The bridge to the island is the last bridge over the St-Lawrence River before the Atlantic Ocean. (And in fact, it only goes to the island, not to the south shore.) Until the bridge was built in the 1930’s the people of this island depended on a single ferry, and in winter on ice bridges. The center of the island is still primarily farmland, and the six village centers are all located along the road that runs around the outside edge of the island. The bridge brings you to the north side of the island, near the western tip.
Following the guide we had obtained in the Rigaud tourist office, we circled the island in a counter clockwise fashion and soon entered the village center of Sainte-Petronille. We stopped at Horatio Walker street. The painter lived and worked there, but from the signs it is unclear at which house, or if the house is even still there. We had a beautiful view of the Montmorency Falls and Cap Diamant here, unfortunately it was still grey and windy, and our hoodies were zipped up all the way. Luckily the sun broke through shortly after and the day warmed beautifully after all.
The Montmorency Falls from Sainte-Petronille.
Cap Diamant, unfortunately so grey that day.
Of course these are perfect subjects for a telephoto lens:
At Chemin du Quai on the western tip of the island the weather began to clear.
In St-Jean de l’Ile d’Orleans we stopped at a bakery which also served coffee. Their cinnamon buns and almond croissants were delicious, and we enjoyed them in the sun on the porch. Behind the bakery we found a store which sells jewellery, pottery and embroidery all in a tiny building. We speculated it was once a farmhand’s house. We wandered to the church and cemetery across the street from the bakery and noticed that water's edge behind them is made of strange type of rock. I noticed that again here that all the walls are capped with a sort of roof structure with shakes. I assumed they serve to reduce frost damage but it also gives the walls a tidy rustic finished look.
The pretty boulangerie with the small shop behind it.
Sitting on the porch of the boulangerie, view of the river beyond the church and cemetery
The unusual shore behind the church
A cruise boat went by towards Quebec City at a good clip. Later we will see the boat moored on the quay below our hotel. After some pictures we moved on.
The boat we will see again later back in town.
In St-Francois de l’Ile d’orleans we again stopped at the modest village center. Next to the church is the oldest surviving schoolhouse in Quebec. There is a small candy store in it now. On the other side of the church is the home of a stone sculptor. The guide states that the artist makes stone mosaic and sculptures in his garden and that the place is open to the public. Unfortunately this turned out not to be the case, and we didn’t feel like getting a private tour and being under pressure to buy a souvenir, so we skipped it.
Quebec's oldest surviving schoolhouse. Now a candy store. Contradiction?
By now we reached the eastern end of the island and came to a park with a 5 story tall wooden lookout tower. We climbed to the top and enjoyed the view and the breeze. Once back on the road we began to see glimpses of the Basilica at Ste-Anne de Beaupre on the other shore. We stopped at a roadside farm stand and bought some apples. The smell of the fresh apples was so strong we smelled them in the car parked at least 50 feet away from the stand before we went to buy them.
The north view from 5 stories up at the east end of the island.
The view almost due east.
Our next stop was at La Maison Drouin. This house was built in the 1720’s and was in the hands of the original family until 1984 when the last descendant moved out due to old age. The house had at that point no running water or modern heat. There was a single electrical circuit supplying two ceiling bulbs and one electrical outlet. A guided tour of the house was $2. The guide had a fire going in the fireplace and repeated the information she must have to say dozens of time a day with true enthusiasm.
The house is made of stone and was doubled in size about 100 years after the original construction. Food was kept in an unfinished cellar accessible via a trapdoor, and the house was initially just one room. After it was enlarged it was divided into three rooms on each side, although this was done much later. The attic space was used for storage, being completely uninsulated and too cold in winter and too hot in summer to be used for living or sleeping space. Every floorboard in the house was scarily flexible, and sagged under our feet. The outhouse (now removed) was across the street, to ensure the well was not contaminated. That means this elderly person had to cross the street, day or night, January or July, just to use the toilet........in 1984! Wow.
La Maison Drouin - The portion to the left of the chimney is the original house.
Interior of the house.
After we visited this house I began to pick out other houses along the road that date from a similar time and were built the same way. All have been modernised and some have been stunningly renovated and landscaped.
In Ste –Famille de l’Ile d’Orleans we found the only church with three belfries in Quebec. All of them have bells in them. I could not decide if it is unique or overkill. The church stands on the edge of the Parc des ancetres. The park lies around a pretty mansion that is confusingly referred to as both Maison de nos aieux (house of our ancesters) as well as Maison Drouin in the guide. A monument bears the names of the founding people of the island, including the ancestor of someone I work with, who arrived there in the 1650's. Around it is a garden in which descendants of these people have placed stones with plaques on them, honouring their ancestors.
Three belfries...each with bells....overkill or quaint?
Monument to the founding families, the names are on the other side of the base. The house in the background is the "maison de nos aieux".
After we meandered around the pretty garden for a while, we got back in to the car and moved on. The next stop was at Domaine Steinbach, a cidrerie. They offer tasting "tours" and do this in a very interesting way. First you are invited to try their large collection of jams, mustards and relishes, arranged on high bar tables around the outside of the room. Crackers are provided for the tasting. Once you are done with that (and already have a mental list of things you won't leave without) they let you taste the four different ciders they make, and give you little snacks to pair with each taste. They pulled out some of their own duck pate which was to die for. Alas, we could not buy it. The jars need to be refrigerated. Two jars of jam, one relish and one of mustard were purchased, along with two bottles of cider, which are being saved for Christmas.
Domaine Steinback. Orchards not visible from the road.
After this we found our way back to the bridge and back to town, very aware that this is worth doing again at some point and perhaps then stopping at some of the places we skipped. Our legs were still sore from all the walking the day before.
Once back in Vieux Quebec we drifted back into lower town and in to the atelier of a glass blower, called les trios corbeaux. The artist’s thing seems to be flying piglets, and about 40 are suspended in the front window of the store. We watched her make one in front of our eyes. I HAD to have one, and so we left with a bright orange pig with green wings.
Lunch had been the pastries at the boulangeire, the apples and the snacks at the cidrerie, so we were looking for an early dinner. We drifted again towards Le Lapin Saute, proving that presentation and marketing works. The menu consists of rabbit, rabbit and more rabbit. We were seated on the side terrace and watched the other tourists go by on the street. I had rabbit lasagna with camembert sauce. I’ll probably never eat anything like that again. When we had finished our early dinner we were rested again and walked around the area some more and eventually back up to upper town.
Le Lapin Saute.
After we walked around some more we went for drinks in the hotel bar. From the terrace we saw that the tour boat we saw earlier in the day was now moored below the hotel.
The same boat from coffee time, now here at cocktail time.
We walked back onto the boardwalk to take some pictures and then follow it west, all the way to the entrance to the Plains of Abraham. By that point it was dark and there was no point in continuing. We turned around and walk back to the hotel. The park would need to wait for a future visit.
The following morning it was departure time and cold enough that we finally asked to be seated inside at the breakfast place. We then packed up our gear and hit the road. We planned to take the Chemin du Roy back on the portion to Montreal instead of the highway. This road was the original road from Quebec City to Montreal, and the current road still largely follows the same route. It is far more picturesque than the highway. To catch the road we had to drive down to lower town. We discover the Maasdam moored at the quay, and immediately illegally parked to be able to photograph it.
We followed the shore road out of town to the king's road, and pulled out a free guidebook that was left for guests in the hotel room.The road runs alternately close to the water and further away. in small villages we had to follow "chemin du roy" signs through smaller streets and often passed by the oldest houses in those areas. The guide listed all sorts of spots to check out, but there were only a few really worth exploring. One of those was the Moulin Seineurial de Pointe du Lac. The beautifully maintained (or restored) flour mill and museum has a hidden gem behind it. It's mill pond behind the building is set like a scene from a romantic period movie, pretty wooden bannister and all.
The mill at Pointe du Lac
The pretty surprise behind the mill. I expect to see ladies in long dresses with parasols.
We could not linger too long if we wanted to avoid Montreal rush hour, so we missed quite a few stops. But it will probably not be 15 years before we go back to these places!