16km (10 miles) NE of Québec City
Île d'Orléans was first inhabited by native people, and then settled by the French as one of their initial outposts of New France in the 17th century. Jacques Cartier had landed here in 1535 and first named the island Bacchus, in celebration of its many grapevines, but renamed it later to honor the duke of Orléans. Long isolated from the mainland, the island's 7,000 or so current residents firmly resist development, so far preventing the potential of becoming just another sprawling bedroom community. Many of the island's oldest houses are intact, and it remains a largely rural farming area. Notable are the many red-roofed homes.
Until 1935, the only way to get to Île d'Orléans was by boat (in summer) or over the ice in sleighs (in winter). The highway bridge built that year has allowed the island's fertile fields to become Québec City's primary market garden. During harvest periods, fruits and vegetables are picked fresh on the farms and trucked into the city daily.
In mid-July, hand-painted signs posted by the main road announce FRAISES: CUEILLIR VOUS-MÉME (STRAWBERRIES: YOU PICK ‘EM). The same invitation to pick your own is made during apple season, August through October. Farmers hand out baskets and quote the price, and you pay when the basket's full. Bring along a bag or box to carry away the bounty. Other seasonal highlights include the visit of thousands of migrating snow geese, ducks, and Canada geese in April and May and again in late October. It's a spectacular sight when they launch in flapping hordes so thick that they almost blot out the sun. Late May also brings the blooming of the many apple trees on the island. Look for the cookbook Farmers in Chef Hats (www.farmersinchefhats.com), which in 2008 received a Gourmand World Cookbook award for "Best in the World" in the local-growers category. Featuring 50 products from Île d'Orléans, the bilingual cookbook has 50 recipes, as well as an agro-tourism map.