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Île d’Orléans

“A day away from stress and strife, and you’ve got yourself a deal on Île d’Orléans” The old dairywoman at the Marché du Vieux Port just invited us to come visit. To see her small farm with cows, goats, blueberries, raspberries and honey bees. I just didn’t think this was possible. I just wanted to get some berries, and there we were, an invitation to see a regular Île d’Orléans farm.

Of course we had to go. We had actually already planned a trip to the island after having gotten a bunch of recommendations from people who had been there. Île d’Orleans is actually the relaxation spot for many a quebecois, since the whole island is just filled up with small, cozy villages, wineries and honey farms, nice Bed and Breakfasts, cafes and rolling hills covered with grass, small forests, strawberries, raspberries, vines and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Everything is ecological, and so people from around the island come here to do a lot of their shopping. For those who don’t want to go themselves, some of the farmers go to Quebec City to sell their products at the Marche du Vieux Port. And that is exactly what the Dupont family does. Three days a week, they go into Quebec and sell whatever is ripe, and they are popular. People want their fine products. And I guess, I was excited about dinner – a real French-Canadian meal with local wine!

Île d’Orléans is situated approximately 5 kilometers east of downtown Québec in the middle of Saint Lawrence River. It is easily accessible from the mainland via the Pont d’Île d’Orléans, a bridge constructed in the early 1930ies.  The island was one of the first parts of the province to be colonized by the French. This is actually where the whole idea of Nouvelle France started.  Early French settlers were attracted to the island because of its fertile soil and Mediterranean climate at least for parts of the year.  In 1744, colonists completed the 67 kilometres Chemin Royal which encircles the entire island. It is a great way to see everything the island has to offer – to get a rent a car and just drive around, stop along the way and enjoy strawberries, some cheese, som bread or even visit one of the small  chocolate factories, always located within walking distance from the  main road. The really crazy thing, especially for me, is that all kinds of berries are in abundance. You can buy them everywhere, and they’re all ecologic. And they’re large or extra large! I guarantee, anyone who loves berries the way I do, is gonna go just wild here.

Most of the buildings in the small villages that pop up as you drive slowly around the island  are clearly influenced by French Provence architecture, maybe a bit more colorful houses at times, but still clearly outlined according to French traditions, lying close together. More than 600 buildings on the island  are classified as national heritage property.  The island has been described as the “microcosmos of traditional Quebec and as the birthplace La Francophonie  in North America. No kidding, I spotted just two Canadian flags (of which I took pictures) on the way around the island, but I did see hundreds of the quebecoise flags spread out in every village, yes actually on every possible flagpole or corner everywhere. The only thing I missed was actuallay the French Tricolore, to make the picture complete.

 

 

Since the days of the first French settlers, agriculture has been the main economic activity. The island, known as the “Garden of Quebec”, is still an essentially rural place famous  for its produce.  There are several wineries, and they are also famous for dairy products such as cheese and butter. The Canadian maple syrup is easily found, so is honey and lots of red and white wine of good quality. There is even a bison farm on the island!

The island has experienced a flourishing tourist industry during the last couple of decades, meaning farms have been opened to direct vedning of produsts, hotels and gourmet restaurants have been established in almost severy little village and there are lots of activities for people who want to experience life as it is in Île d’Orleans. Wine tasting tours to different wineries, cheese-tasting, arts and crafts tours to mention a few options that are offered.

After we had taken our island sightseeing, stopping at every third stand to get a refill of berries, checking out a couple og wineries and chocolate factories, it was time to find Monsieur and Madame Dupont. They live on a farm, close to the main road. Monsieur Dupont greeted us at the entrance. They’ve got a small stand right off the road where they sell strawberries, raspberries and blueberries to passers by. “Today, you can eat all the berries you want”, in fact, until they pop out your ears”, he said. He had obviously been informed by his wife about my craving  for berries.

 

Dinner was of course great, duck marinated in some kind of gravy, potatoes, broccoli and loads of other greens. Dessert – of course a mixture of berries, and probably the best wines I ever tasted. More interesting than the meal was the discussion we had. The Duponts want “Quebec Libre”! And they do not want to listen to any kind of Canadian idea. The Quebecois have their own cultural heritage, their own language, their own way of life.We have nothing in common with the “anglophones” , and so like most other inhabitants on Île d’Orelans, they voted OUI twice for a fully independent Quebec  when they had referendums . Monsieur Dupont is really disappointed that the result turned out to be 49, 6 % in favor for full quebecoise independence – especially since there is an “anglophone” minority of 15% in Quebec. “Without them, we would have won”!

 

 It is fascinating to meet people who are so aware of their heritage, nurtures it, and live their lives keeping it afloat and alive. We decieded to take the Duponts up on their offer to spend the night, and enjoyed yet another home brewed French coffee made by Madame Dupont, served with a glass of real French Cognac or for me a Calvados. Family Dupont is a French family. The next morning “petit dej” was served, and guess what? A large cup of cafe au lait, croissants with marmelade and dark chocolate. Then we had a tour of the farm, got to pet the cows, the goats, the cat and the dog. The ducks attacked us because most of them were guarding their eggs.