The first village reached on the recommended counterclockwise tour is Ste-Pétronille, only 3km (1 3/4 miles) from the bridge (take a right turn off the bridge). Note that in this village, Route 368, which is called chemin Royal on most of the rest of the island, is called chemin du Bout-de-l'Île.
When the British occupied the island in 1759, General James Wolfe had his headquarters here before launching his successful attack on Québec City. At the end of the 19th century, this parish was a top vacation destination for the Québécois. The village is now best known for its Victorian inn, La Goéliche , and also claims North America's northernmost stand of red oaks, which dazzle in autumn. The houses were the summer homes of wealthy English in the 1800s, and the church dates from 1871. Many of the homes sport red roofs, which made for better visibility from the river, especially when traveling through rain or snow. Drive down to the water's edge to take in the view back to Québec City. One option is to turn right onto the small rue Horatio-Walker. The road goes past the former workshop of its namesake, a successful painter who spent his summers in Ste-Pétronille from the late 1800s to his death in 1938. Another option is to turn off at the sign for La Goéliche, the inn listed below. Adjacent to the property is a small public area with benches and views of Québec City.
For a light snack, the Chocolaterie de l'Île d'Orléans, 148 chemin du Bout-de-l'Île (tel. 418/828-2252), sells soups, sandwiches, and pizzalike tartes flambées; the saumon fumé (smoked salmon) is good, along with homemade chocolates and ice cream. It's open daily May through early October; call for exact hours.
From Ste-Pétronille, continue on Route 368, which continues to be called chemin du Bout-de-l'Île in this village. There are a few restaurants and art galleries in this stretch, and bicycle rentals at Ecolocyclo, 1979 chemin Royal (tel. 418/828-0370; www.ecolocyclo.net). After 7km (4 1/4 miles), you'll arrive at St-Laurent, founded in 1679, once a boat-building center turning out ships that could carry up to 5,300 tons for Glasgow ship owners. To learn about the town's maritime history, visit Le Parc Maritime de St-Laurent (tel. 418/828-9672; www.parcmaritime.ca), an active boatyard from 1908 to 1967. Before the bridge was built, islanders journeyed across the river to Québec City by boat from here. The park offers demonstrations of the art of building flat-bottomed schooners. It's open daily from 10am to 5pm mid-June through mid-October. Admission is C$4 adults, free for children 12 and under.
St-Jean, 6km (3 3/4 miles) from St-Laurent, was home to sea captains -- that might be why the houses in the village appear more luxurious than others on the island. The creamy-yellow "Scottish brick" in the facades of several of the homes was ballast in boats that came over from Europe and was considered a sign of luxury and wealth. The village church was built in 1734, and the walled cemetery is the final resting place of many fishermen and seafarers.
On the left as you enter St-Jean is Manoir Mauvide-Genest, 1451 chemin Royal (tel. 418/829-2630; www.manoirmauvidegenest.com). It was the manor home of a French surgeon who settled here in 1720 and went on to acquire much of the western part of the island, becoming one of New France's leading figures in the process. Jean Mauvide built this small estate in 1752, and the building is unlike any other on the island. It's filled with authentic and reproduction furnishings from Mauvide's era and is classified as a historic monument. It's open daily 10am to 5pm from mid-May to mid-October. Admission is C$6 for adults and C$2 for children 6 to 12, with an additional C$2 per person for a guided tour. Recently, an exhibit was added showcasing furniture related to the era of this monument, as well as a garden called Jardin Nouvelle France, which highlights the particularities of the manorial regime. You can get the MP3 audio tour for C$7. A gorgeous bed-and-breakfast option is Dans les bras de Morphée, 225 chemin Royal (tel. 418/829-3792; www.danslesbrasdemorphee.com). The five-star B&B was awarded Grand Prize in 2009 in its category by the provincial tourist board. With just four rooms, it is a stunning country cottage in splendid style, at C$153 to C$162 for double occupancy. In low season the price can go down to C$120, but still includes breakfast.
If you're pressed for time, cross the island here to Ste-Famille, back near the bridge. Route du Mitan is marked (barely) with a small sign on the left just past the church in St-Jean. Even if you're continuing the full island loop, you might want to make a short detour to see the inland farmland and forest. To continue the tour, return to St-Jean and proceed east on Route 368.
St-François is at the island's most northeastern tip. Potatoes and leeks are grown on this part of the island, which lead some to dub this "the village of vichyssoise." The 9km (5 1/2-mile) drive from St-Jean to St-François exposes vistas of the Laurentian Mountains on the other side of the river. Mont Ste-Anne can be seen on the opposite side of the river in the distance, its slopes scored by ski trails.
The St. Lawrence River is 10 times wider here than when it flows past Québec City and can be viewed especially well from the town's observation tower, which you'll pass on your right. You can park here and climb for a view. The town's original church from 1734 burned in 1988. It was replaced in 1992.
After you've looped around the island's northern edge, the road stops being Route 368 east and becomes Route 368 west.
Founded in 1661, Ste-Famille is the island's oldest parish. It's 8km (5 miles) from St-François. Across the road from its triple-spired church (1743) is the convent of Notre-Dame Congregation, founded in 1685 by Marguerite Bourgeoys, one of Montréal's prominent early citizens.
Maison de Nos Aïeux, 3907 chemin Royal (tel. 418/829-0330; www.fondationfrancoislamy.org), is a genealogy center with short films about some of the island's oldest families and information about its history. The adjacent Parc des Ancêtres is a riverside green space with picnic tables. Sharing the same parking lot is Pub le Mitan, 3887 chemin Royal (tel. 418/829-0408), a microbrewery with a deck that overlooks the river. Other potential Ste-Famille stopping points in warm months are Les Fromages de l'Îsle d'Orléans, 4696 chemin Royal (tel. 418/829-0177), an artisanal dairy that makes a 17th-century-style cheese called Paillasson, and the adjacent Maison Drouin, 4700 chemin Royal (tel. 418/829-0330; www.fondationfrancoislamy.org), a beautifully preserved home from the 1730s that has never been modernized. It is the oldest house on the island open to visitors.
When you reach St-Pierre, you're nearly back to where you started. If you haven't stopped at any orchards yet, consider popping into Bilodeau, 2200 chemin Royal (tel. 418/828-9316; www.cidreriebilodeau.qc.ca). It's open daily 9am to 6pm year-round. It produces some of Île d'Orléans's regular ciders and cidre de glace, a sweet wine made from apples left on the trees until after the first frost. Visitors can sample products such as the yummy hazelnut-and-apple-syrup mustard, and guided tours are available. Apple picking is an option mid-August to mid-October.
Another wine option is the appealing Cassis Monna et Filles, 721 chemin Royal (tel. 418/828-2525; www.cassismonna.com). Black currants, or gadelle noire, are grown here, and a chic shop features a display on how the berries are harvested and transformed into Crème de Cassis, the key element to a Kir cocktail. A variety of wines are available for tasting or purchase, next to the économuseum. It's open daily May to November 10am to 6pm (and until 7pm Saturdays and Sundays in June and every day from July through Nov). In season there is a charming cafe with a terrace where you can enjoy a light lunch. Sisters Catherine and Anne (les Filles) are usually around, if not in the adjacent fields.
St-Pierre's central attraction is its original church, the island's oldest (1717). Services are no longer held here, but there's a large handicraft shop in the back, behind the altar. This room (nondescript today) dates to 1695, making it even older than the church. Look for the stone church on your right (followed immediately by a larger, newer church) and a small blue-and-white sign for CORPORATION DES ARTISANS at 1249 chemin Royal. Although the church's front doors are locked, you can get inside for a viewing from an entrance at the shop. The shop is open most days May to October.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.