the early French settlers) house open to the public.

Indulge your sweet tooth at a chocolate factory

Dessert Shop, Ice Cream Parlour, Cafe, Dessert
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The Chocolaterie de l’Île d’Orléans is a must-see local cafe and boutique in the village of Sainte-Pétronille. It’s a haven for chocolate lovers, offering home-made goodies, artisanal dipped ice cream and an unforgettable hot chocolate (made with real melted chocolate) if you happen to visit the island during one of Quebec’s long, cold winters.

Visit a sugar shack

Dessert Shop, Authentic
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Maple syrup is a key Quebec export, and depending on when you visit the island, making a stop at one of the numerous sugar shacks is a popular activity. Some of them offer elaborate meals based on traditional habitant dishes, but if you’re interested in learning more about the maple-sugaring process, you may want to stop by the family-run Érablière Richard Boily. It offers fascinating and informative tours and tastings of its rustic operation in the middle of a maple forest. During the sugaring season (typically November to March), it serves fresh maple taffy on the snow.

Try a dog-sledding or snowmobiling expedition

Hiking Trail
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If you visit Île d’Orléans during the icy winter months, dog sledding is a unique and thrilling way to experience the island. Bring some winter gear or rent it on-site. Guides will explain the unique relationship between the dogs and their driver, and you can try leading the team through the forest trails. Expédition Mi-Loup also offers snowmobiling, ice fishing and snowshoeing, giving you other unique ways of experiencing and participating in the winter landscape.

These recommendations were updated on September 25, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.