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Île d'Orléans, c'est merveilleux

© By Mike Keenan














  Québec City is surrounded by striking natural attractions, and visitors should take side-trips to both Montmorency Falls and Île d' Orleans, both a short drive east beside the St. Lawrence River. We followed Highway 40, and in fifteen minutes, viola, observed Montmorency, the largest of a number of major waterfalls along the Beaupre coast. From Montmorency, we drove across a bridge to Île d'Orléans 75 k. (40 miles) in circumference, in the middle of the St. Lawrence River.
     What I notice immediately is that the island is a quiet, tranquil oasis that provides a lovely river view. We climb out of our car and relax, taking in the panorama: Chute Montmorency, the bridge that we drove across, the sparkling water that transported fearless immigrants further down to Québec City and the remnants of an unfortunate ship that ran aground, miscalculating the narrow straights.
     There are hundreds of buildings that are historically and architecturally significant scattered over the island, incentive to engage in a leisurely 1.5 hour drive along the Chemin Royal, an historic road that gracefully encircles the island, dotted with remarkable country churches and old cemeteries, clean and tidy farms and roadside stands as well as appealing bed and breakfasts for those who wish to remain overnight.
     The emerald green, fertile island is a showcase of early Norman and Regency architectural styles, econo-museums and specialty food producers. Crops include potatoes, strawberries and apples. The rich, dark soil produces most of the fruits and vegetables found at Québec City's farmers' markets. There are also sugar shacks, some open year-round where you learn everything involved in the making of maple syrup and its by-products.
     Econo-museums are run by craftspeople using traditional techniques in production. They instruct while working away and selling their unique crafts or products.
     In 1535, Jacques Cartier named this island "Bacchu's Island" with wild grape vines growing in abundance. The name was changed to Île d'Orléans to honour the King of France. Today, there are approximately 7,000 people spread amongst six villages. The island is 34 km. long, by 8 km. wide, a welcome respite from thicker urban populations, attracting frazzled commuters from Québec City.
     Early on in our drive, the car lurched to a sudden stop. I had noticed a hand-painted sign with the slogan - "J'aime le chocolat" or "I love chocolate." Intent on a hedonistic visit, we discovered Chocolaterie de Île d'Orléans, just off the highway, a tasty pit stop to savour delicious (and addictive) home-made mouth-watering creations available on site. I must confess that to assist local commerce, we were dutifully compelled to purchase many chocolates for the relatively short trip back to the hotel.
     Classified as a national historic district in 1970, the Island of Orleans' traditions date back more than three centuries to an amalgam of French, British, and American influences from the early 1600's. "J'accueille et je nourris" or "I welcome and feed" is the motto written on the coat of arms of this area renowned for beautiful landscapes and rich cultural heritage. And don't forget the chocolate!

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan
Tourism Québec: winter scene

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Tourism Île d'Orléans: http://www.quebecweb.com/tourismeiledorleans/introang.html
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%8Ele_d%27Orl%C3%A9ans

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