There is something wondrous about islands and strawberries that I have never quite understood, but I can tell you that on the Ile d’Orleans, just outside the city of Quebec, the delectable strawberries grow as big as golf balls. But that’s not the only reason to go there.
The 21-mile-long island lies in the St. Lawrence River, just 15 minutes outside of the city. From vantage points along its shores there are views of the Quebec skyline and of the roaring, massive Montmorency Falls across the river.
I spent a few days on the island with the husband in 2003 but I can’t find any photos of it. I think I was too relaxed to take any.
We stayed at Auberge le Vieux Presbytère, a small inn in the village of Saint-Pierre, where we got a room, dinner for two and breakfast for around $100 US. The rates have gone up a little and the exchange rate has soured a lot, but the price for that package is still only about $130 US during the low season. (The summer prices aren’t posted yet.)
The dinner, by the way, was a leisurely two-hour, four-course, candle-lit affair that managed to be both homey and elegant. The entire meal was exceptionally good. The bread, as in much of Quebec, was to die for. (The staff didn’t speak much English and we didn’t speak much French, but it didn’t keep us from getting fed.)
Le Vieux Presbytère is not by any means the fanciest place on the island. That distinction goes to La Goéliche in the village of Sainte-Pétronille, with luxurious rooms and a well-know gourmet restaurant. It’s a bit pricey for my blood, but it gets great reviews.
There is a bridge to the island, which has six villages and about 7,000 inhabitants scattered through a lot of farm land. The houses range from centuries-old stone manses to modern ranches. We set out to bicycle around at least part of the island but found that it was too windy and we were too lazy to make it past the Chocolaterie de L’Île d’Orleans in the village of Sainte-Pétronille. It was quite a rewarding place to throw in the towel.
So if you’re looking for a sublime place to be this summer, say a walled city within driving distance of New England, think about Quebec. Then think about the Ile d’Orleans. And if you go around the middle of July, be sure to get some of those strawberries.